'Disappearance' of Netaji: Why We Must Pick up Where the Justice Mukherjee Report Left Off

Early action towards a scientific determination on whether the remains at Renkoji temple in Taiwan can be successfully subjected to DNA testing is necessary.

August 18, 2020, marked the passing of 75 years since the ‘disappearance’ of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. During that time, the Government of India had commissioned three inquiries, namely the Shah Nawaz Committee of Inquiry of 1956, the Khosla Commission of 1974, and the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry (JMCI) of 2005. The first two concluded that Netaji had died in a military hospital in Taihoku, Taiwan on August 18, 1945, as a result of the crash on take-off of a Japanese military aircraft in which he was travelling. They also concluded that mortal remains held to this day at Renkoji Temple in Tokyo are his.

After more than five long years of investigation and travel to Japan, Russia, Taiwan, Thailand, the UK and the US, the JMCI concluded in its report of November 8, 2005, tabled in parliament on May 17, 2006, that Netaji ‘did not die in the plane crash as alleged’ and that ‘the ashes in the Japanese temple are not of Netaji’. Justice Mukherjee did not and could not offer any information on whether Netaji died in any other manner at any other place, or when and how. He simply concluded that ‘Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose is dead’!

A close scrutiny of the JMCI report reveals fundamental errors which were in the main identified by the Central government in its Action Taken Report of August 7, 2006, and on the basis of which it had rejected the JMCI’s conclusions. The so-called evidence and key arguments advanced by Justice Mukherjee in support of his conclusion of no air crash in Taiwan and therefore no death of Netaji, are simply not credible.

The report misquotes earlier witness statements, makes false claims that there had been no timely coverage of the crash in local Taiwanese newspapers (at least two local newspapers did), misinterprets correspondence from the Republic of China (ROC) government in Taiwan China, and, most disturbingly, misrepresents the position on DNA testing of the priestly authorities at Renkoji Temple in Japan, where Netaji’s remains are said to be held.

Renkoji Temple. Source: declassified GOI file

Misrepresentation of crash

Justice Mukherjee reported, citing Netaji aide and co-passenger on the flight Habibur Rahman as a direct witness, that the Japanese military aircraft carrying Netaji had nose-dived from 12,000-14,000 feet. Justice Mukherjee then argued that nobody could possibly survive such a catastrophic crash, and thus construed that there could not have been any such crash.

The truth of the matter is that neither Habibur Rahman nor any other survivor ever said such a thing. What they did consistently say was that the ill-fated aircraft had barely taken off from Matsuyama Airport at Taihoku in Taiwan before suffering fatal engine failure, including the loss of a propeller and crashing within the airport surrounds from a few hundred feet at most.

Also Read: Solving the Mystery of Netaji’s ‘Disappearance’: Part One

An instance of gross misinterpretation stems from information provided to the JMCI in August 2003 by the then ROC government in Taiwan, stating that they had no evidence of any air crash on the day concerned (i.e. August 18, 1945) from ‘hand over records’ given to them from the departing Japanese civil and military authorities. The JMCI report concluded from this that there was no air crash, ignoring the ROC government guidance that Japan had remained in full civilian and military control of Taiwan as a colony until October 25, 1945.

It follows that records of the crash of a Japanese military aircraft on what was then a Japanese military airfield, would belong to Japan and be held by them. For its part, Japan has never wavered from its position that the crash occurred with Netaji on board and that he had died later on that day as a consequence of injuries suffered.

DNA testing

What is most disturbing is what can only be described as an act of deliberate deception and misrepresentation reflected in the JMCI report, in relation to the position of the chief priest of Renkoji Temple Nichiko Mochizuki, towards DNA testing of the alleged remains of Netaji held at Renkoji. After sustained efforts from 2002 until 2005 towards achieving such testing, Justice Mukherjee inexplicably decided not to proceed with the DNA testing on account of the alleged ‘reticence’ of the temple authorities.

This is patently false. An English translation included in the JMCI report along with the original letter in Japanese, dated March 25, 2005, from the reverend Nichiko Mochizuki, is missing those very sections which confirm his full cooperation in the DNA process and a ready willingness to hand over the mortal remains to India. A key missing paragraph reads as follows:

‘… When Mr Aftab Seth was serving as Ambassador to Japan (2000-2003), the topic of DNA testing arose, and this was quite a difficult decision for me to make. My father used to tell me when he was alive that the remains should be returned to India. I felt that if I accepted the proposal for DNA testing and the remains would eventually be returned to India, my father’s soul and spirit could finally be at rest. In this way, I agreed to offer my cooperation for the testing. The same was agreed upon at the meeting with Ambassador Tripathi last year (2004).’

[Translation of the full letter in Japanese, signed by Nichiko Mochizuki, chief priest of Renkoji Temple to Srinivas, first secretary, Embassy of India, Tokyo, 25.3.2005, JMCI Report, was commissioned by Madhuri Bose.]

We have in the last several years approached and twice met with Justice Mukherjee for clarification of the matters raised above, but without success. As recently as December 2019, we attempted to again engage with him to reiterate our concerns and seek answers, but Justice Mukherjee declined to meet us.

With no fresh explanations and/or answers from Justice Mukherjee as to what really happened to Netaji on and after August 18, 1945, the field has been left open for wild, absurd and sometimes sinister speculation and hearsay. Unscrupulous individuals and cult groups have taken full advantage for their own purposes and will perhaps continue to do so.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's death has been proved conclusively with evidence in Ashis Ray's book, Laid to Rest. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Declassified files

Understandably, attention came to be directed towards the hitherto classified files held by the Government of India and other foreign governments, namely the UK, the US, Russia and Japan. The Bose family, together with Open Platform for Netaji and other Netaji supporters, led a successful declassification campaign which culminated in 2016 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi releasing all Netaji-related files in the custody of the Central government. The West Bengal government under chief minister Mamata Banerjee did the same and released all state-held files relating to Netaji and the Bose family.

While these files reveal some interesting and hitherto unknown information, they did not throw any new light on the so-called disappearance of Netaji. Nevertheless, research and analysis of historical records from various archives around the globe on Netaji’s life and work continue to be important for a fuller and accurate writing and interpretation of history of Indian independence.

Also Read: The Dishonesty of Those Who Exploit and Abuse the Name of Netaji

We may never know why Justice Mukherjee did not proceed with DNA testing of the Renkoji remains when he quite clearly had the go-ahead from the Government of India and the Renkoji Temple authorities to do so. Eminent scientists contacted at the time by JMCI, while not promising a successful DNA procedure on the burnt remains, stood ready to take the first steps. We need now, therefore, to pick up where Justice Mukherjee left off, and take early action towards a scientific determination on whether the remains can be successfully subjected to DNA testing.

That is the very least that we can and should do. Seventy-five years on, there is no closure for Netaji’s only daughter Anita Pfaff and other close family members, nor for the people of India for whose freedom, economic and social emancipation, Netaji dedicated his life.

Surya Kumar Bose is the grandnephew of Netaji. Madhuri Bose is the grandniece of Netaji and the author of The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence: An Insider’s Account (SAGE).