While critiquing the sense of history of the notable Realist EH Carr, the then Professor of Modern History at Oxford University, Trevor-Roper suggested:
“According to Carr, ‘objectivity’ means, not being ‘objective’ in the hitherto accepted sense of the word—i.e. being uncommitted, dispassionate, fair but the exact opposite, being committed to that side which is going to win…”
How this seemingly unconnected theoretical reference becomes contextual in the present scheme of things which are going to be discussed here? The answer lies in the complex matrix of events, facts, narratives, personalities and politics which is going to unfold soon after.
By now, it is well assumed that not just the intelligentsia, but many so-called commoners, are somewhat aware of the concept of a Black Hole. Technical jargons aside, a Black Hole is an object in the Universe which does not allow any light to come out of it. Hence, no information can be obtained from the Black Hole.
Interestingly, a Black Hole is initially a bright, luminous star. However, the death of a star can have three different possibilities, and Black Hole is one of them. Just imagine, an effulgent star one day extinguishes itself, loses all its fuel and ‘dies’. And after death, does not allow us to look at it.
Coming back to dry theoretical discourse, historian AJP Taylor questioned the prevalent notion of historical ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. He asked:
“Was Stalin’s extermination of the Kulaks justified because it helped to produce a strong Soviet Union? Or does it mean that Hitler’s pogrom was not justified because Germany lost in the Second World War?”
Extracting a page from Taylor, one might tend to argue that historiography or ‘the art of writing history’ has generally divorced itself from moral judgment in order to uphold the so-called ‘objectivity’, which in essence is simply nothing but a mechanism to buttress the ideology of the ‘victor’.
Now, which lack of morality and ethics are we talking about? And that too in post-colonial Indian Historiography? Who are the Indian ‘victors’ after independence? And who all are the marginalized in the mainstream historical discourse? Whatever be the reality, the perennially disgruntled remain the hapless Indian citizenry—the so-called ‘masses’.
THE TALE OF TWO PISTOLS
Did we ever read or hear about a protagonist in Indian History called Trilok Singh Chawla? He is definitively bound to be a non-entity in mainstream historical narrative. Nevertheless, Trilok Singh, and many like him do exist, albeit in a carefully shielded apparatus, called the Historical Black Hole. To glean information from their tales, it becomes pertinent to explore some less charted territories, mostly lost in the labyrinth of mainstream narrative.
Such feelings were randomly crossing the minds of the audience in the hall of the Mahabodhi Society in Kolkata on January 18, 2011. Restlessness was a tangible asset on their faces. The reason was pretty straightforward. A microscopic minority out of the ten million population of the ‘literate’ city had gathered to discern some information regarding their “Netaji”. After all, his 115th birthday was round the corner. The audience of around 30-40 people was eagerly waiting to see a much-controversial documentary on Netaji.
Well, what do we know about the Man? That he was a great freedom fighter and became President of the Indian National Congress (INC) twice. His opinions were at variance with the Father of the Nation, and that was one of the main reasons of his eventual ouster from the INC. That he was a ‘Fascist’ (as believed by Francis Fukuyama, Paul Samuelson and our Marxist brothers) and went to Germany and then to Japan to ‘collude’ with the Axis powers so as to liberate his motherland through the Indian National Army (INA). He failed though, like most of our freedom fighters, to reach the Red Fort and deliver a ‘tryst with destiny’ speech from the ramparts of the medieval architectural piece.
However, the things that we hardly know or rather care to know can be summarised in a nutshell:
- Did Netaji ‘die’ in the air crash at Taihoku airport (present Taipei) on August 18, 1945?
- If the answer to the above question is in the affirmative, then why have not the Government of India (GoI) brought his ‘alleged’ ashes from the Renkoji Temple in Tokyo?
- And if Netaji did not die on that fateful day, as has been claimed as well as to some extent ‘proved’ by careful analyses as per circumstantial evidence and pure logic by many analysts, politicos, academicians and freelancers, what happened to that Man?
- Why have the GoI not disclosed a number of (according to estimates, around 30) classified documents pertaining to Netaji?
- Why the GoI has to file a case challenging the Central Information Commission when the latter (a body constituted by the GoI itself to emancipate the countrymen from official secrecy) allowed an RTI application of unmasking the history of INA, written ironically by an official historian way back in 1950?
- And why the GoI posits clearly unintelligible arguments that it shall be derogatory and harmful for India’s relations with friendly nations if the classified documents pertaining to Netaji are made public, even after six decades of our political emancipation?
Trilok Singh is an apparently innocuous person. He is into real estate business and lives in Bangkok with his family. And since he is a nonagenarian, there is the least probability for him to join any terrorist organisation to jeopardize India’s security interests.
However, he has committed a crime and for which he is still languishing. He is a pariah in his own motherland. At least, his son has to make ‘durbars’ to meet the Prime Minister of India and still can’t have a glimpse of him. Trilok, the bold Sikh, was a secretary of Netaji in Thailand during the INA days. Singh still cherishes that memory, and is in possession of a photograph of his leader. Well, his crime is not just that. He was a part of the ‘dissenters’, who disobeyed their Imperial rulers and fought to emancipate their ‘boden’ (German word for soil).
Trilok’s other major crime is that he still remains the custodian of two pistols, quite antediluvian though in their technological structure and military impact. These were the two pistols which were given to him by his revered leader before he left Thailand. Singh still remembers the last words of his “Netaji”: “Chawla, we will meet in Red Fort”.
And naturally Singh has the quixotic belief that his Netaji will come back. His last wish is to hand over these two pistols to GoI. But the latter is pretty busy handling graft charges, and has no time to accommodate outmoded characters like Singh. In this busy 21st century, our leaders hardly have an ‘inch’ of space for the ‘masses’, something which at least the medieval stalwart Akbar had. Remember his jharoka darshans every morning?
TWO SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT
Now, the masses are gullible no doubt. They can be goaded to believe nonsense. But there are elites to guide them. And intellectuals (without getting into the definition of the term) must provide us the path. However, here the question arises, which intellectuals to listen to? In post-colonial India, we have had two sets of intellectuals to have opined and written on Subhash Chandra Bose.
The first set represents the official line of thought. According to them, the solution to the phenomenon called Netaji is simple. He passed away in that air crash and was a patriotic leader who spearheaded the INA. It’s the second set of motley group which every now and then, has created and still re-creates flutters.
Samar Guha, a Professor of Chemistry at Jadavpur University, was a freedom fighter himself under the guidance of Netaji. After he became an MP in 1967, he started the crusade in the Parliament for instituting a fresh inquiry into Netaji’s mysterious disappearance in 1945. What made him think that Netaji was still alive or at least did not perish in that crash? Since by then, an official Commission of Enquiry had already taken place, called the Shah Nawaz Khan Commission (December 1955) and declared its ‘verdict’ which in fact was corroborative of the crash theory.
More so, as Guha kept on clamouring, there was instituted another Committee, which journalist Anuj Dhar in his book Back From Dead (BFD) terms as a Sham Commission, was the one-man GD Khosla Committee (1970-74). And expectedly, both the commissions stubbornly declared that Netaji perished in that crash at Taihoku.
Nobody bothered to probe the inner details, or rather were willfully reluctant to. At the other end, Guha was dogged enough not to surrender, though incarcerated during the Emergency. He rather picked up his pen during his sojourn to prison and penned down his persuasive monograph: Netaji, Dead or Alive?
Secret documents and evidences revealed in the book convinced the then Morarji Desai government to discard the findings of both the Shah Nawaz Committee and Khosla Commission. Guha openly challenged the Crash theory. Does it mean that he was privy to some more ‘clinching evidence’ apart from the ones cited in his book?
Might be. At least that is what has been indicated by Dhar in his magnum opus. “Bhagwanji was the man on Samar Guha’s mind when he had sworn in the name of God in the Parliament that Netaji was alive” (pg 311, BFD).
In fact, the story goes a bit backward in time. And that is exactly what the audience was privy to on January 18 at the Mahabodhi Society hall. Amlan Kusum Ghosh of the SRIFT Foundation has enthusiastically tailored a documentary ‘Black Box of History’ (BBH) which touches upon many possible angles of post-1945 Bose’s survival.
The fact of the matter is Amlan-Babu was visually portraying the hard facts (?) on January 18 as has been already elucidated in Dhar’s book. Or which in a sense Prof Guha had vociferously argued in the Parliament or Dr Madhusudan Pal firmly believes and on which Dr Purabi Roy of Jadavpur University puts an insignia through her painstaking research in the 1990s in post-Communist Russia.
Even if the above be discarded by our officials and GoI as sundry and over-enthusiastic individuals, the following two can hardly be ignored. One was Thevar, whose statue exists in the Parliament Hall. Thevar claimed that ‘he had stayed’ with Netaji for nine months from January 1950 to October 1950. He detailed in front of the media that Netaji was then at Sikiang district of China on the Assam-China border and was acting as an Indian representative on the Asian Liberation Force (pg 353, BFD).
According to Dhar, Thevar further claimed that “Subhas Babu was taken to Manchuria by the Japanese….” (pg 354, BFD).
Next in line to officially disregard the hitherto existing official beliefs, was Manoj Mukherjee, a retired judge of the Supreme Court. He, however, did not do so acting on an independent mission, which the others have basically done. Rather, Mukherjee was appointed by the GoI in 1999 to unravel the mystery pertaining to the ‘death’ of Bose. Again, he was a one-man committee in search of ‘one more Man’.
He, nevertheless, put up a gallant fight and came up with his findings in May 2006. Ironically, he faced a ludicrous response from the GoI, which by then had seen a change of guard in New Delhi: the INC-led GoI was back. The obvious response of the GoI was to throw the voluminous report to the garbage bin without positing any concrete rationale.
The Union Home Ministry, while submitting the report to Parliament, placed an Action Taken Report (ATR) too where it said the Centre had not accepted the Commission’s findings. The Commission had said that Bose did not die at Taihoku and the ashes kept in Renkoji temple in Japan were not his.
Rudra Jyoti Bhattacharjee, an advocate, filed a petition in the Calcutta High Court in 2006 challenging the ATR. The case is still on.
Justice Mukherjee went to Japan to interview the doctor who had reportedly issued the death certificate for Netaji in 1945. Interestingly, it became known that the certificate was issued on the name of a Japanese Ichiro Okura.
In 2005, the Taiwanese government officially declared that no air crash happened at Taihoku on and around 18 August 1945. Based on cogent documents, interviews and proofs, Justice Mukherjee concluded that Netaji did not perish in August 1945. The only possibility thus left was that he went toward Russia through China.
Such a hypothesis is concurred by the investigation carried out by Hindustan Times as well as by Dr Roy’s research based on the archival documents. And there is no reason to outrightly reject the assertion of Zerovin (a German) as told to an Indian engineer Ardhendu Sarkar. Zerovin had personally met Bose in 1948, somewhere in Siberia. According to his version, Bose told him:
“I expect to be in India very soon”. (pg 215, BFD)
Dr Roy tried her best to unravel the hidden dimension, but all in vain. The reason was obstinacy shown by the GoI. It never requested the Russians to open up their secret military archives which presumably contain the papers concerning Netaji’s disappearance. Roy could still piece together enough materials to unravel the mystery. Her ‘hypothesis’ is that Netaji was alive after 1945, in Russia. And he was not mal-treated by Stalin. However, after the latter’s death in 1953, Bose might have been ‘swapped’ between Nehru and Khruschev. Roy tries to substantiate her arguments by indicating that India’s relations with Russia improved after 1953. Well, she does not possess any ‘clinching evidence’ either.
Nonetheless, did Nehru have any ‘clinching’ and cogent proof to ever say that Netaji perished in 1945?
He defended himself thus:
“You ask me to send you proof of the death of Bose. I cannot send you any precise and direct proof.” (Nehru’s letter to Netaji’s brother, Suresh Bose, 1962)
In a recent piece in Current History (20 October 2010), Hugh Purcell has quoted a stenographer, Sham Lal Jain. As a deponent before the Khosla Commission, he said: “Pandit Nehru asked him to make typed copies of a hand-written note that said Bose had reached Russia via Dairen [Manchuria]”.
He also alleged that Nehru asked him to type a letter to British Prime Minister Attlee that “Bose, your war criminal, has been allowed to enter Russian territory by Stalin”.
Moreover, on 10 March 1978, Mountbatten uttered: “there was no official record of Bose’s death in his archives” (pg 57, BFD).
THE MOVEMENT IS ON
The silent revolution to ‘unearth’ Bose has been going on since 1960s, when Leela Roy, a revolutionary and Bose’s compatriot, discovered that Netaji was alive and residing at a place called Neemsar in the UP-Nepal border. Ghose’s documentary interviewed those residents of Neemsar who supposedly had a brush with the Great Leader. Interestingly, all of them say that they are quite confident that it was Bose who stayed at Neemsar for a long period of time in the 1960s. However, he always remained behind a veil, and incognito, assuming the name of Gumnaami Baba.
Indubitably, things turn quite dramatic over here. Was Netaji living incognito in India for around three decades (1954-85), behind the veil and never surfaced in public? Why? Well, Dhar tries to prop up a plausible answer in the Postlude of his book citing conversation of Bhagwanji and Leela Roy (March 1963) :
“My coming out will not benefit anyone—the country, the people and myself. India would not be able to stand the pressure of the world powers.”
What pressure was Bhagwanji referring to? Was it the War Criminal status accorded (or was it?) to Netaji as he was alongside the Axis powers. After losing the War, history was neither written for them, nor by them.
Now, evidence speaks for all, and even for the dead. Two things were done regarding Bhagwanji. First, his sample handwritings were compared with Netaji’s actual ones pre-1945. And second, teeth found from Bhagwanji’s room at Faizabad (the place where he reportedly breathed his last in 1985) were sent for DNA profile matching with a Bose-kin.
The former had an interesting result as B Lal, an expert opined on June 25, 2003, in the affirmative; while two other experts ‘appointed’ by the GoI, negated any similarity. As far as the DNA report was concerned, it remained inconclusive.
In an e-mail correspondence, Dhar told Uday India: “As I understand, opinions of handwriting experts are accepted in courts of law world over. Regarding Bahgwanji, it is impossible for an aging man to continue copying someone else’s handwritings in two languages for 30 odd years.”
He further asserted: “Regarding DNA, I have held the view since the time of writing the book that any opinion expressed by anyone linked to GoI lack credibility. If a government is hell bent upon to prove something, tweaking DNA will be a child’s play for them. A DNA test must not take place in a GoI authorised laboratory, but in an independent laboratory in the US or UK.”
NETAJI OR BHAGWANJI?
On November 26, 2001, Justice Mukherjee drove up to the District Treasury to open up the boxes containing Bhagwanji’s belongings. Out came a pair of German binoculars, a Corona typewriter, a pipe, a Rolex watch (Netaji’s watch?), a box of five teeth, a pair of silver, round-rimmed spectacles and a number of books in English.
Even Justice Mukherjee could not hide his ‘emotions’ when he confessed, albeit ‘off the record’, to Ghose that he was 100 per cent sure that Bhagwanji was Bose in disguise. Ghose’s BBH portrayed it (a type of sting operation) and that has forced Mukherjee to prefer isolation.
Things turned more bizarre in the evening of January 18, 2010, when Prof Nanda Chakrabarti claimed that Bhagwanji aka Bose did not pass away even on September 16, 1985! Can Bijoy Nag, the present editor of Jayashree publications (originally founded by Leela Roy) hold the key to this helical mystery? He was one of the close aids of Bhagwanji during his stay at Neemsar and Faizabad. In fact, Jayashree had published a lot of write-ups by Mahakaal aka Bhagwanji aka Bose.
The readers must have had enough by now; upto the brim and in a state of phantasms. All the doubts of the readers could be clarified quite easily if and only if the GoI de-classifies the documents related to Netaji. And only if the GoI answers with substantive rationale why the Mukherjee Commission report was dumped?
Such a possibility however seems remote in the Land of the Buddha where politicians overtly professing non-violence and bureaucrats claiming fidelity to the constitution molest the public belief every moment. In a country where mafia can burn alive an upright officer in broad daylight, and at the other end of the spectrum an IAS officer could amass 360 crores of currency, with pending investigations and court cases providing the termites healthy food for existence; expecting the GoI to go public with data on post-45 Bose will be something more than utopian.
Nevertheless, no solution is in sight in this parliamentary democracy apart from what Dhar, Chandrachur Ghose and others of “Mission Netaji” are pursuing: a campaign of declassification and RTI activism. At least, we cannot just join the Maoists if we do not get any justice in the existing system; which of course is what one of our Cabinet Minister advocates. We need to tell him that we still believe in the system, may be not in some personnel who man the system.
“Kadam kadam badae ja,
Khushi ke geet gae ja
Yeh zindagi hai qaum ki,
Tu qaum pe lutae ja”
By Uddipan Mukherjee