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Subhas Chandra Bose: Material evidence suggests Netaji lived for many more years than officially acknowledged

By Kingshuk Nag
New Update


Subhas Chandra Bose is said to have perished in an air crash in 1945, about eighty years ago. So, why discuss him nearly 80 years hence? What could emerge out of such a discussion?

Some of the facts that have emerged on Netaji over the years have the potential of altering Indian history around the time of freedom and the early years of the Indian Republic as we know it.

Even when it is widely believed that Netaji had died in 1945, he had broadcast on shortwave radio four times in 1945-46 and addressed Indians, where he declared his intention of leading an army into India. At the time of his broadcasts, Netaji was 'officially' dead. The records of the broadcasts have been lying with the National Archives since the time the files were declassified in 2015. The Intelligence Bureau intercepted Netaji's broadcasts in Governor's House, Calcutta. The records in files no 87011 p1692 were kept in the Prime Minister's Office before the declassification.

His first broadcast under shortwave 19 - was on December 26, 1945. He said: "I am at present under the shelter of the great world powers. My heart is bleeding for India. I will go to India under the crest of the Third World War, which may be in ten years or before. Then I will sit in judgement on those trying my men at Red Fort". However, the transmitters that relayed Netaji's speech were weak because of poor technology then and could not reach a broad spectrum of the audience then.

The second time Netaji spoke was a week later, on January 1, 1946. He said: "We must get freedom within two years. The British Imperialism has broken down, and it must concede independence to India. India will not be free by non-violence".

The third time Netaji spoke was in February 1946. He said: "This is Subhas Chandra Bose speaking. Jai Hind. This is the third time I am addressing my Indian brothers. The Prime Minister of Great Britain is going to send Mr Pethick Lawrence and two other members from Britain with no other object in view other than building a permanent settlement by all means to suck the blood of India." It was around this time the cabinet mission was sent to India.

It is interesting to note that while this record was lying all this while with the government, nobody publicised this. This, as even the government set up three commissions of inquiry to figure out the truth about the disappearance of Netaji. The first two: headed by Shah Nawaz Khan (1956) and Justice Khosla (1970), reported that Netaji died in an air crash in Taiwan. But now, private investigations by Netaji researcher Iqbal Malhotra reveal that he escaped in a submarine from Singapore. The submarine originally belonged to the German navy, but they had left it for the Japanese. The submarine left Netaji off at Vladivostok in the Soviet Union, from where he found his way into the country.

Purabi Roy, a well-known Netaji researcher and an eminent scholar in the Russian language and history used to live in the Soviet Union in the 1990s. When USSR broke up, she realised that many documents and photos hitherto well–guarded were on sale. Roy purchased a picture of Netaji, which shows him in a detention centre in the country. Just outside Moscow at a place called Podolsk where the archives of intelligence GRU are located. Accessible only to Russians, Purabi Roy requested her friend Major General Aleksandar Kolesnikov to scour the archives. Kolesnikov said that he discovered the records of a meeting in October 1946 between Stalin and his three advisors (Vyacheslav Molotov, Audrey Vishinski and Yaakov Malik) where they were discussing "where to keep Chandra Bose".

Among the documents declassified in 2015 when Prime Minister Modi decided to place them in the public domain is a letter written by Khurshed Naoroji. An accomplished western music singer, she was the granddaughter of Dadabhai Naoroji and was one of the private secretaries of Mahatma Gandhi. Khurshed wrote a letter to American journalist Louis Fischer (who had visited Moscow and said that Subhas Bose was still alive quoting sources) stating that: "If Bose comes with the help of Russia, neither Gandhiji nor the Congress will be able to reason with the country."

Fischer's answer is not known. Strangely this letter was found in the Prime Minister's Office raising issues about what it was doing there? Around the time the Intelligence Bureau (IB) reported that Subhash Chandra Bose had written a letter to Nehru that he was planning to come to India and would enter through the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

However, the British government knew fully well that Netaji was alive, although for the public, it did not clarify anything. Lord Mountbatten, Viceroy of India, asked for instructions from the government on what to do with Subhas Bose. Clement Atlee, the Prime Minister of the UK, answered on October 25, 1945, that the government's policy was to let "Subhas Bose remain where he was". This implies that the government found Bose to be a potato too hot to handle. Originally, India was to secure its independence in Sept 1948, but Mountbatten advanced it to August 15, 1947. After the trial of INA soldiers in 1946 at Red Fort, there was a rising trend of Indian nationalism. The British feared that they would be attacked and thrown out of the country.

But why did Bose not return? About this, there is only speculation and no firm answers. Maybe he fell out with Stalin because of some reason, and the USSR's top boss cancelled Netaji's plans. Perhaps he was packed off to the Gulag Archipelago. It is averred that Netaji almost died in the Gulag because of the extreme weather conditions there. But he was transferred to a prison that was located near Lake Baikal and perhaps remained there till Stalin died in 1953. Then he was possibly released.

In India, a new government led by Jawaharlal Nehru assumed power after 1947. Nehru was very keen to foster close relations with the USSR and sent his sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit as the Indian Ambassador. But she failed to get even one appointment with Stalin. Thereafter, a rank outsider, a professor of philosophy S Radhakrishnan was dispatched. It is clear from Radhakrishnan's records of conversations with Stalin (whose summaries were sent to the then foreign secretary R K Nehru) that the Soviet leader knew very little about India. He wondered whether Gujarati was the national language of India and if Sri Lanka was a part of India.

Radhakrishnan, on his part, tried hard to convince Stalin that India would implement land reforms and land redistribution. Moreover, the government would set up industries under the public sector. So happy was Nehru with Radhakrishnan's performance that in 1954, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna, becoming one amongst the first batch of awardees. Whether they discussed anything about Netaji is not known, but when we piece together several straws of evidence, one thing is certain. Netaji did not die in 1945, and through documentary and other material evidence, the trajectory of his life can be traced to many more years than the 'officially documented' ones. The man who inspired millions of Indians - when he said freedom is not given, it is taken - his memory and deeds unquestionably deserves the dignity of closure.


Kingshuk Nag is a senior journalist who spent about 25 years reporting for The Times of India across various locations. He is also the author of around ten best-selling works on politics and business. In a career spanning over four decades, Nag has reported on politics and the economy. He is a recipient of the Prem Bhatia award.