When he was alive, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was an enigma. His death in an alleged plane crash on August 18, 1945, in Taiwan remains a mystery wrapped in enigma. Sixty-nine years later, declassified files on the inquiries into Bose’s death indicate that he died alone in a Soviet prison in Siberia where over 516,841 perished under Joseph Stalin’s rule. The evidence, presented by a whistle-blower and now deceased Congress MP and diplomat Dr Satyanarayan Sinha in 1952, throws up too many uncomfortable questions, which could upset the established notion that Bose died in that crash and it is his ashes that rest in Renkoji Temple in Japan. Two inquiry reports by Shah Nawaz Committee and one-man GD Khosla Commission, set up in 1956 and 1970 by the Congress governments led by Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi respectively, concluded that Bose died in a plane crash at Taihoku airport.
The declassified documents and exhibits in the National Archives raise serious doubts about the veracity of these reports. However, the third and last report of the Mukherjee Commission established in 1999 had trashed the probe findings, though it doesn’t explain what exactly happened to Netaji. But the NDA government too did not disclose the new findings which were disowned by the UPA government, which chose to accept the findings of two previous reports. Sinha’s deposition before the Khosla Commission disclosed that Netaji was imprisoned in cell number 45 of Yakutsk Prison in Siberia, where over half a million slave labourers perished; Yakutsk is the coldest city on earth. But mysteriously, the committee decided not to probe Sinha’s testimony. Very few prisoners in Yakutsk survived the brutal conditions, but a former NKVD agent, Kozlov, who was rehabilitated later by the Soviet government, told Sinha about meeting Bose in Siberia. Sinha had an adventurous career, serving in the Russian Army in 1932 as an interpreter; he even fought in the battle of 1935-36 on the side of the Italians in Ethiopia before he became an aide to Nehru.
On October 17, 1970, Sinha, then in his 60s, was summoned before the Khosla Commission constituted by Indira. The files running into hundreds of pages reveal that Sinha had a trove of information regarding Netaji. He told the commission that Netaji did not die in the plane crash and was imprisoned by the Soviets in Siberia. This was Sinha’s first appearance before the commission and under oath, he testified that in 1954, he met Kozlov in Moscow, who told him that Netaji was lodged in Yakutsk Prison. It appears from the proceedings that the commission had received overwhelming evidence from Sinha but ultimately decided to ignore them.
Excerpts from the proceedings regarding the meeting between Kuzlov and Subhas Chandra Bose:
Khosla Commission: I want you to be more specific about this information which you received. Who gave you the information and what were the exact words used by him as far as you can remember?
Sinha: Kuzlov was the name of the man who was connected with the training of Indians till 1934. The same man was later treated by Stalin as a Trotskyist and sent to Yakutsk prison. From there, after the war, he had come back. I met him in Moscow. He said that he had seen Bose in Cell No. 45 in Yakutsk.
Commission: Did he name Bose or did he say some important Indian?
Sinha: He knew Bose. He had been a Soviet agent in India in 30s. He had met Bose in Calcutta and he knew his residence.
British India was crawling with spies of all nationalities, notably the Russians and Germans. ‘The Great Game’—a term coined by the English spy and cavalry officer Arthur Conolly—was raging as a conflict between the British and the Russian empires for supremacy in Central Asia. Afghanistan was the buffer state both wanted to control. The British believed that the Russians, both before and after the revolution, wanted to annex India. Stalin had even sent two British Communists to India to lead the disorganised Indian Communists to revolt against British rule, and create a red India. Their efforts failed and both were captured. Naturally, many Indian freedom fighters believed that Russia would help them overthrow the British. In 1940, Bose who disagreed with Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful protest principle escaped house arrest and fled to Russia through Peshawar, with the help of German Intelligence agents operating in India. Since the USSR, on the surface, maintained diplomatic relations with the UK, Stalin was reluctant to give asylum to a man the British considered a traitor and a subversive. However, he helped Bose escape to Germany from where he reached Japan. The transfer of Bose in African waters from a German submarine to a Japanese sub is the only submarine-to-submarine transfer of any person during World War II.
DID NEHRU KNOW BOSE WAS ALIVE?
Sinha, who was elected to the first Lok Sabha in 1952 from Bihar, made scathing observations in Parliament indicating a cover-up in the Netaji probe at the top levels in the Indian government. Born in 1910 in Bihar, Sinha had been tasked by Nehru to report on the political situation in Europe in 1947. Sinha told the commission that he got the funds from Nehru’s personal account in The National Herald and it was through Nehru confidant Rafi Ahmed Kidwai that he received money for his travel and investigations. In this capacity as an informal secret agent, he travelled to Germany, Italy, France and Yugoslavia before joining the Indian Foreign Service in 1950 and served as First Secretary in the Indian legation in Berne, Switzerland. Sinha told the Khosla Commission that he had gathered further evidence from Russian spies that Bose was living in captivity in Russia, which he had already informed Nehru in 1950. Sinha began probing into Netaji’s disappearance in 1949. In 1950 in Leipzig, Germany, he had met Karl Leonhard, a former Abwehr spy who had served time in Siberia, after Germany lost the war in USSR. Leonhard reportedly told Sinha: “I have come to know that your leader Bose is also a prisoner.”
Sinha deposed that in a meeting with Nehru on April 13, 1950, he had given the prime minister the new information, but Nehru was disinterested. Though initially relations between USSR and India were cool after 1947, Stalin, who had refused to meet the Indian Ambassador to Moscow Vijayalakshmi Pandit, gave an audience to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was then the Indian envoy. Stalin also offered a treaty of friendship between both countries. The USSR then supported India on the Kashmir issue. Nehru visited Soviet Union in 1955 and in return Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Defence Minister Nikolai Bulganin visited India in 1956. Meanwhile, Indo-US relations had cooled and the USSR stepped in with technological and economical aid. On the 1962 India-China war, the USSR blamed China as responsible for the war. India started buying Soviet arms in 1963 on a large scale when Nehru was PM.
Khosla Commission: Did you meet him (Nehru) in Delhi or elsewhere?
Sinha: In Delhi.
Commission: You went to see him and told him that a Russian had given you this information?
Sinha: Yes, that is on 13th April, 1950.
Commission: What did Pandit Nehru say to that?
Sinha: He said that he would check up the matter. But he said, “I think, this is American propaganda.”
Commission: After that, did you take any further steps to enquire into the matter?
Sinha: I did. Another talk on this subject which I had with Pandit Nehru was on 16th January 1951 in Paris where there was the ambassadors’ meeting.
Sinha also claimed that he had raised the issue with Radhakrishnan, who warned him that any further probe in the matter may harm his (Sinha’s) career. Sinha had worked as interpreter to Radhakrishnan while the latter was serving in Geneva. They had met on the sidelines of the ambassadors’ conference in 1951 in Paris. “He (Radhakrishnan) warned me that I should not meddle in these things. I asked him why. Then he said ‘you will be spoiling your career, you will not be anywhere’.”
Sinha told the Khosla Commission that he was making the charges “with full responsibility to prove them before the commission and before the wide world.” Sinha also said that he did not believe that the government wanted matters regarding Bose to come out in the public domain. He said, “Nehru was a very very strong man. When Khrushchev came, I was acting as an interpreter. I asked him ‘Will you in your next visit bring Netaji with you? Then Russia and India will become best of friends.’”
Sinha had also told the commission that Chinese officials had told him that Nehru was the only person who could repatriate Netaji.
In 2006, the Justice Mukherjee Commission report concluded that Netaji did not die in the plane crash at Taihoku airport and the ashes in the Japanese temple are not his, and that in the absence of any clinching evidence a positive answer cannot be given. Former Minister of State for Home Mullappally Ramchandran in a written reply on May 7, 2013, told Parliament that “the Government of India did not agree with the finding of Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry (JMCI) that Netaji did not die in the plane crash. The government of India based on the reports of Shah Nawaz Committee and Justice Khosla Commission constituted on the question of the alleged death/disappearance of Bose came to the conclusion that Netaji died in the plane crash on August 18, 1945.”
However, Sinha had accessed classified Soviet documents from Berlin that concerned Netaji’s death but was stopped by the government. Later he asked the Khosla Commission whether he could quote at least three lines from the documents, but it appears from the proceedings that the commission was not interested in listening to what Soviet intelligence documents had to say about Netaji and the topic was changed. In 1963, Sinha went to Taipei to probe into Netaji’s death. He took hundreds of photographs of the alleged crash site and runway, making at least 30 sorties. He also submitted five photographs to the Khosla Commission marking the Taihoku runway. He made the sensational disclosure that the earlier photographs shown to the public featuring the crash site could be fakes because any photograph showing the crash site should have the Keelung River in the frame which was missing. But the commission again changed the topic instead of probing the new photos.
“The conclusion which I immediately came to was that if the runway was south of Keelung River, east-west and in the photographs, if the contour of the hills come, any photographs of the wreckage taken must show the Keelung River in between. There is no way out for taking any photograph without it,” Sinha had told the commission.
Probe not given secret files
In 1956, the Shah Nawaz Committee refused to consider the document “Allied secret report No. 10/Misc/INA”. The document says, “Gandhi stated publicly at the beginning of January that he believed that Bose was alive and in hiding, ascribing it to an inner voice. Congressmen believe that Gandhi’s inner voice is secret information, which he had received. This is however a secret report, which says Nehru received a letter from Bose saying he was in Russia and that he wanted to escape to India. The information alleges that Gandhi and Sarat Bose are among those who are aware of this.”
Interestingly, the contents of the letter were omitted from Shah Nawaz Committee report. The committee did not find it necessary either to visit the alleged crash site in Taihoku to make further probes that suggested that Netaji was alive.
The File No. JMCI/ Russia/ UO Papers/ 2001 revealed that the Mukherjee Commission tried to get in touch with Sinha’s family members to find out if he had left any diary or notes pertaining to his depositions. It appears that the commission was surprised at the omission of Sinha’s finding in the Khosla Commission report.
Even in 2000, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had claimed privilege and told the commission that the “documents are kept secret for ensuring the proper functioning of the public service.” The PMO affidavit said: “These are unpublished official records, the disclosure of which would cause injury to the public service.”
MYSTERIOUS EVENTS AFTER AUGUST 1945
A Top Secret cipher telegram number 3,338 dated October 20, 1945, was sent to the Secretary of State for India from the Home Department of the British Government on treason trials after World War II. It reveals that they were not convinced about Netaji’s death in the plane crash. The British government had prepared a list of 13 civilians in the Western countries and 12 in the Eastern countries for capture and subsequent prosecution. The telegram said Bose could be tried for collaborating with enemy if he was still alive although his trial would present grave difficulties. Sinha said that he had received notes dated 1946 from British military missions in Berlin from General Stewart and Major Warren saying that Bose did not die but was suffering at the hands of the Russians which they thought he deserved.
Commission: Any documents? Military missions in Berlin?
Sinha: Yes, in Major Warren’s possession, there were certain notes which said that Japanese had once more bluffed us and we had been cheated. But Gen Stewart and Maj Warren were very happy that Bose, who was a traitor, was being punished by Russians.
Commission: Was his name mentioned or it merely said in general terms?
Sinha: In the case of Bose, they had used words like ‘traitor’ and ‘quisling’, all these adjectives. I can give the number of the military mission papers. If it is possible, the commission may get hold of those papers.
In a debate in February 1947, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel said the government was not in a position to make any authoritative statement on Netaji’s whereabouts. Patel also denied that the government had ordered any inquiry to find out if Netaji was dead or alive, although a note dated August 27, 1945, prepared that after discussions between senior British commander Lord Wavell and British lader A Arthur Henderson, the Viceroy had already initiated an inquiry to ascertain whether it was true that Bose had been killed in an air accident.
“As I have said, not only myself but the House will be very glad if it turns out to be true that he is alive,” Patel told the Assembly.
Over time, more Netaji documents are likely to be declassified. Then the truth about the national hero’s mysterious disappearance could expose the Nehru government’s indifference to the fate of an inconvenient adversary.
Who is Dr Satya Narayan Sinha?
Born in 1910 in Chhapra town of Bihar, Sinha was introduced to Acharya Kripalani, Acharya Narendra Dev and Mahatma Gandhi at a very young age, and he spent close to two years in Sabarmati Ashram in 1924. On March 5, 1930, Sinha sailed for Europe and stayed at Sorrento near Naples with Maxim Gorky. Fluent in many foreign languages, including German and Russian, Sinha studied medicine in Vienna but ended up as staff captain in the Soviet Army and served for two years from April 1932 to July 1934. He served as an interpreter for six months in Siberia where he befriended many Russian and German spies. Later, Sinha went to Ethiopia where he joined Mussolini’s forces, fought the allies during 1935-36 before returning to India in the late 1936. Sinha left India again on January 1947 and served in various countries on the direction of Pandit Nehru. Later, he joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1950 but resigned two years later. He was elected as a member of the first Lok Sabha from Bihar in 1952. Justice Mukherjee Commission, constituted by the NDA government in 2001, was dismayed by the sheer negligence of the Khosla Commission which omitted several crucial leads that Sinha provided to unravel the Netaji mystery.
World’s Coldest Prison Camp
Several camps were erected in Yakutsk by the river Lena to lodge prisoners of war and political dissidents. They were employed in building new shafts for coal mines, roads, dams etc. Each camp, known as Gulag, had 500 to 1,000 captives living with minimum facilities. The majority couldn’t survive the harsh weather and primitive living conditions, and died while building roads in this coldest city on earth.
The Confusion Over Ashes
The Shah Nawaz Committee that was constituted by Nehru had concluded that ashes preserved at Renkoji temple was that of Bose. However, declassified principal points of the committee which later formed the basis of official report suggest that the three-member committee was not convinced about it. The members, including Shah Nawaz, Netaji’s brother Suresh Chandra Bose and S N Maitra, opined that Renkoji was very far from the cremation site and although there was no tampering with ashes, it cannot be definitely said that ashes were those of Netaji. But, despite this candid admission, all three members agreed to cover up the truth emerging out of facts.
“Ashes from the crematorium to Renkoji temple is a long way—first to Nishi Hongaji temple, then to Tokyo etc. There is nothing to show that there was tampering, but to prove that it was definitely those of Netaji, much more stringent measures required by law should have been taken and a different and very strict procedure by way of seals, guards etc should have been taken. In all probability, the ashes could be said to be those of Netaji,” stated Principal Points of Shah Nawaz Commission drafted on June 30, 1956.
How Sinha was Branded an American Agent
Sinha claimed he did not appear before the Shah Nawaz Committee in 1956 because of rebuke from Jawaharlal Nehru Commission: You mean the rebuke which he administered to you in 1951 or on some later occasion?
Commission: What did he say?
Sinha: There was an open debate in Parliament after that and then he asked me in a private letter: how many times I had been to the American Embassy and whether I was their agent or not?