Saturday, 1 September 2012
Book Review: “India’s Biggest Cover-Up” by Anuj Dhar
Until I read Anuj Dhar’s India’s Biggest Cover-Up, I had only a vague idea of the controversy surrounding Subhas Chandra Bose’s death allegedly in a plane crash in Taiwan. I knew that there was some opposition from Bose's supporters towards bringing Netaji’s ashes back from Japan since they believe the ashes do not belong to Netaji, but assumed that everyone, including the Indian government, is trying to find out the truth. Well, I am no longer such a simpleton.
Former journalist Dhar who now heads a non-profit organisation called Mission Netaji believes that Netaji did not die in a plane crash in Taiwan or anywhere else. Rather, Dhar, like many other fans of Netaji thinks that as World War II drew to a close, Bose tried to make his way to the Soviet Union in order to obtain assistance from Stalin’s regime for his goal of freeing India from British rule through force of arms. Dhar theorises that Netaji wanted people to believe he died in a plane crash, so that there would be no one looking for him as he hunted for another ally to replace the Japanese. Dhar claims that the Japanese helped Bose in his plan by passing off the ashes of a Japanese man who died of a heart attack around that time, as that of Bose. Bose divulged his real plan to only one person, his trusted aide Lieutenant Colonel Habibur Rahman Khan, who later claimed that he was with Bose as their plane crashed immediately after taking off from Matsyama airport in Taihoku, Taiwan (then called Formosa). Habibur Rahman Khan gave out that Bose was badly burned in the crash and did not stay alive for long and that the Japanese cremated him. Dhar says that Habibur Rahman lied thus because he was instructed to do so by Netaji.
Dhar does not claim that he knows exactly what happened to Netaji. However, he is convinced that the Indian government is hiding a lot, citing a number of feeble excuses. The Soviet government wasn’t of great help either. Dhar isn’t the sort of armchair theorist who comes up with a hypothesis without sufficient backing. India’s Biggest Cover-Up is around 400 pages long, excluding its end notes, and all of it is filled with facts. Dhar pokes holes in various statements made by the Indian government and commissions of enquiry such as the Shah Nawaz Khan committee and the Khosla Commission. Dhar speaks approvingly of the Mukherjee Commission’s findings which concluded that Bose did not die in an air crash in Taiwan.
Dhar examines at length two men, Shaulmari Sadhu and Bhagwanji who claimed to be Bose in independent India. Though Dhar dismisses Shaulmari Sadhu’s claims, he seems to suggest that Bhagwanji could have been Bose, who having spent some time in a Soviet gulag, was allowed to return to India.
Since Dhar doesn’t make any conjecture as to what exactly could have happened to Bose, I propose to put forth a few, submitting along with my theories, that caveat that I am strictly an armchair theorist who has not done much research on this subject. Therefore, the theories that follow should be taken with a barrel of salt.
Dhar is convinced that the Japanese assisted Bose in his subterfuge, that they played along as Bose faked his death and most probably arranged his transportation to the Soviet Union through Manchuria. I would like to question this belief. First let’s look at a few facts. Atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and August 9th, 1945. On August 15th 1945, Imperial Japan surrendered to the Allies and this day is commemorated as Victory Over Japan Day even now. Immediately after the surrender was announced, Americans, Briton Chinese, Koreans Filipinos and many other nationalities burst into celebration. The Japanese were devastated and many Japanese soldiers committed suicide. Many PoWs were executed by the Japanese by way of revenge.
Bose is alleged to have died in an air crash on August 18th, three days after Japan announced its surrender! If Dhar’s theory is correct, even after surrendering to the Allies, the Japanese cared enough about Bose and the Indian struggle for independence, that they put in a lot of effort to help Bose escape to the Soviet Union. Remember, there was no love lost between Japan and the Soviets. The Japanese has clashed with the Russians in 1904-1905, and won. Between 1932 and 1939, there were a series of border clashes between the Soviet Union and Japan along the Mongolian – Manchurian border. In 1939, just before war broke out in Europe, Marshall Zhukov’s forces handed the Kwantung army a decisive defeat in Mongolia. Stalin had promised the other Allies that Soviet Union would attack Japan three months after the war in Europe ended. Therefore, on 9 August, exactly three months after Nazi Germany’s surrender (on 8 May 1945), the Soviets invaded Japanese held Manchuria.
The Khosla Commission took the view that the Japanese did not hold Bose in high esteem, that they were only using him for their ends, that if the Japanese had won, they would have ruled India as a colony, just like the British. Dhar refutes all of that. In this respect, I agree with the Khosla Commission. According to Dhar, Bose had Nazi Germans eat out of his hands. Dhar also claims that the Japanese had deep respect for Bose and that if they had defeated the British, they would have given independence to India. I feel Dhar gets it totally wrong out here. I believe that the Japanese were using Bose and the INA just as Netaji was using the Japanese. Once they surrendered and the Second World War was over, the Japanese would have very little incentive in helping Bose escape to the Soviet Union which had just invaded Manchuria!
So my theory goes like this: A day or two before the Japanese surrender or maybe just afterwards, British and American agents would have established contact with the Japanese secret service, the Kempeitai. The Japanese would have offered or the Brits would have asked for Bose to be handed over. Rather than arrest Bose and haul him back to India where he was a hero, someone clever would have come up with a plan. The Japanese would have been asked to offer Bose an escape to the Soviet Union. Further, Bose would have been asked to cooperate in faking his own death, so that nobody would be looking for him. Bose, exhausted by his long struggle and left without many options, would have agreed, asking Habibur Rahman to keep his secret and to spread the word that he died in an air crash. Isolated from his INA soldiers and other friends, Bose may have been executed as punishment for the trouble he caused to Imperial Britain and her allies.
Look at it this way. The Imperial Japanese knew that after their surrender, there would be hell to pay. Why would they then go out of their way to further antagonise the Allies by helping Bose escape to the Soviet Union when they would get brownie points for handing him over? Unless, they were saints, which we know they weren’t.
Why did independent India show so much reluctance in digging for the truth regarding Bose? It is tempting to conjecture that the Brits involved Nehru and other top Congress leaders in their decision to eliminate Bose. After all, if Bose returned alive, he would be a rival to Nehru, wouldn’t he? British officials would know that if Nehru or other Congress leaders were kept in the loop, they could be counted on to suppress the truth from Bose’s supporters and his countless fans in India. Let me remind you, I am just theorising.
Since Bose never made it to the Soviet Union, the Soviets might have eventually guessed how Bose met his end. They might have used that information to blackmail Nehru or Indira Gandhi or at least to exert some sort of control over them. I am saying this in order to explain why the Soviets never cooperated in the search for the truth about Bose.
The second theory I would put forth is that maybe the Japanese actually helped Bose fake his death and escape to the Soviet Union. Stalin would have quickly found out that Bose was not an ideal communist who could be relied on to deliver India to the Reds. The un-pliable Bose would have been kept under lock and key for some years, before he was either killed or even allowed to return to India. I believe, this theory would find favour with Dhar, though he doesn’t say so in as many words.
A third theory would go like this. After the Japanese surrender, the Brits persuaded the Japanese to send Bose over to the Soviets, after faking his death, so that his Indian supporters would not ask too many questions. The Soviets were expected to hand over Bose in exchange for something the Soviets wanted or maybe execute him for war crimes with little publicity. After all, the Soviets and the Brits were allies and the Soviets would not have had much sympathy for anyone who sided with the Japanese. Maybe the Soviets obliged the Brits or maybe they changed their minds and didn’t follow the plan. Maybe the Soviets tested Bose for communist leanings and when they found none, imprisoned him or killed him. The problem with this theory is that relations between the Soviets and the USA/UK broke down almost immediately after the Second World War was over and the Brits would not have wanted Bose to fall into Soviet hands even if the Soviets had promised to hand him over or execute him.
I fully agree with Dhar that India should do more to unearth the mystery surrounding Bose’s death. I hope that the truth will finally emerge one of these days.
PS: Could the publishers ensure that a detailed index is added to this very interesting book for the next edition?