Your book ‘India’s Biggest Cover Up’, as the name suggests, blows the lid off one of the best kept secrets of Modern India. Tell us about it?
The book is the result of a decade-long, focused research into the question of Netaji’s fate — something that has haunted generations of Indians all over the world. It takes an objective look at all the plausible scenarios and offers the reader clear conclusions and insights based on sound reasoning and unimpeachable source material. In brief, I have deduced that there are only but three possible explanations of what happened to Bose. One, as the official version goes, he was killed following an air crash in Taipei three days after his benefactor Japan decided to surrender to the Allies. Two, he did not die in Taipei because he was in the USSR after August 1945. Three, he was possibly in India in the guise of a holy man.
After going into all these theories with a fine tooth comb I have arrived at conclusions, some of which are even legally tenable. One, the air crash theory was just a smokescreen created by Bose and his Japanese friends, especially Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, commander of the Japanese forces in South East Asia. Netaji knew that if he remained in Japan-controlled territory after the surrender, he would be arrested by the Anglo-Americans and tried as a war criminal. He was told by his aides that his capture would end the Independence movement as at that time only he was carrying out what we can call “struggle” for freedom. Two, all that has come on record makes it clear that Netaji was USSR-bound at the time his death was announced. With the available leads it would be fair to deduce that Bose was in Russia after August 1945. Three, the holy man angle is trickier than most people, especially the intelligentsia and historians, think. Beginning 1960s rumours, whispers and claims became rife in India that Netaji was alive in India as a holy man. The phenomenon was sought to be explained by some as nothing but government trickery to trivialize the issue and throw the public off the scent of Russian angle. But my findings are at variance. I have reasons to believe that the possibility of Bose being in India was indeed very real.
How difficult was it to research such a book and how convinced are you of the leads?
‘India’s Biggest Cover Up’ couldn’t have been written by any of the celebrated historians for the simple fact that there’s hardly any source material available in public domain. The subject matter of Netaji mystery falls into the domain of government secrecy and, therefore, only a journalist could have overcome this hurdle to the extent possible. In my book I have reproduced over 200 images from rare documents. Of these some 90 are from still secret Government of India records. The readers see them and they know that the narrative is authentic. Access to a wide pool of information, including thousands of previously classified pages accessed under RTI Act, and the fact that I had no axe to grind gave me an edge over any historian. I verified all the leads and documents to the best of my ability, and I am sure of my ground.
What was the motive of the Congress to perpetuate the alleged myth of Netaji’s death in 1945?
It is not my claim that I know everything about this case — I possibly can’t — and that I have answers to every conceivable question. I have accessed only a fraction of the official information. Not everything will become clear unless a public debate takes place and more people, especially former intelligence officers, join in with their insights. In any case, my focus is to see whether or not there is evidence that Netaji died in 1945 and if he did survive, what happened to him afterwards. In that respect I can say that when Netaji’s death was announced, multiple inquiries were launched by the then British Indian government to verify it. Over the years people have been fed with a distorted impression that the Netaji mystery somehow sprouted from Bengal and that Bose “sightings” began with some conspiracy theorists. The fact of the matter is that it was a British military/intelligence officer who coined the nomenclature “Bose mystery” and the first man who saw Netaji after his reported death was an American journalist.
The British inquiries were exhaustive and inconclusive and that’s clearly evident from the reports that have survived. They also stated, to quote from one declassified report that it was “clear” that Bose was “trying to make a getaway to Russia”; his men were concealing information and Russian diplomats in different countries were speaking about his presence in their country. “There is little reason for such persons to bring Bose into fabricated stories,” it commented.
Strangely, overlooking all these reports, Prime Minister Nehru suddenly began to take the line that Netaji had died in Taipei. I don’t understand why Panditji did that and why would he not make further inquiry or ask the Russians about Bose as one would expect in normal circumstances. To make things worse, there’s evidence that the Nehru government obstructed justice by concealing information that went against the air crash theory. But once this stance of the government/Nehru was asserted, for the Congress party leaders it became an article of faith. Now you cannot expect a Congress party member to say something which would contravene what Panditji had asserted.
What gave you the impression that IB chief BN Mullick was lying under oath, when he was summoned before Khosla Commission as a witness in 1970?
If Mr Mullik, who died in 1984, were alive today, he would be in serious trouble because all I have done is to match his statements on record obtained under the RTI Act with documents that are either declassified or still secret. I have demonstrated that when he supplied the first public probe into Netaji’s reported death — the Shah Nawaz Committee of 1955 — a dossier of British-era reports, the first report in it was doctored to remove the last passages which spoke of doubts in the Japanese version. Imagine the IB, the agency whose job is to protect the nation, doing that sort of thing. Since Mullick, the father figure of Indian intelligence, had no personal issues with Bose, one can well imagine that this was done at the behest of his political bosses.
Today, IB and R&AW chief remain in saddle for two-three years but Mullick practically headed the entire Indian intelligence apparatus from 1948 to 1968. In 1970 he was summoned before the Khosla Commission to give evidence. The record of his oral evidence obtained under the RTI Act clearly shows that he misled the commission and even committed perjury. He was repeatedly asked whether or not the IB had snooped on Shaulmari Baba, a hermit alternatively described as Netaji in disguise and a “plant” by the Intelligence Bureau. Each time Mullik replied that the Government never asked the IB to track Shaulmari Baba and nor did the agency do that on its own, as the issue “did not concern national security”. But in my book I have shown images of formerly Top Secret records establishing that as IB chief Mullick personally supplied information to Prime Minister Nehru on Shaulmari Baba.
What role did Pranab Mukherjee have, according to you?
It’s not just “according to me”; the documents tell their own story. As you would expect a loyal Congressman to, Pranab Mukherjee has supported the air crash theory to the hilt, disregarding the facts on records. In a developed nation, in a mature democracy he would not be allowed to occupy the highest office in the land without clarifying his stance or retorting to the charges aired by major media groups. Do you know why Mr Mukherjee or Congress did not do that? Because my charges are based on inferences drawn from records our government is keeping secret from us.
Now, regarding Mr Mukherjee, in 1994 the Ministry of External Affairs headed by Mr Mukherjee then told the Ministry of Home Affairs that the Japanese government`s confirmatory report on Bose’s death was based on records bearing a Japanese soldier’s name, not Netaji’s. The records were obviously fake and the Government would have done well to ask the Japanese a few questions. In February 1995, partly in deference to the advice of the Intelligence Bureau, the Union Cabinet decided not to bring the so-called ashes of Bose to India from Japan. But Mukherjee flew to Germany in September that year and asked Bose’s octogenarian wife to certify his death anyhow. I wonder what his motivation was. Emilie Schenkl was livid and she asked Mukherjee to leave her house as she, like most family members, believed that Bose was in Russia after his assumed death.
Then in early 1996 news came that Russia was probably holding records about Netaji. The matter was thrashed out by the MEA again. The Joint Secretary in charge actually recommended that the Indian ambassador in Moscow should issue a demarche to Russians so that the KGB archive could be searched for the Bose related records. His note was seen by Mr Mukherjee, who asked the Foreign Secretary to speak with the JS. After that meeting the JS forgot about the demarche. I am sure any sensible person can connect the dots.
A decade later, Pranab Mukherjee was described in the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry report as one of the seven witnesses who had testified in favour of the story of Bose`s death in Taiwan. In an ironical twist, Mukherjee, having returned to power in 2004, then sat in judgment on the commission report along with his other Cabinet colleagues. In 2006 the report rejecting the air crash theory was itself dismissed and no reason was assigned for that in the Action Taken Report tabled in Parliament.
So, where according to you was Netaji in the remaining years of his life? And how did he eventually meet his end?
As I have stated, I don’t think and nor will any unprejudiced person that the evidence for Netaji’s dying in Taipei is not believable and it seems more likely, as confirmed by the Mukherjee Commission report, that he flew towards Russia as the Japanese circulated the news of his death in an air crash that never was. I personally believe that Netaji was in Russia and our government knew about it. But I have not come across anything to lend credence to the conspiracy theory that each of us have heard: Netaji was killed in the USSR. Subhas sought asylum from the Russians and it was given to him as per my thinking.
On the other hand, and very surprisingly, there’s this interesting tale of a mysterious holy man called Bhagwanji who secretly lived in several places in UP, lastly in Faizabad from 1983 to 85. In 1985, when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister, Subhas Chandra Bose would have been 88 years old. Bhagwanji, or the so-called Gumnami Baba, was the same age and those who saw him identified him to be Netaji. On the face of it, this proposition appears utterly preposterous and I for a start was totally hostile towards the very idea that Netaji could have been alive and living amidst us as a holy man all the while he was presumed dead. It was against his DNA to remain in hiding, I thought. But as I dug deeper, my views began to change. I’d request everyone interested in the matter to go through the available details and then take an informed stand. Right now people are dismissing the issue out of hand without even trying to understand what’s all this about. It is not my claim that Bhagwanji of Faizabad was Netaji; all I am saying is that I probed the matter as a journalist and have found reasons that the possibility cannot be ruled out. For example, the handwritings of this man in English and Bangla matched with Netaji’s and that constitutes — like it or not — a direct evidence of Bose’s remaining alive decades after his reported death. If the counter argument is that the Faizabad holy man’s DNA test was negative, I have explained in the book that the same cannot be relied on as the test was conducted in a lab controlled by the Government whose agenda from the day one was to cover-up the matter.
If Netaji was alive for years after his claimed death, why would he refuse to come out in the open?
The Bhagwanji episode has many complicated subplots. It is very difficult to provide a snappy answer to this question till such time this matter has been discussed at length. Anyhow, Bhagwanji was asked this question and he’d say his coming out was “not in India’s national interest”. You’d appreciate that this is not the language of a holy man. He claimed that after the “concocted air crash” story he spent some years in a gulag and left Russia in 1949. He claimed to have engaged thereafter in covert activities to counter world powers, especially America’s, clout in Asia. He feared that if he came out in the open, the world powers would go after him and Indians will be caught in cross-fire. He’d say, “There will be sanctions and my people will suffer. Let me be here like this.” He was under assumption that he was regarded a war criminal and that Allied Powers regarded him as their foremost enemy.
This scenario appears fantastic but there are some circumstances which make things appear curious. For example, Bhagwanji claimed that he was present in a meeting in Paris in 1969. Now I have located and reproduced an Associated Press picture in my book. Here you see a bearded man who reminds you of Netaji. The Cold War ended in 1991 but its secrets remain locked in secret vaults of different countries. If there is any truth in Bhagwanji’s claims, several governments and their intelligence agencies would have files on “dead man” as Bhagwanji called himself. But we cannot expect to get these files so long our own government continues to sit on its own pile of secret files on Netaji.
Has your book created the impact you wanted it to?
It’s good for a start but not enough. The main objective behind placing the facts before the people is to persuade them to ask their government to make public all secret records about Netaji. We can go on arguing or counter-arguing whether or not Netaji was in Russia or if it was possible for him to be in Faizabad, of all the places in the world. The inspired elements will find ways to derail the debate, which cannot start in right earnest unless secret files are placed in public domain. Truth has no need for secrecy. This is 2012 and there is no justification for our government to maintain so many secret files — the PMO alone has 33 — about a man it claims died 67 years back. Netaji for us should become a symbol of transparency and justice. Time has come for us to strive and know the truth in the same way we have made attempts in the cases involving ordinary people like Jessica Lall in which the role of media was superb.
Are there any new projects that you are working on?