Bose returns

The declassification of the Netaji files by the West Bengal government adds weight to the theory that Subhas Chandra Bose did not die in the 1945 plane crash in Taiwan and may have been alive even after Independence.

Published : Sep 30, 2015 12:30 IST

Subhas Chandra Bose. The declassified files are a gold mine of information and historical nuggets that illuminate the sociopolitical milieu prevalent in the period in question.

Subhas Chandra Bose. The declassified files are a gold mine of information and historical nuggets that illuminate the sociopolitical milieu prevalent in the period in question.

With the declassification of the 64 secret files on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose that have been lying with the West Bengal Police and the Kolkata Police, the first steps have been taken towards unravelling one of the best kept secrets of the nation and arguably the biggest mystery of independent India: the date and the circumstances surrounding the death of Netaji. It is claimed that Bose perished in a plane crash on August 18, 1945, in Taihoku (now Taipei in Taiwan), and that subsequently, his ashes after cremation have been preserved at the Renkoji temple in Tokyo. However, 70 years hence, and three commissions of inquiry later, the theory that the great Indian revolutionary may not have died in the supposed plane crash and could have been alive for a considerable time after India’s Independence has been increasingly gaining credence. The theory gained some acceptability particularly after the findings of the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry led to the conclusion in 2006 that Bose had not died in the plane crash. The report was rejected by the then Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, once again fuelling rumours that there were secrets surrounding the death of Netaji that were being suppressed.

Though the larger question of Bose’s death remains unanswered even after West Bengal’s Trinamool Congress government declassified the files it had on September 18, the contents of the files, nevertheless, served to add weight to the theory that Bose was alive even after Independence. Moreover, the constant surveillance on Netaji’s family members, particularly on his elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose’s family, by the intelligence authorities and the police until as late as 1971, as disclosed by the files, also indicates that there was something relating to Netaji that was keeping the successive Congress governments uneasy. Besides issues relating to Subhas and Sarat Bose—“Brothers against the Raj” as they were popularly known—the declassified files are a goldmine of information and historical nuggets that further illuminate the sociopolitical milieu prevalent in those years. The files, comprising over 12,744 pages of material, cover a period between 1939 and 1971. The bulk of the files relate to the period between 1942 and 1949.


Right from the beginning, Bose’s supposed death in 1945 was shrouded in mystery, and many refused to believe it. He was known to be a master at pulling off a disappearing act, and as the declassified files reveal, earlier too, in 1942 and in 1944 there were reports of his death in air crashes.

So, in 1945, as there was no recorded evidence of his death or no photograph of his body, his followers and admirers clung to the belief that he would re-emerge one day. According to a file report from the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Branch Calcutta, dated January 25, 1949, Sarat Chandra Bose, after returning with his family to Calcutta (now Kolkata) from abroad, met some Forward Bloc leaders and “gave out that he was inclined to believe from information gathered during his European tour that ‘Netaji’ Subhas Bose was alive and that he was now somewhere in China controlled by the Communist Army of China. According to him, ‘Netaji’ made some contribution to the present victory of the Chinese Communist Army in their fight against K.M.T. [Kuomintang].”

In the same year, in a letter to Sarat Bose dated May 11, 1949, and intercepted and copied by the Security Control Office in Kolkata, Subhas’ “widow”, Emilie Schenkl, wrote from Vienna, “We can only hope that our feelings may become reality one day and that your brother will return. This is the only thing I am praying for.”

Earlier, a report had been published in the Bombay-based tabloid Blitz on March 26, 1949, which stated that the British government “is rumoured to be very much perturbed” by the “confidential information” that Netaji was alive and awaiting the right moment to return to India. “It is not known whether the news of the Living Bose is based upon positive evidence of his whereabouts—suspected to be in Red China or Soviet Russia, or upon what is described as the ‘negative’ evidence of the failure of the best brains of the Anglo-American security services to dig up the slightest evidence in confirmation of the story of Bose’s death in a plane crash…. Anglo-American sources, haunted by the bogey of the Red Peril, seem to see the hand of Bose behind every Communist offensive in South-East Asia and the Far East,” said the Blitz report, which was filed away by the Intelligence Branch of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

Interestingly, it appears that around that period, the belief that Subhas Bose was alive had taken root in the country, possibly because of the pan-Indian nature of his army (the Indian National Army, or the INA). A letter from Madras (now Chennai) dated January 9, 1948, containing the resolutions passed at the annual session of the Pan Asiatic Federation, addressed to Sarat Bose, and intercepted by the police, states in Resolution 32: “The Pan-Asiatic Federation urges on the people of India to disown the present incompetent leadership and to prepare India for the reappearance of Netaji and his leadership.”

In 1969, the eminent academic and Lok Sabha member of the Praja Socialist Party Samar Guha, who was also once a close associate of Subhas Bose, wrote a letter to the then Chief Secretary of West Bengal, M.M. Basu, citing a report in Jugantar newspaper that Netaji had not died in a plane crash, according to a police officer of the government of West Bengal who served in the army in Singapore during the War. “It was so far known that Netaji left Singapore by a plane for Taihoku in Formosa but the said policeman claimed that he instead boarded on a Jap submarine at Singapore…. He also claimed that Netaji left his sword with him which he brought to India with the help of late Air Marshall Subrata Mukherjee,” Guha wrote in his letter.

What has come as a major revelation from the declassified secret files is the constant and prolonged surveillance that Subhas Bose’s family members—particularly Sarat Bose and his children—were kept under by the police and the intelligence wing long after Netaji’s supposed death. In fact, the snooping on the family continued until as late as 1971, long after Sarat Bose’s death in February 1950. The files show that their letters were intercepted, their movement both within and outside the country were monitored and recorded, and their social and political interactions minutely observed. In fact, so thorough and surreptitious had been the spying that when the descendants of Subhas and Sarat Bose came to know of it on September 18, 2015, they were shocked.

A note from the Home Department, Government of West Bengal, to the postmaster of the Elgin Road Post Office, Calcutta, dated September 14, 1949, read: “…in exercise of the power conferred by Section 26(1) of the Indian Post Office Act, 1898, the Governor is pleased to direct the interception of all [word faded out and illegible] postal articles which may be discovered in the course of transmission by post addressed to the correspondence of 38/2 Elgin Road and 1, Woodburn Park, Calcutta.” The first address, popularly known as Netaji Bhavan, was the residence of Sarat Bose, while the second was where one of his sons, Sisir Bose, lived. Section 26(1) of the Indian Post Office Act provides for the “power to intercept postal articles for public good”.

The files also contain police intelligence reports of Sisir Kumar Bose, founder of the Netaji Research Bureau, making inquiries about Netaji’s death. A Secret Weekly Survey Report of the police, dated February 25, 1965, states: “A secret information disclosed that DR SISIR K BOSE, requested TATSUO HAYASHIDA, T Hayashida & Co… Fukuska, Japan, to enlighten him on the following points in connection with NETAJI’S death:-

1. When and by whom was he informed of Netaji’s death?

2. Did he see NETAJI in hospital?

3. Did he see NETAJI’S dead body?”

The extent and the manner in which the family was spied upon reveal the fact that the spectre of Subhas Bose, dead or alive, continued to haunt the government at the highest level. Even the most personal letters, like a handwritten note from Subhas’ infant daughter, Anita, to her uncle Sarat, were intercepted and copied.

The files have also uncovered a wealth of information, occurrences and anecdotes ranging from the serious to the trivial. One entire file comprising 323 pages contains only “war rumours”, mostly in the year 1942. There are more than 20 files on the INA alone, which throw interesting light on different aspects of Netaji’s army, like the medical organisation in the INA, and on Subhas Bose’s stay in Berlin. Even little incidents have not been left out. A report from the Central Intelligence Office, dated March 8, 1946, stated, “Lakshmi Saminnathan during her stay in Calcutta has antagonised Sarat Bose and his family. The reason for this are that she, ignoring the invitations accorded to her by Sarat Bose’s sons and daughters, decided to live in Subhas Bose’s house and fraternise with the family members of Satish Chandra Bose and others.”

Another series of confidential communications between the police and the Gramophone Company Ltd in 1945 show the dilemma of business houses in the face of police proscription. The government considered the song “Kadam Kadam Barhae Ja”, the anthem of the INA, to be “seditious” and informed the Gramophone Company Ltd in Calcutta that producing records of the song would make it liable to prosecution under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. The song, composed by Captain Ram Singh Thakur of the INA, had become immensely popular all over the country at that time, soon after news of Subhas’ death, and the Gramophone Company, in a letter to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Branch, in January 1946, wrote “…we feel we should bring to your notice the fact that our competitors in Bombay, the National Gramophone Record Manufacturing Co. Ltd, have released a recording of this song”.

The Home (Political) Department of the Bengal government was unmoved. “Production of records of the song by the company in Bombay does not affect our opinion already expressed,” wrote the department in an internal letter to the Special Branch. Watching its competitors in Bombay making a killing in the market with the sales of the song, the Gramophone and Radio Dealers’ Association of Calcutta wrote to the Gramophone Company and Columbia Gramophone Co. Ltd urging them to start producing the record. “I feel that the dealers are sure to make of it a bumper. Should the dealers be deprived of such a golden opportunity?” wrote the association in a letter dated February 2, 1946. The ban on the song was finally lifted in Calcutta two weeks after Independence.


The three commissions of inquiry that had taken place at the behest of the Central government did little to dispel the doubts relating to Netaji’s death, and it has long been expected that the declassification of the files lying with the State and the Centre would provide the final answer to this 70-year-old mystery. Both the Shah Nawaz Committee of 1956 and the Khosla Commission of 1970 upheld the view that Netaji was killed in the 1945 plane crash. Subhas Bose’s elder brother Suresh Chandra Bose, who was a member of the Shah Nawaz Committee, disagreed with the findings of the committee and in his report categorically stated that no plane crash had taken place. Though both the commissions were accepted by the Central government, not everybody was convinced of the soundness of their conclusions. Finally, the Mukherjee Commission investigations, which lasted from 1999 to 2005, stirred a hornet’s nest when it concluded that Netaji did not die in the plane crash and that the ashes preserved in the Renkoji temple were of a Japanese soldier and not those of Subhas Bose.

The declassification of the files by West Bengal may not have provided any conclusive answer to the debate on Netaji’s death, but, as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee put it, “This is the beginning of the future…. Let the truth come out.” In what is being perceived as political gamesmanship, she placed the ball squarely in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s court, almost daring him to now come out with the files at the Centre, as he had promised earlier. It is these files that are believed to hold the answers to long-evaded questions regarding one of the most enigmatic and audacious heroes of modern Indian history.

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