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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

India freedom fighter's daughter calls for DNA test of his remains

The daughter of Subhas Chandra Bose says a test will put to rest the conspiracies surrounding his death

Indian nationalist leader Subhash Chandra Bose (centre) shakes hands with Adolf Hitler in Berlin in May 1942. Universal History Archive / UIG via Getty Images
Indian nationalist leader Subhash Chandra Bose (centre) shakes hands with Adolf Hitler in Berlin in May 1942. Universal History Archive / UIG via Getty Images

The daughter of one of India’s most iconic freedom fighters, Subhas Chandra Bose, has called for a DNA test of her father’s remains to put to rest the “fantastic claims” and conspiracies surrounding his mysterious death.

In the foreword to a new book about her father's death, Anita Bose Pfaff, an economist in Germany, repeats her belief that Bose died in an air crash in Taiwan in 1945 and that his cremated remains reside in the Renkoji Temple in Tokyo.

A DNA test will provide proof, “provided DNA can be extracted from the bones remaining after his cremation”, Ms Pfaff wrote. “However, the governments of India and Japan would have to agree to such an attempt.”

Laid to Rest: The Controversy Over Subhas Chandra Bose’s Death, written by Ashis Ray, the grandson of Bose’s brother, builds on 30 years of research and includes excerpted documents supporting Ms Pfaff’s belief.

But the book is doing little to shake the convictions of those who doubt the air crash theory — who are sure that Bose’s life after 1945 was every bit as audacious and enigmatic as his life until then. “Netaji”, or “Leader”, as Bose was known, is as divisive in death as he was during the freedom struggle.

A radical nationalist, Bose was initially a member of Congress, the party dominated by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. But his ideas of achieving freedom for India diverged from the non-violence espoused by Gandhi.

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Bose captured the imagination of his home state of Bengal — now called West Bengal — in particular, said Nirban Ghosh, a historian at the University of Calcutta. “Bengalis liked to [position] him against Gandhi and Nehru,” he said. The state’s political influence after Indian independence dwindled, and “Bengalis liked to think that if Subhash had been around, things would have been different.”

Ousted from the Congress party in 1939, Bose helped build an armed force called the Indian National Army (INA), which at its peak had 43,000 members willing to fight for Indian independence.

“Give me blood, and I will give you freedom,” Bose memorably said in his speeches.

Operating on the principle that his enemy’s enemy was his friend, Bose made overtures towards Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. The British placed him under house arrest, but he escaped in 1940, fleeing via Afghanistan and the Soviet Union to Germany, where he met Adolf Hitler.

Later, via submarine, he travelled to Madagascar and then to South-East Asia and Japan. Remotely, he supervised the strategies of the INA in battlefields in Burma, but, fearing arrest by the British, he never returned to India.

It was while he was in Germany that he had a child, Ms Pfaff, with Emilie Schenkl. His daughter last saw Bose when she was four months old.

India has set up three commissions of inquiry to ascertain the facts around Bose’s death. The first two concluded that he had died in hospital soon after the plane crash. But the third, which submitted its report in 2005, alleged that several files on Bose are missing in government records and that Taiwan’s government denied a plane crash on its soil on August 8, 1945.

India has yet to declassify selected intelligence reports on Bose, but some released files show that the government spied on his family for at least 20 years after his death.

Bose’s capacity to live an adventurous life, and his having fallen afoul of Congress and the Allied powers, fed theories that he had been done away with, or that he chose to lie low after 1945.

Kingshuk Nag, who wrote Netaji: Living Dangerously in 2016, believes that Bose made it into the USSR. “I think Stalin wanted him there as a counter to Nehru,” who became India’s prime minister in 1947, Mr Nag said. “After Stalin died, the new rulers had a good equation with Nehru. So what happened to Netaji, we don’t know. Maybe he died in Siberia or was bumped off.”

In 2015, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Russia, he promised to inquire about Bose’s presence in the erstwhile Soviet Union. Although he made no statement about Bose after his trip, in the 1990s the Russian government had denied that Bose had come to the USSR after 1945.

In an alternate theory that is championed by several people, including Anuj Dhar, the author of three books on the Netaji mystery, Bose lived in China for a while before returning to India and living out his life as a Hindu mystic named Gumnami Baba in the north Indian town of Faizabad.

Bose didn’t reveal his identity, Mr Dhar told The National, because he was reviled by Congress and western powers. “He’s believed to have said it wouldn’t be in India’s national interest,” Mr Dhar said. “But it was very likely to be him. What else explains a baba living in this small town reading Time magazine regularly, as he did?”

Gumnami Baba died in 1985, when Bose would have been 88. But there are still “large sections of the educated public who believe that Bose is somehow still alive”, Mr Ghosh said with a laugh.

“That, I think, is, at the very least, highly improbable.”