Netaji: The remains of History
by Sandhya Jain on 14 Apr 2015 15 Comments

This article was published by The Pioneer, New Delhi, on 16 January 2001. Given the new interest in the Netaji mystery, we are reproducing it below.

Amartya Sen’s ill-conceived decision to lend the glamour of his Nobel Prize to bolster the vested interests of Leftist historians and politicians at the recent Indian History Congress in Calcutta, served only to underline the sheer vacuity, falsity, and inevitable collapse of the Red-tinted narrative. Nor could the presence of Comrades Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, former and present Chief Ministers of West Bengal, help salvage the deeply flawed affectations of the Nehruvian historians. This is because the real challenge to the Leftists does not come from the wishy-washy saffron/right, but from authentic, nationalist history.

This banished history is fighting back with unassailable evidence about modern political Bengal’s most charismatic leader – Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Resolutely ignored at the three-day Congress, in true Communist disdain for inconvenient facts and personages, Netaji nevertheless cast a formidable shadow over its proceedings. The now credible theory that he was not aboard the airplane that crashed fatally off Japan’s Taihoku Island in August 1945 has damning repercussions for the historical legitimacy of Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru as free India’s first Prime Minister. A truthful unraveling of the Netaji story – with every moment of his life and the manner of his death (murder?) in a Soviet concentration camp fully accounted for – cannot but have a wintry effect on Mr. Nehru’s personal reputation, the political and economic policies he foisted upon the nation, his sordid compromises in foreign policy, and finally, the credibility of his intellectual heirs.

The matter now lies in the court of the Justice M.K. Mukerjee Commission of Inquiry; yet there is much that can and must be done at the level of independent scholars and at Government-to-Government level.  Dr. Purabi Roy of the International Relations Department, Jadavpur University, who presented convincing evidence before the Commission, deserves credit for bringing this sordid saga to light.

Researching for the Asiatic Society in Moscow, Dr. Roy found archival evidence that Netaji was in Russia long after the plane crash that allegedly took his life. Deposing before the Commission, she revealed the startling contents of Document No. 22, a statement by the then Soviet envoy to Teheran. The ambassador had delivered a letter from Nehru to Stalin in October 1946, in which Nehru referred to Netaji’s stay in the USSR at that time. Another document records a meeting at Moscow in October 1946 between Stalin, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov and other high officials, in which Netaji is referred to “in the present tense,” and as present in the USSR at that time (The Hindustan Times, 23 December 2000).

Reports suggest that Netaji went to the Soviet Union some time in 1945, via Manchuria. It is not clear how he was captured by the Soviets, but as a ‘collaborator’ of the Axis Powers, he could easily have been executed. He appears to have survived because Josef Stalin, allied with Britain in the War and desperately under siege on two fronts (Germany and Japan), wanted to please Britain, and so imprisoned him in a labour camp in Siberia. What is significant is that while World War II ended in August 1945, Netaji was not released and his very existence kept secret.

What is truly horrifying is the uncontradicted report that the then Indian ambassador to the USSR was permitted to have a glimpse of Netaji in the camp on condition that no word was exchanged with him. It is inconceivable that the ambassador would have gone to the camp without the knowledge of the Government of India and at least some of the top mission staff. Obviously, he would also have reported the matter to the Government of India, which kept silent for reasons that require to be explained.

As all this evidence relates to a sensitive period in our history – the country was trying to secure freedom and avert Partition – several important questions arise that need to be faced squarely and answered scrupulously. It is the purpose of this column to spell out the issues that arise and the questions that need to be answered.

It is quite obvious that in pre-independence India, significant political players in at least three countries were aware that Netaji was alive in a Soviet gulag, even if we assume that the Japanese believed he perished in the crash. We need to know how Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru came to know that Netaji was alive in 1946. Was the information conveyed by Lord Wavell or Lord Mountbatten, or directly by an emissary of Stalin? Was the information also communicated to other leaders, specifically Mahatma Gandhi and/or Sardar Patel?

If Gandhi and Patel did not know, why was Nehru alone informed, and why did he keep such critical information to himself? Can we infer a larger, secret conspiracy by certain forces to ensure that the Left-leaning (read Communist) Mr. Nehru became leader of independent India, rather than more nationalist and popular leaders like Netaji or the Sardar? Since it is nobody’s case that the Congress would have suffered Mr. Nehru if Netaji were still alive, the former would logically have had to pay a price for such stupendous assistance. We will have to look very closely at the long road from 15 August 1947 as we seek the answers to these questions.

According to the stray bits of information coming out, Netaji was spotted alive till at least 1949. As he was young and healthy, it seems unlikely that he would have died a natural death. This is an issue of extreme national sensitivity. We need to take up with the present Russian Government the details of Netaji’s arrival in that country, his capture and captivity, the parleys with the British and Indian Governments about his existence, and the manner and timing of his death. We need to explicitly establish the beneficiaries of his incarceration and untimely demise.

In return for full disclosure and documentation, we could offer the Russian Government exemption from reparations/damages, and full relief from moral guilt. We must also identify all persons (particularly Indians) who were aware of Netaji’s existence in the gulag. Above all, we must demand the immediate return of the remains of the Indian National Army hero.

India should learn from Sweden: for over ten years the Swedish Government has pressurized Russia over the disappearance of its Budapest-based diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, who was captured by the Red Army after saving thousands of Jews by issuing them Swedish passports. The Russian admission of his capture and possible death at the Lubyanka in 1947 has failed to satisfy the Swedes in the absence of clinching evidence of the diplomat’s death, and persisting rumours that he was alive in a psychiatric hospital as late as 1989. This is the way great nations pursue the truth, and respect their citizens. Perhaps it is too much to expect from a party that has forgotten that its founder, Syama Prasad Mukerjee, was martyred in Kashmir.

As for non-historian Amartya Sen, he could more fruitfully engage his energies on his own subject – economics – where his work in the past decade at least has been unremarkable. Sen should know even Nobel laureates run a risk trading on their reputations. William Shockley, who invented the transistor, was ostracised after suggesting that some races are genetically inferior; while James Watson, who jointly unraveled the DNA, is on the mat for positing a link between (dark) skin colour and sex drive. Sen, too, is on thin ice.

Courtesy The Pioneer, 16 January 2001 

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