Netaji: The vertebrae of two centuries
by Sandhya Jain on 21 Apr 2015 21 Comments
As it is almost certain that Netaji Subhas Bose lived in Siberia at the mercy of Josef Stalin and his heirs (most likely died/killed in 1956), it seems apt to recall Osip Mandelstam’s musing if a man would ever find the courage to look into the eyes of the epoch and glue together the vertebrae of two centuries with his blood (poem The Age, 1922, in Hope Against Hope, Nadezhda Mandelstam, 1970). Now, the blood of the man who demanded blood in exchange for freedom has returned to heal the torment of an amputated history whose wounds span two centuries.  


The circumstances of Netaji’s incarceration in Russia, with the knowledge of London, Viceroy Louis Mountbatten, and the British Raj’s preferred prime ministerial candidate Jawaharlal Nehru, must now be revealed in full, regardless of which national icons are tainted by the exposé and political parties or families inconvenienced.


The critical aspect of Subhas Bose’s legacy that needs historical articulation is his Kshatriya-hood – his intuitive understanding of the civilisational ethos that a leader must wield arms to lead his people to victory (freedom). The outbursts of 1857, individual heroism of Bhagat Singh et al, and the passionate conspiracies of the revolutionaries were awesome, but were episodic, emotional and incoherent. Bose (a Marxist under the prevailing intellectual fashion) alone understood that the political unity wrought by the Raj required an organised army under a charismatic commander, something even the perceptive Aurobindo failed to discern. Bose realised there is no such thing as “good” and “bad” colonialism, and that it was legitimate to seek help from Germany and Japan to train an army to overthrow the British yoke.


Bose’s restitution of the Kshatriya character in Indian polity took Bengal’s revolutionary zeal to an all-India plane, embracing all castes and communities under the banner of the Azad Hind Fauj. This is why he struck such a powerful chord in the hearts of the people, why the naval ratings mutinied, and why the Raj dispatched Mountbatten to manipulate an early retreat and a messy partition. This is why quest for the truth about Netaji survived seven decades of suppression.


Former British Prime Minister Clement Atlee reputedly told the then Governor of Bengal, BP Chakravarti, that Britain quit because Netaji’s activities had “weakened the foundation of the attachment of Indian land and naval forces to the British government”. 


Nehruvian apologists have gone into a tizzy since the revelation that the Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi regimes spied on Netaji’s close kin for 20 years (1948-68) to learn his whereabouts. It is important to understand why the spying was done and the findings shared with Britain’s MI5. As the Soviet Union was with the Allies in World War II, Stalin had Netaji arrested when he landed in Manchuria to defang a potential revolutionary who might empower Japan and Germany in Asia. But fissures in the allied camp were already showing; the Cold War made London unsure about what Stalin would do with his prize catch - Netaji.


Nehru was even more nervous. The Indian Constitution was still being written; Sardar Patel was still alive, and the possibility of Netaji making a triumphant return to India was too terrible to contemplate. The decision to send his sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, as envoy to Moscow makes sense as part of an effort to discretely contact the Soviet dictator. It failed because Stalin refused to meet her! The next envoy, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, managed to see Netaji in a Siberian gulag and reported the same to Nehru; he was rewarded with the vice presidentship and presidentship of India; his son, S Gopal, became one of the leading Nehruvian historians of India.


We do not know why Stalin kept Netaji in custody after the War ended. Perhaps he couldn’t forgive Bose’s dalliance with Germany because of Hitler’s betrayal in attacking Russia. Stalin could not believe Richard Sorge’s warning; the Nazi army came within 13 miles of Moscow before Stalin led the fight back to victory. During the Cold War, however, London and New Delhi needed to develop their own sources regarding Netaji.


The British Archives have a letter intercepted by the Intelligence Bureau, written in 1947 by AC Nambiar, Netaji’s aide who was then based in Switzerland, to Amiya Bose (Sarat Bose’s son) in Kolkata. The letter was forwarded to MI5’s security officer for comments. It is now obvious why Nehru needed an MI5 officer in Delhi. In November 1957, Nehru wrote to Foreign Secretary Subimal Dutt informing him that Amiya Bose was in Tokyo and that the Indian envoy (CS Jha) should find out what he did there. Jha reported that Amiya Bose had not “indulged in any undesirable activities”.


The book, Judgement: No Aircrash, No Death (2010) says Nehru received information that Netaji left Japan for Manchuria via Saigon in August 1945, fearing arrest by the British after Japan’s defeat, and moved towards Russian territory. Nehru wrote to British Prime Minister Attlee that “Subhas Chandra Bose, your war criminal, has been allowed to enter Russian territory by Stalin … a clear treachery by the Russians”. The Mukherjee Commission has established that reports of an air crash in Taiwan (August 18, 1945) were false. Another lingering mystery concerns the treasure Netaji was allegedly carrying when he disappeared.


Former Congress MP, late Dr SN Sinha, testified before the Khosla Commission that Narodnyi Kommissariat Vnutrennikh Del (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) agent Kozlov told him that Netaji was imprisoned in Siberia. This was reiterated by former Abwehr spy Karl Leonhard who served time in Siberia after Germany lost the war in Russia. Sinha’s convincing evidence was ignored. When Sinha mentioned Netaji to S Radhakrishnan, the latter warned him that continuing to probe the matter would ruin his (Sinha’s) career. Sinha had accessed classified Soviet documents from Berlin regarding Netaji, but was stopped by the government. Similarly, Jadavpur University scholar Purabi Roy, who gave the Mukherjee Commission Soviet-era documents proving Netaji was in a Siberian prison, had her Asiatic Society grant cut by the PV Narasimha Rao government!


As Prime Minister Modi moves to rehabilitate the truth, he must ask President Putin to return Netaji’s remains and give the freedom-fighter a fitting military funeral. It would now be obvious why Nehru refused to integrate the Azad Hind Fauj with the Army, why he distrusted and disrespected the Army, and why he used the mask of secularism to negate and efface India’s civilisational ethos. It was not about the Muslims, but his own illegitimate rise to the top of the political pole. History is set to extract a terrible vengeance.

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