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Stalin 'dealt with' Netaji on London’s request

Sources claim that Subhas Chandra Bose’s ‘aircraft landed safely in a Manchurian airbase’ and that Soviet troops flew him to Moscow.

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 11th Apr 2015

The disclosure that members of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's family were snooped upon for two decades has given rise to the conclusion that Government of India was worried about the family coming across evidence that he was alive, or later about the circumstances of his death. In fact, according to sources in Delhi, "The fear was that the family may discover what actually happened to Netaji." And what was this? In this context, experts dealing in matters of state express surprise at the refusal of the NDA government to release any more data than previous Congress governments on the officially declared death on 18 August 1945 of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, allegedly in an aircraft crash in Taipei. While there are nearly 200 relevant documents in the possession of the Central authorities and the West Bengal government, two of the 41 documents asked for by various individuals and authorities have been released for public viewing. However, no visible effort seems to have been made to ferret out the response of British authorities to news of Bose's escape from Tokyo.

Sources familiar with the facts within India and Russia, claim privately that "the reason for such a refusal to disclose more information was not to protect the national interest, as much as it was to protect the reputation of high officials and politicians, who connived at a cover-up designed to protect the reputation of the British and Soviet governments in office at the time from public anger in India, besides global public opinion". According to these sources, "the situation (vis-a-vis) Netaji Subhas Bose was resolved in a conclusive way by Stalin", the inference being obvious when judged in the context of the fact that the leader of the Indian National Army was never seen or heard from after the date of the alleged "air crash".

Taiwanese authorities have stated to this correspondent that to the best of their information, there exist no records of any crash at the airbase in question, on the date specified as being the final day of the life of Netaji Subhas Bose. Instead, they say that witnesses to the flight confirmed that the aircraft took off in a normal fashion and was bound for an airfield in Manchuria which on that date (18 August 1945) was under the occupation of Soviet forces, which had invaded the territory in force after Emperor Hirohito of Japan announced the surrender of Japan on 15 August 1945, in order to spare his people further pain after the obliteration of Nagasaki and Hiroshima a short while previously by the dropping of atomic bombs.

Sources based in Russia (erstwhile Soviet Union) claim that "the aircraft landed safely in a Manchurian airbase" and that the former president of the Congress party was "taken custody of by Soviet troops and security personnel" and "flown to Moscow". According to them, Bose was taken away to a gulag within 17 months of internment in a security prison in Moscow, and passed away 11 years later. They add that the Soviet leaders, who came after Stalin, kept the circumstances of Netaji Subhas Bose's capture and passing secret "out of a desire to ensure good relations with India".

Only an examination of records in London and Moscow on the basis of an official request by the Narendra Modi government would reveal the truth, or otherwise, of this assertion (assuming that these be accurate and not doctored in a cover-up bid). But the same sources claim that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was asked by UK Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin through Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov to "ensure that Bose never returned to India and was never heard from again". According to them, "because of Bose's policy of collaboration with Germany under Hitler and Japan under Tojo, the Soviet dictator saw him as an enemy" and therefore presumably did not need much persuasion in carrying out the British request.

There are reports of the then ambassador of India to the USSR, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, having a meeting with Netaji Subhas Bose in a prison near Moscow soon after taking charge at the embassy in 1949. However, till his death, the scholar, who subsequently became President of India (in 1962), refused to comment on such reports. Interestingly, both Netaji's close associate Lt Col Habibur Rehman, as well as his widow Emilie, refused, to the close of their respective lives, to assent to the repeated requests of Government of India that he had died in an air crash and to affirm that the ashes brought back to India were Netaji's. Interestingly, although DNA matchings of these ashes could confirm whether they indeed were those of the disappeared leader, thus far this does not seem to have been attempted.

What is clear is that if Subhas Bose had returned to India, rather than either been killed in an air crash or gone permanently missing, he would have easily been the most popular leader in the country, and could quite possibly have displaced Mahatma Gandhi's favourite, Jawaharlal Nehru, from the effective leadership of the Congress party and consequently the Prime Ministership. Given the fact that Netaji attracted both Muslims and Hindus to his fold in like manner, there is a high probability that a Bose-led Congress could have checkmated the plans of both Whitehall as well as M.A. Jinnah to partition India. The INA was a completely secular force, with patriots from all communities joining out of admiration for Netaji. Certainly, his return to the political arena would have upset the plans of the British, who saw Bose as a formidable foe of their empire and indeed, the entire system of governance they had constructed over the centuries in India, a system retained almost in its entirety by Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors, and which continues to this day, making India in effect an administrative dictatorship, which holds periodic elections, bringing to office those wielding such authoritarian powers.

London would clearly have had ample incentive to prevent Subhas Bose from returning as a hero to India, and could be expected to act energetically to prevent such a possibility. Papers in London show that the increasing disaffection in the (British) Indian military was the most potent cause of the 1946 decision by Whitehall to partition and thereafter leave India, whereas official historians give 100% credit for the British withdrawal to the freedom struggle led by the Congress party. As for Bose, "where he erred was to assume that Stalin would welcome him because of his opposition to British rule in India". However, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose "forgot that the UK and the USSR were allies against the very individuals (Hitler and Tojo) that Bose had befriended and taken assistance from" for four years during a war to the finish for both sides. According to them, Nehru "was far more acceptable to the Communist Party of India and to the USSR, than Bose". Both would certainly have preferred the former to the latter as the future Prime Minister of an independent India.

Interestingly, the "official" line on the death of Subhas Bose was best enunciated in the Shah Nawaz Khan report. The former INA officer was given the task soon after remitting office as a Deputy Minister in the Nehru government. After the report, he was repeatedly made a minister, this time with full Cabinet rank, besides other ministerial-level posts in successive Congress governments.

Whether Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose died in the Taihoku crash or survived the flight and was made a prisoner by Joseph Stalin and finally "dealt with" such that he disappeared from view (either by execution or by transfer to a Siberian gulag where conditions roved fatal) can be known only after documents on the subject get released by Delhi, London and Moscow. Experts say that there is no justification for keeping secret papers dating seven decades back, as the impact of such material on current regimes and situations would be minimal. The BJP promised during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign to release the Netaji papers, and there is still some anticipation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will fulfil this pledge, especially because all the dramatis personae — Stalin, Attlee, Molotov, Bevin and others — are long gone, and therefore beyond harm at the disclosures.

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