Indian Decade

An Indian Cover-up?

The mysterious disappearance of Subhas Chandra Bose reflects badly on Indian democracy.

The disputed death of wartime Indian leader Subhas Chandra Bose continues to intrigue his people, and for good reason. Using the country’s new freedom of information act, Anuj Dhar, who has written a book that challenges the official version of events, has apparently discovered that the government of India maintains dozens of classified files in the Prime Minister’s Office and elsewhere on a man they say died 65 years ago.

The book, Back from Dead: Inside the Subhas Bose Mystery, published in 2004, is now believed to have been suggested by filmmakers in Bollywood, India’s Hindi film industry, as ripe for turning into a major motion picture.

Officially speaking, Bose was killed following an air crash in Taipei on August 18, 1945, while supposedly flying to Tokyo. It didn’t take the British intelligence long to find out that Bose was actually trying to make good his escape to the USSR, a country that had previously helped him.

But during the interrogation of Japanese and the lone Indian survivor, Habibur Rahman (who later became a high-ranking Pakistan government official), several contradictions came to light. Intelligence reports even quoted the Russians as suggesting that Bose could actually have made it to the USSR, meaning the British Indian government wouldn’t confirm Bose’s death.

But the post-independence Indian authorities, mostly comprising Bose’s political opponents, did their best to discount all leads on the possibility of Bose’s still being alive. A case in point was the view of Radha Binode Pal, the judge who became a household name after he gave a pro-Japan verdict during the Tokyo trial, that his information from US and Japanese sources was that Bose’s death was subterfuge.

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Spirited campaigns mounted by Bose’s followers subsequently forced the government to launch three public inquiries. The first two occurred when the Congress party, which had turned Bose into a persona non grata for opposing Mohandas Gandhi, was in the saddle. Both the inquiries supported the official version but faced flack for their apparently premeditated approach.

It took a third inquiry panel, constituted on a court order, to unravel the conspiracy. M K Mukherjee, a former Supreme Court judge, assessed all evidence on record, including the dossier provided by the Japanese government, wartime Japanese records obtained from Taiwan and exhaustive records of the testimonies of the survivors, and concluded that the air crash was a cover devised by Japanese military officials to help Bose escape so that he could continue his struggle for India’s freedom.

The judge’s 2005 report, however, couldn’t prove that Bose made it to the USSR because it was denied access to Russian intelligence archives. By the time the report came out, the Congress was back in power, and it did what would haven’t been possible in a mature democracy—the heretical findings were rejected without assigning any reason. The reasons that were later trumpeted out by a most incompetent interior minister reeked of an attempt to cover up the matter.