India’s biggest cover-up

India’s Biggest Cover-Up by Anuj Dhar

Ever since Subhas Chandra Bose’s death was announced, allegedly in a plane crash in Taiwan on 18 August 1945, discordant voices have claimed that Netaji is still alive. Some of Netaji’s supporters have opposed the proposal to bring Netaji’s ashes back to India from Japan on the ground that the ashes do not belong to Netaji.

Former journalist Anuj Dhar is one of those people who doesn’t buy the story of how Netaji suffered third degree burns and later died when the plane carrying him to Tokyo from Matsyama airport in Taihoku, Taiwan (then called Formosa) crashed shortly after take-off. Like other fans of Netaji, Dhar who heads a non-profit organisation called Mission Netaji, believes that as the World War II drew to a close, Bose tried to make his way to the Soviet Union in order to obtain assistance from Stalin’s regime for his goal of freeing India from British rule through force of arms. Dhar theorises that Netaji wanted people to believe he died in a plane crash, so that there would be no one looking for him as he hunted for another ally to replace the Japanese.

Dhar claims that the Japanese helped Bose in his plan by passing off the ashes of a Japanese man who died of a heart attack around that time, as that of Bose. Bose divulged his real plan to only one person, his trusted aide Lieutenant Colonel Habibur Rahman Khan, who later claimed that he was with Bose as their plane crashed immediately after taking off from Formosa’s Matsyama airport. Habibur Rahman Khan gave out that Bose was badly burned in the crash and did not stay alive for long and that the Japanese cremated him. Dhar says that Habibur Rahman lied thus because he was instructed to do so by Netaji.

In his book “India’s Biggest Cover-Up,” Dhar does not claim that he knows exactly what happened to Netaji. However, he is convinced that the Indian government is hiding a lot, citing a number of feeble excuses. The Soviet government wasn’t of great help either. Dhar isn’t the sort of armchair theorist who comes up with a hypothesis without sufficient backing. India’s Biggest Cover-Up is around 400 pages long (excluding its end notes) and all of it is packed with facts.

Dhar pokes holes in various statements made by the Indian government and commissions of enquiry such as the Shah Nawaz Khan Committee and the Khosla Commission. He speaks approvingly of the Mukherjee Commission’s findings which concluded that Bose did not die in an air crash in Taiwan. Dhar examines at length two men, Shaulmari Sadhu and Bhagwanji who claimed to be Bose. Though Dhar dismisses Shaulmari Sadhu’s claims, he seems to suggest that Bhagwanji could have been Bose, who having spent time in a Soviet gulag, was allowed to return to India. Since Dhar doesn’t make any conjecture as to what exactly could have happened to Bose, it is tempting to put forth a few, submitting along with these theories the request that they be taken with a barrel of salt.

Dhar is convinced that the Japanese assisted Bose in his subterfuge and that they played along as Bose faked his death and most probably arranged his transportation to the Soviet Union through Manchuria. We may question this belief. First let’s look at a few facts. Atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and August 9th, 1945. On August 15th 1945, Imperial Japan surrendered to the Allies and this day is commemorated as Victory over Japan Day even now. Immediately after the surrender was announced, Americans, British, Chinese, Koreans Filipinos and many other nationalities burst into celebration. The Japanese were devastated and many Japanese soldiers committed suicide.

Bose is alleged to have died in an air crash on August 18th; three days after Japan announced its surrender. If Dhar’s theory is correct, even after surrendering to the Allies, the Japanese cared enough about Bose and the Indian struggle for independence that they put in effort to help Bose escape to the Soviet Union. Please remember, there was no love lost between Japan and the Soviets. The Japanese had clashed with the Russians in 1904-1905, and won. Between 1932 and 1939, there were a series of border clashes between the Soviet Union and Japan along the Mongolian– Manchurian border. In 1939, just before war broke out in Europe, Marshall Zhukov’s forces handed the Kwantung army a decisive defeat. Stalin had promised the other Allies that Soviet Union would attack Japan three months after the war in Europe ended. Therefore, on 9th August, exactly three months after Nazi Germany’s surrender (on 8th May 1945), the Soviets invaded Japanese held Manchuria.

The Khosla Commission took the view that the Japanese did not hold Bose in high esteem, that they were only using him for their ends, that if the Japanese had won, they would have ruled India as a colony, just like the British. Dhar refutes all of the above. In this respect, it is possible to agree with the Khosla Commission. According to Dhar, Bose had the Nazi Germans eating out of his hands. Dhar also claims that the Japanese had deep respect for Bose and that if they had defeated the British, they would have given independence to India. Dhar gets it totally wrong here. The Japanese were using Bose and the INA just as Netaji was using the Japanese. Once they surrendered and the Second World War was over, the Japanese would have very little incentive in helping Bose escape to the Soviet Union which had just invaded Manchuria.

So the theory goes like this: A day or two before the Japanese surrender or maybe just afterwards, British and American agents would have established contact with the Japanese secret service, the Kempeitai. The Japanese would have offered or the Brits would have asked for Bose to be handed over. Rather than arrest Bose and haul him back to India where he was a hero, someone clever would have come up with a plan. The Japanese would have been asked to offer Bose an escape to the Soviet Union. Further, Bose would have been asked to cooperate in faking his own death, so that nobody would be looking for him. Bose, exhausted by his long struggle and left without many options, would have agreed, asking Habibur Rahman to keep his secret and to spread the word that he died in an air crash. Isolated from his INA soldiers and other friends, Bose may have been executed as punishment for the trouble he caused to Imperial Britain and her allies.

Look at it this way. The Imperial Japanese knew that after their surrender, there would be hell to pay. Why would they then go out of their way to further antagonise the Allies by helping Bose escape to the Soviet Union when they would get brownie points for handing him over? Unless, they were saints, which we know they weren’t.

Why did independent India show so much reluctance in digging for the truth regarding Bose? It is tempting to conjecture that the Brits involved Nehru and other top Congress leaders in their decision to eliminate Bose. After all, if Bose returned alive, he would be a rival to Nehru, wouldn’t he? British officials would know that if Nehru or other Congress leaders were kept in the loop, they could be counted on to suppress the truth from Bose’s supporters and his countless fans in India even after the British left India. Please remember, this is just a theory.

Since Bose never made it to the Soviet Union, the Soviets might have eventually guessed how Bose met his end. They might have used that information to blackmail Nehru or Indira Gandhi or at least to exert some sort of control over them. This may explain why the Soviets never cooperated in the search for the truth about Bose.

The second theory we may put forth is that maybe the Japanese actually helped Bose fake his death and escape to the Soviet Union. Stalin would have quickly found out that Bose was not an ideal communist who could be relied on to deliver India to the Reds. The unplayable Bose would have been kept under lock and key for some years, before he was either killed or even allowed to return to India. This theory may find favour with Dhar, though he doesn’t say so in as many words in his book.

A third theory would go like this. After the Japanese surrender, the Brits persuaded the Japanese to send Bose over to the Soviets, after faking his death in Taiwan, so that his Indian supporters would not ask too many questions. The Soviets were expected to hand over Bose in exchange for something they wanted or maybe execute him for war crimes with little publicity. After all, the Soviets and the Brits were allies and the Soviets would not have had much sympathy for anyone who sided with the Japanese. Maybe the Soviets obliged the Brits or maybe they changed their minds and didn’t follow the plan. Maybe the Soviets tested Bose for communist leanings and when they found none, imprisoned him or killed him. The problem with this theory is that relations between the Soviets and the USA/UK broke down almost immediately after the Second World War was over and the Brits would not have wanted Bose to fall into Soviet hands even if the Soviets had promised to hand him over or execute him.

We fully agree with Dhar that India should do more to unearth the mystery surrounding Bose’s death. We hope that the truth will finally emerge one of these days.