Unravelling A Conspiracy: How Did Subhas Chandra Bose Really Die ?

L: A portrait of Netaji R: A newspaper clipping claiming that Netaji did not die in air crash
L: A portrait of Netaji R: A newspaper clipping claiming that Netaji did not die in air crashL: DNA India R: The Indian Express

Today is the birthday of our great freedom fighter, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. When we Indians hear his name, our chests expand with pride. It will indeed be a lengthy article if we were to extoll all the virtues and contributions of Netaji towards the Indian Independence movement. From raising the audacious Indian National Army (INA) to delivering some of the most potent and patriotic speeches in the history of independence movements, the figure of Netaji is etched onto the highest echelons of Indian history. His burning slogans such as “Give me blood and I will give you freedom”, “Jai Hind” and “Delhi Chalo” are now an intrinsic part of our history. Even the nation’s great leader, B.R. Ambedkar, in an interview with the BBC in 1955 said, “This is the ultimate truth: We became free because of Subhas Bose and INA.”

Netaji was born in Cuttack, Odisha and his life was infused with revolutionary and patriotic spirit. It is ironic that we know so much about his life and achievements but the circumstances surrounding his death have been a subject of mystery even today. The world commemorates his death anniversary on 18 August every year because, according to some of the significant biographers, Netaji died in a plane crash in Taihoku (Japanese Taiwan) on that day in 1945. The initial investigations carried out by the British Army, the government of British India, the government of Japan, and the Allied Forces also reached the same verdict that Netaji weathered severe burns during the crash and later died in a hospital that same day.

A newspaper clipping stating Netaji's death in 1945 plane crash
A newspaper clipping stating Netaji's death in 1945 plane crashThe Times of India

For the longest time, this was the established and corroborated story behind his death. However, in 1956 when the Indian government established the Netaji Inquiry Committee consisting of Shahnawaz Khan, Netaji’s brother, Suresh Chandra Bose, and S.N. Maitra of the Indian Civil Service were charged with investigating the freedom fighter’s death. The committee also reached the plane crash theory but Netaji’s brother refused to sign the report, stipulating that this was a cover-up, and held several political leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru, responsible for it.

In 1966, Netaji’s brother even claimed that he would return but that did not happen. It was from that point in time that the conspiracy theories began to roll in. One rumor claimed that Netaji went into a recluse and settled as a saint named Gumnami Baba in Uttar Pradesh. During that same time, a book by Retired Major Gen. GD Bakshi boldly claimed that the plane crash was just a distraction that the Japanese used to help Netaji escape to Russia. Another theory exists which says that he was betrayed by Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi and was jailed in Russia.

A newspaper clipping claiming Netaji family photos found in Gumnami Baba's trove
A newspaper clipping claiming Netaji family photos found in Gumnami Baba's troveTimes Nation
A newspaper clipping claiming Netaji was in Russia after 1945
A newspaper clipping claiming Netaji was in Russia after 1945News Nation

Having not received a conclusive closure, the independent Indian Government set up the Khosla Commission (1970), which also concluded that Netaji died in the plane crash. The tables turned when the Mukherjee Commission (1999) refuted the plane crash theory. The commission’s report confirmed what the public had speculated for years that Netaji had not died in a plane crash and the ashes at Renko-ji temple in Japan are not his. There were many pleas to declassify every file related to Netaji. In 2015, the West Bengal Government declassified several files, which the public can now access at the State Archives. Following this move, the Central Ministry also declassified 304 additional files.

In spite of having access to a wealth of information, none of the reports conclusively disprove the plane crash theory. However, most of the Indian public is convinced that there is more to it than meets the eye. There have been many pleas to declassify the Russian and Japanese files on Netaji. In 2017, Paris-based historian J B P More stumbled upon a French secret report at the National Archives of France stating that Netaji did not die in a plane crash and was still alive in 1947. There was also an RTI filed in 2022 to know about the identity of Gumnami Baba. The Central Forensic Laboratory (CFSL), Kolkata, has refused to share the electropherogram report of the DNA sample of Gumnami Baba, citing Sections 8(1)(A), (E), and 11(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 — the conclusion being that revealing the result will affect the sovereignty and integrity of the nation. These developments further shroud the mystery of the great leader’s death and contest the existing plane crash theory.

To date, Netaji’s death remains one of the greatest Indian mysteries. Netaji’s granddaughter has requested a DNA testing of his ashes at the Buddhist temple in Japan, which is his supposed final resting place. Perhaps the results of the test can finally put an end to all the mystery and conspiracy theories.

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