A Lead Not Pursued

subhash chandra bose

This morning was spoilt for me by my disgust at yet another shoddy attempt to besmirch Nehru’s reputation by somehow linking him to the disappearance of Netajee Subhash, great national leader and patriot of India.The disappearance is itself a conjecture till date as the remains in a Japanese temple(Yashukuni shrine) are yet to be conclusively proved as those of Netajee Subhash through DNA tests.But there is also the marked reluctance of successive Indian governments to get such tests done.

In the case of the BJP government it is all the more surprising as the BJP has been the most strident political voice to denounce the veil of secrecy that surrounds the end of “the springing tiger”,as a British army officer calls him in a biography. The burden of its persistent clamour about this mystery has been that Nehru had his own interest in burying the question about Subhash Bose’s end.An earlier and more egregious charge has been that Nehru feared the return of Bose to his native land might replace him as the the idol of the masses and topple him from power.The persistent secret surveillance of the mail of his close relatives suggest a certain degree of hostile interest in their connections and correspondence. Successive governments in Delhi must have had some other serious reason for such surveillance.

BJP was keen to link Nehru somehow to Bose’s alleged end and they used the popular fable about the plane accident being used to fake Bose’s alleged escape and pursuit by allied forces.There was the insinuation that since Nehru was a Communist sympathizer,Soviet Russia would oblige him by bumping off his rival after Bose sought refuge in that country.If true,the Soviet archives released after the collapse of the Soviet Union would have provided the unfailing key to unlock the mystery.And BJP should be the party to put utmost pressure on the Russian government to release the relevant documents of the secret files.In stead it came out claiming that those stored secret documents could not be released as that might “affect relationships with certain other countries”.

Thus the enquiry reached a dead end though wild rumors and baseless stories continued to circulate.Many improbable claims were made from time to time to locate Netajee in disguise.For example one favorite candidate for this fabled hidden identity turned out to be a declared smuggler in West Bengal who tried to escape police dragnet by growing a luxuriant beard and matted hair to pose as a Sadhu(a ‘seer’ or ‘sant’ in modern parlance) maintaining a vow of silence at Shoulmari in North Bengal!There were other fantasies fuelled by both ardent reverence and in times by a Messianic yearning for a saviour.

If Netajee had actually died there is an end to the story.And the government will be perfectly justified to firmly reject all demands for any action to initiating an enquiry into his end.But the government of India had ordered two enquiries already and neither had concluded definitively that he had somehow escaped capture by allied forces after the defeat of Japan in World War II.His death too remains uncertain thanks to holes picked by Netajee devotees in the reports.There is thus at least some possibility that Netajee had been alive for at least a couple of decades in disguise or incognito under protection or in custody of the Soviet Union.

Supposing he had actually remained alive after the plane accident usually held to have caused his death.In that case Bose could indeed prefer the Soviet Union as his refuge in view of the certain hostility of other allied countries.Bose had enough grasp of geo-politics to realize that.And if that is correct Soviet leaders like Stalin would probably take a more nuanced view of his role and importance after the war.

Let us recall the atmosphere in the Western countries in the years after the war.There was extraordinary bon homie among them and between them and the Soviet Union for having jointly shaken off an existential peril from aggressive fascism.None of them was in a mood to get into a fight again for as long as it could be avoided,though there is plenty of material tumbling out of archives to prove that America had started secret preparations for an all-out war with communism almost immediately.Outwardly they were held together both by repeated declarations of good will and trust and negotiations to settle differences.Even Berlin had been divided into two parts under two different sets of government.

They were further united by a united effort to hunt down everyone of importance in the enemy ranks and bring him to justice.Nazi leaders,top German officials,collaborators in occupied countries,as well as their counter parts in Italy and Japan were put on trial and sentenced to death or severe punishment.These efforts also served as bridges of some communication and co-operation even as clouds of suspicion and belligerence were gathering on the horizon.

How would they have treated Bose had he been found alive?There was no attitude of mercy and forgiveness in allied camps.Europe had been reduced to a heap of rubble by the savage war into which it was plunged by Nazis. America too had lost too many promising young lives to be in a mood of forgiveness.The public everywhere were deeply outraged and repulsed by credible stories about Nazi and fascist brutality and cruelty. Distinguished American poet Ezra Pound in his obsession with a neo-conservative ideology had taken shelter in Italy and played a minor role in spreading fascist propaganda in America,though his efforts bore little fruit.After the war he was put into an iron cage like a wild animal and kept there for years together in the most humiliating and degrading conditions. Proof enough that Subhash Bose,however fervent Indian admiration for him, could have expected little leniency in the allies’ treatment. In all probability Netajee would have been simply dubbed a collaborator of Japanese fascists and therefore a ‘war criminal’ in their eyes.

Much depends on what Moscow had thought of him,a hero of anti-colonial liberation struggle or a despicable traitor to that cause, as fascism was the most unlikely force to help such struggles.In my view though Stalin was ruthless in executing his decisions he never acted in hot haste without circumspection.In any case it would have been impossible for him to keep such a secret from his war-time allies regarding such a matter.

Putting him on trial would have been immediately ruled out by Great Britain as it would have done immense damage to its economic and political interests in the subcontinent.At the same time it would have been most difficult for it to forget and forgive Bose’s role in the dismemberment of its empire.America would have preferred to send him straight to the gallows.India under Nehru would most probably have strongly objected to any such decision while welcoming him back on India would have been too hot a cake to handle owing to such international complications.

Supposing that Bose had taken shelter in Russia, the correspondence and complex negotiations on his fate would have been long-drawn,mired in disputes and tending to follow a blind alley.Nothing could have been disclosed to the public prematurely.Hence a secret that sputtered like a candle throwing flickering shadows on the wall.

What could Nehru have done under the circumstances? He could hardly have afforded to throw Netajee to the wolves.Nor could he have gone to town to let out the terrible secret.The best he could have done was to deny,temporize and keep things hanging.That was exactly what he did.So did his followers as well as successive governments, including the NDA.Under these circumstances it would have only made eminent sense to keep constant secret watch on Bose’s closest relatives’s mail to forestall the consequences if somehow the Bose family in Kolkata ever came to know about it.

Such a reading of the story should put things in proper perspective,immune to the barbs of mean-spirited scandal-mongers.Of course a DNA test of the supposed ashes is necessary to rule out of court even such a reasoned speculation.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator

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