Four theories about death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

The Vanishing of Subhash Bose
The Mystery Unlocked
Book Excerpt 

WAS NETAJI STILL ALIVE?

There are various theories about how, where and when Netaji died. Some of them are quite fanciful and even outlandish. There were also parties that appeared before the Commission who insisted that Netaji was still alive!

Justice Mukherjee observed drily that the ‘average life span of an Indian is 70-75 year. Subhash Bose was born on January 23, 1897 (a matter of historical record) more than 100 years ago, so it can safely be presumed that be is no more.’

Despite the eminent reasonableness of the judge’s observation there were Bose lovers, including lawyers who filed statements and affidavits insisting that a person can live beyond the age of 100 years and for this reason Subhash Bose should be presumed to be alive. In support of this somewhat ridiculous claim one such Bose fan attached photographs of a Sadhu aged 124 years found to be living in the year 2000, the year the Commission was seized of the matter.

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DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF NETAJI’S DEATH

1. KILLED AT LAL QUILA (RED FORT) – A CASE OF PRESUMPTIONS AND ASSUMPTIONS

Mr Usha Ranjan Bhattarcharjee, a Calcutta resident filed a statement in which he contended that Netaji was deliberately murdered in the Red Fort in New Delhi on August 15, 1945 at zero hour. Prior to his murder he had been arrested at the Indian National Army’s Training Centre in Seramban in Malaysia and brought to Delhi by airplane the previous night via Singapore.

The story was completely without any basis or evidence. Why did Usha Ranjan choose the 15 th of August, three days prior to the alleged air crash in Taiwan? Possibly because it made the killing more poignant, since the date coincides with India’s Independence Day although India was not yet free at the time.

Why did Priya Ranjan choose the Red Fort as the site for Bose’s alleged murder? It makes the story more dramatic considering the Indian National Army (INA) trials that were held there. In the aftermath of the Second World War, many arrests were made by the British of Indians who owed allegiance to the INA. Those arrested overseas were considered to be war criminals and brought back to India to stand trial. The venue for those trials was the Red Fort.

Truth melds into fantasy as far as the prima facie plausibility of this theory is concerned. Why would the British arrest Netaji, fly him to India and then murder him in the Red Fort? There is no evidence that any other INA alleged war criminal was murdered in this fashion. If Netaji were to be murdered as per a British conspiracy – the British did plan to assassinate him in 1941 as per recent revelations – why bother with bringing him back to India and why kill him in the Red Fort?

Perhaps, because having a murder take place in the Red Fort creates a fittingly and mysterious background for this fictitious theory in the mind of its author?

Mr Bhattacharjee did not advance a shred of evidence in support of his theory. It was pure fantasy. He has written a book about the murder but it was really a work of imagination.

According to Bhattacharjee, Netaji was first confined in a secluded cell in the Red Fort. Later he was brought out and shot dead. After this summary execution Netaji’s dead body was burnt and the ashes buried in the Red Fort. How kind of the British to follow the Hindu customs in this regard One would have hoped that he would have led the Commission to the exact spot where the ashes lay buried, but alas, this was not to be the case.

In view of the Calcutta man’s persistent assertions he was examined on oath. In the course of his examination he was asked by the Commission if he possessed any proof or document in support of his theory. The man was an author and he promptly produced a copy of his book written in Bengali: ‘Netajike Lal Kellai Hotya’ or ‘Netaji Murdered at Red Fort.’ In the book he described in graphic detail the manner in which Netaji was murdered in the Lal Kella (Red Fort).

The judge asked him the source of his knowledge of the murder. The man confessed that, ‘the story was given out of presumption and assumption.’

2. DEATH OF A SUBHASH BOSE IN A HOLY MAN’S AVATAR IN 1977

A second version claims that Netaji died at Dehradun in Uttar Pradesh in 1977. We see him assume the garb and mantle of a holy man in this theory. Around the year 1959, the theory posits, a religious center named and styled as the ‘Shaulmari Ashram’ was established at Falakata in District Cooch Behar, which borders Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. This Ashram was set up by a Sadhu known as Sharadanandji or Shaulmari Baba to his disciples.

Initially no one took notice of the Ashram or for that matter of the Sadhu. Had it remained a small affair probably no one would have noticed or cared. However when the institute’s campus gradually extended its geographical area over 100 acres of land, people started to take notice. The number of its inhabitants also rose to about 1,500 with armed guards posted at the entrance. People in the neighborhood became inquisitive about the real identity of the Sadhu as well as the goings-on at the Ashram.

A few months thereafter, a rumor took root and spread that the man living in the Ashram was Netaji, in the guise of the Sadhu. This rumor captured the imagination of the common people in the area. The general intelligentsia ignored it in the absence of any real proof that the Sadhu was Netaji. However, the rumor continued to persist and by 1961 it had spread throughout the country.

Intrigued by the rumor, Major Satya Gupta, a former close associate of Netaji, met the Sadhu at the Ashram in February, 1962. Upon his return to Kolkata the Major called a press conference where he asserted that the Sadhu was none other than Netaji. The assertion so made by him was published in different national newspapers on February 13, 1962. Several notable persons visited the Ashram thereafter and met the Sadhu to ascertain whether he was Netaji or not. The issue was also raised in the Indian Parliament and it became the subject matter of a heated debate. The Sadhu reportedly stayed in the Ashram for about six to seven years, but ultimately shifted his location and settled down in Dehradun in 1973. It was there that he died in 1977.

The question whether the Sadhu was Netaji in a disguise came up for consideration before the Khosla Commission. Some persons made strenuous claims that the Sadhu was in fact Netaji; others denied it equally vociferously. This sharp divergence of opinion continued up until the time of the Mukherjee Commission as well. In numerical terms, of the eleven witnesses examined on this score, eight asserted that the Sadhu was none other than Netaji, while the remaining three disputed the claim.

Numbers by themselves however don’t necessarily matter. Most witnesses who claimed that the Sadhu was Netaji were only occasional visitors to the Ashram. No reliable document was ever produced in support of their claim.

The only exception in this regard was a Bengali gentleman by the name of Mr Bikesh Chandra Guha. This man produced a letter handed over to him by the Sadhu on October 15, 1967. It authorized him to raise donations on behalf of the Ashram. Mr Guha claimed that the writing was Netaji’s. Handwriting experts were tasked by the Mukherjee Commission to carry out a comparison with the admitted handwriting of Netaji, The experts ruled that the author of that letter was not Netaji!

Moreover, Mr Nikhil Chandra Ghatak, a senior lawyer representing the Ashram, categorically stated that the Sadhu had himself denied in no uncertain terms that he was Netaji. He had repeated this denial on numerous occasions in meetings held in the Ashram and outside.

The Mukherjee Commission concluded that: ‘there is no reliable evidence to prove that the Sadhu was Netaji.’ The question of Bose’s death in Dehradun in 1977 did not therefore arise.

3. NETAJI SURVIVED A PLANE CRASH IN INDIA – WITH HITLER

The third theory has Subhash Bose surviving an air crash, but the crash takes place not in faraway Taiwan but in India. As if this were not dramatic enough, Netaji survives the air crash while accompanied by none other than the Fuehrer, Hitler himself. What about Habib ur Rahman who had claimed to be in an aircraft with Bose, although that air craft was over Taipei? Geographical details don’t seem to matter to the men who float this theory. Habib ur Rahman too was in the same air craft they insist, together with Netaji and Hitler. So... what happened to Netaji, the judge quizzes the proponents of this theory. They too, amazingly enough, have Netaji transforming into a sadhu.

This bizarre theory was propounded byJagannath Prasad Gupta, a resident of village Nagda in the district of Sheopur Kalan (Madhya Pradesh). He asserted that during the days of struggle for freedom of India a plane crash-landed in the neighboring village of Pondola. The three persons who survived the crash were a ‘Sadhu’, Col. Habibur Rahman and Hitler. Later on, the ‘Sadhu’ came to their village and started living on the bank of the river nearby.

The ‘Sadhu’ who carried the name of Jyotirdev used to correspond regularly with senior officers in government and used to go out of the village frequently. According to Mr Gupta’s assertions, the ‘Sadhu’ was none other than Netaji and he died on May 21, 1977 in Sheopur Kalan. After his death, so the story goes, the Government of Madya Pradesh had seized all records pertaining to the ‘Sadhu’ which contain proof of his identity as Netaji.

Three affidavits sworn by Ram Bharosi Sharma of village Nagda, Kartar Singh of village Raipura, and Gurdayal Singh of village Mohana were filed in support of Mr Gupta’s statement.

The Commission observed that the theory waS ‘patently absurd on the face of it and need not be delved into.’ Unsurprisingly, the claim that Netaji died at Sheopur Kalan on May 21, 1977 was rejected.

One cannot help wondering if the Commission should have even considered such bizarre, outlandish theories? Why would Subhash Bose, a man who straddled continents in pursuit of freedom for his country, the man known as ‘the springing tiger’ choose to live the anonymous and reclusive life of a sadhu?

Perhaps the better question to ask is: what were the motivations of people who spread such evidently baseless theories? Was the purpose self-publicity or something else?

While attention seeking as a motive cannot be ruled out, we need to remember that there were many people who loved Netaji and wished that somehow their hero be alive! They did not consider how implausible it would be for Netaji to have lived as a sadhu in anonymity away from the public eye.

4. ESCAPED FROM RUSSIA, RE-INVENTED HIMSELF AS GUMNAMI BABA AND DIED IN FAIZABAD

The Commission engaged itself in a fairly extensive examination of the fourth theory. The sequence of events described here is as follows: Netaji first escaped to Russia, where he was held in a prison, and then he managed to escape to India, reinvented himself as Gumnami Baba aka Bhagwanji and eventually died in Faizabad.

This theory was examined more carefully by the Commission because here it was not just a few literate and semi-literate witnesses. As many as 31 witnesses claimed that the Baba was in fact Subhash Bose. This included highly educated individuals and senior journalists.

People who had actually met Netaji during his lifetime testified before the Commission that Gumnami Babi was indeed Netaji. Such witnesses included family members such as Bose’s niece Lalita who had not only met her uncle Subhash Bose but was familiar with his writing and habits.

This theory that Netaji was Gumnami Baba who died in Faizabad was supported by sworn statements filed by various witnesses. From Gorakhpur there was Dr Alokesh Bagchi. From Faizabad itself there were three witnesses: Mr Ashok Tandon, Mr Shakti Singh andMr Kailash Nath Jaiswal.

The common case made out by them is that after the death of Stalin in March, 1953 Netaji escaped from the then Soviet Union and after coming to India lived at different places in Uttar Pradesh. He was last known to have lived at ‘Rambhawan’ in Faizabad. Details and particulars of various places where he resided and the duration of his stay there were incorporated in their statements. A further claim made was that in September 1985 Netaji left ‘Rambhawan’ for an unknown destination. He left behind a large number of household articles including family photos, books, letters and other documents in that house. The custody of these articles was taken by the District Magistrate of Faizabad and kept in the treasury, following an inventory prepared in terms of the direction given in Writ Petition No. 929 of 1986 filed by his (Netaji’s) niece Lalita Bose and two others.

Three senior journalists Mr Ashok Tandon, Dr. Viswambharnath Arora, and Mr Sayed Kauser Hussain investigated the mystery surrounding Gumnami Baba and wrote articles in their respective newspapers, magazines and books, relying upon the statements made before them by several persons. Given that various distinguished persons supported the theory that Gumnami Baba was really Netaji in disguise, including Subhash Bose’s own family members, the Commission found it necessary to visit Faizabad.

Upon a careful scrutiny of more than 2,600 items lying there the Commission determined than about 700 of them might be relevant for its purposes and brought them over to its office in Kolkata. Writings found in books and journals found in Rambhawan by the said Gumnami Baba were sent for examination and comparison with that of Netaji’s by handwriting experts. Teeth too were found and sent for DNA test to ascertain whether they belonged to Netaji’s lineage.

[Excerpted from the chapter 'Fanciful Disappearance and Death Theories']

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