August 1945. After the Japanese surrendered in the Second World War, Subhas Chandra Bose takes off on a Japanese bomber headed to Manchuria from Bangkok. Soon after takeoff, the plane crashes. A Japanese news agency declares the death of Bose.
Seventy-two years and multiple investigations — by the government of India, Britain, Japan and Taiwan — later, the death of Subhas Chandra Bose continues to be mired in controversy. A new book written by journalist Ashis Ray and published by Roli books titled “Laid to rest: The controversy over Subhas Chandra Bose’s death,” makes a comprehensive analysis of all the existing documentary evidence that point to the fact that Bose did indeed pass away in the plane crash.
Ray claims the book, with a foreword by Bose’s only daughter Anita Pfaff, is the result of his humanitarian efforts to fulfil Pfaff’s desire to see her father’s remains brought back to India from Japan. The book boasts of piecing together “a plethora of first-hand, eyewitness accounts of the plane crash at Taipei” that resulted in the death of Bose. Testimonies from survivors of the plane crash, of those who were present at his cremation, and of the man who carried Bose’s ashes from Taipei to Tokyo are part of the evidence Ray has provided in his book to support his claim.
In an interview with Indianexpress.com, Ray discusses the problems with the investigation carried out by the Mukherjee Commission, the need to build public opinion in favour of ending the controversy through purely documentary evidence and why members of the extended Bose family who have been objecting to the report of his death in the plane crash have to cooperate in the matter.
There have been several rounds of investigations into Bose’s death and the government of India has also declassified files related to him, making them available to the public. What is your purpose in writing this book today?
The evidence is overwhelming and incontrovertible. It is an open and shut case. This book, I have written purely for humanitarian reasons. Subhash Bose’s widow passed away in 1996 without closure on the matter of his remains. His daughter is an only child and she is 75 years old now and getting a little anxious. She has been asking the Indian government to bring back the ashes to India. Her plea is that her father’s wish was to return to an independent India. Secondly, she says her father was a Hindu and the final rites should be performed as per the Hindu traditions with his ashes immersed in the Ganga.
I would like through my book to appeal to the public because it is very important to build public opinion in India in favour of the ashes coming back. It’s purely based on documentary evidence and most importantly like any investigative journalist, any historian or any detective would do, I have depended mostly on first hand and eyewitness accounts and this is what this book is based on. People who disbelieve the story, do so on emotional grounds, or they are in denial or they have a political or commercial motive but once they are presented with such overwhelming documentary evidence, it is difficult for them to believe the way they have been doing for so many years.
Members of Bose’s family have been most active in raising objections against the theory of his death in a plane crash. However, your book carries a foreword by his daughter, Anita Pfaff stating her firm belief that Bose died in the plane crash. Why is there a difference in opinion among the family members?
First of all, what is family and who is family? The family is the daughter and the grandchildren. Everyone else is the extended family. The extended family have no locus standi in the matter. They have been expressing their opinion left, right and centre for 72 years without any authority to do so. The only person who has a legal and moral right on the matter is Anita Pfaff, the only child and heir.
My request to the family would be to please cooperate with Anita. She is your cousin. Please help her to fulfil her desire to bring her father’s remains to India.
I have sympathy for people who for emotional reasons are still not able to accept the truth. But if there are any other reasons for opposing, then I am a little disappointed. There was this great expectation that he would return to India and be triumphant and be a saviour for the country. The fact that it did not happen was a terrible blow for the extended family. But the reality being what it is, they should accept what has happened and cooperate with Anita. If they really love Subhash Chandra Bose, they are actually committing a huge insult for so many years because its a dishonour that a hero of the Indian freedom movement is being treated in this manner.
The current government and the previous governments have accepted the fact that he died in a plane crash. Is there a political motive then, as to why the controversy still rolls on 72 years after his death?
Every single Indian government, starting with the first government of Nehru to this one of Modi has accepted that he died as a result of a crash and those ashes are his. There could be a fringe Hindutva element who have a different point of view for reasons purely political, which is to oppose, defame and malign Jawaharlal Nehru. The second element is the Forward Bloc in West Bengal. Today, it is almost a spent force so they too are not really an opposition. Thirdly, there is one individual who is a stumbling block and that individual is Mamata Banerjee. It is not the Trinamool party that is against it. She believes that there was a Russian angle to the story. That angle I have dealt with in every detail in my book. So I would request her to read the book.
Like you said there have been 11 different investigations into the death of Bose. Why is it that only the Mukherjee Commission report of 2006 opposes the theory of him dying in the plane crash?
They carried out an investigation which was, first of all, was unnecessary. Secondly, they were hamstrung by the fact the survivors were not alive anymore. The first and second enquiries were able to interview the survivors who were still alive. But by the time the Mukherjee commission came about, no one was alive. There was one person alive but even he was not spoken to. He was not an eyewitness but knew the circumstances quite well, but the commission did not speak with him. Secondly, they went all the way to Tokyo and came back without inspecting all the remains. That was unfortunate.
It’s a strange report. It says Bose is dead and even says that he was in Taipei, but then say that he did not die in the crash. The other thing they pursued in course of their enquiry was to determine whether this Gumnami Baba was Subhash Bose. That, his daughter considers being a great insult. She believes that her father was a man of action and he would not end up cowering as a sadhu. This man that they were thinking could be Bose had a criminal background. That is an even bigger insult. Last but not the least, they did a DNA test on this man’s remains and naturally it was negative. But why pursue that line anyway. As far as I am concerned, it was not a proper investigation.