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Only one event comes to mind related to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and September 8.
This is the day in 1945 when the Japanese army handed over the mortal remains of Netaji to S.A. Ayer, who was publicity and propaganda minister of the Azad Hind government. Lieutenant Colonel Takakura also handed over recovered Indian National Army treasures to M. Ramamurty, head of the Indian Independence League at the entrance of the Imperial Headquarters, Tokyo.
It is the same date in 2022 which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has chosen to unveil a jade black granite statue of Netaji installed under the cupola designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for a milk white marble statue of King George V, near India Gate in 1917.
The decision to unveil Netaji’s statue on September 8 appears to be a sudden one. No one, not even the members of the High Level Central Committee to oversee the 125th year of Netaji’s birth anniversary programmes, knew about it till September 2, 2022.
No one knew till then that the unveiling is being linked with the inauguration of the revamped Central Vista Avenue (now renamed Kartavya Path). No one has found any – or no one has explained any – connection of the date with any event of the INA either.
Sudden declarations appear to have become the norm of the present dispensation. Who knew more than two days before January 23, 2022, that the government would be putting up a Netaji statue (a hologram image initially) at the India Gate premises?
Chandra Kumar Bose, Netaji’s grandnephew, in his letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue, on September 3, 2022, suggested that the ideal date for unveiling the statue would be October 21, Azad Hind Day, or Netaji’s next birthday on January 23, 2023.
“Eighth September neither has any relevance nor any significance to Netaji,” he wrote.
He further informed that he has spoken to both Anita Bose Pfaff, Netaji’s daughter and Ardhendu Bose, Netaji’s nephew, and “they also feel the same”.
Anita Bose Pfaff had, in January last, said that she was very pleased about the decision to have her father’s statue erected at the canopy near India Gate, at such a prominent location, “replacing, with some elapsed time, the statue of his erstwhile opponent King George V”. There is “no doubt the present government has honoured my father and the INA more than previous national government,” she had added.
It is learnt that she was earlier given an “advance information” on July 14 that she would be getting an invitation for the event of unveiling of the statue (then) slated for August 15. However, no invitation came in. It was a journalist who told her that there would be no unveiling on the 15th.
That today’s programme would happen became known to her thanks to a hint on the last days of August from an individual. Going by her earlier experience she had no reason to be certain that the event would take place. Later, the Consul General of Munich contacted her and the official invitation came on September 3, via e-mail. She did not decline the invitation but the risk involved in such short-notice travel by a woman of nearly 80 years of age to a completely contrasting climate is significant.
In short, Netaji’s daughter and majority of the Bose family are giving the unveiling programme a miss.
The last-minute invitation for the unveiling which apparently is an add-on to the inauguration of the new Central Vista programme and no heed paid to choosing a relevant date, appear to be the reasons.
It is understood that Anita had planned to meet Prime Minister Modi on this occasion and submit certain proposals. She told reporters in a statement that she would like to discuss the conditions and procedures for bringing in her father’s remains to India. But Modi has perhaps prior engagements on September 8 and 9.
Anita Bose has been trying to bring her father’s remains from Japan for nearly the past three decades. During the build-up for Netaji’s birth centenary celebration (1997), when Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao was planning to bring the remains against all opposition from his political rivals, Anita had suggested taking the remains to Germany if no agreement is found in India among the political parties (especially with stiff opposition from the Left). But this option did not find favour with the Indian and Japanese governments.
With the change of the Indian government in 1996, the proposal of bringing the remains in the birth centenary year were shelved.
In 1998, Anita met then Prime Minister I.K. Gujral on January 25. She followed it up with her letter dated February 24, 1998:
“I request the GOI to make arrangements to have the ashes of my father returned from Tokyo to his homeland, especially to Delhi, which after all was the goal of his INA campaign. The ashes should be immersed in the Ganges or parts of the ashes in different rivers of India. I am quite willing to participate with my husband and my children in the process of transferring the ashes – paying respect to the customs. For example, according to Japanese rites, a male descendent should physically carry the ashes, my sons could do so.”
“It is furthermore my sincerest wish that all political parties of India could join together in this effort, irrespective of their political programme.”
Gujral could not proceed with Anita’s request. He resigned in less than a month after the meeting as the Congress party withdrew support from him. This was the fourth time since Jawaharlal Nehru, that an attempt to bring back Netaji’s remains had failed.
A stalemate followed after the setting up of the Mukherjee Commission in 1999.
After the Mukherjee Commission Report was rejected, communication on the issue between India and Japan resumed.
Members of the Japanese-Indian Association in Tokyo, Professor Kazuo Azuma and former Ambassador Eijiro Noda, approached Anita and asked if she was willing to take charge of her father’s remains.
She reiterated through her letter dated December 10, 2006:
“I would receive my father’s remains, as I had offered to do more than ten years ago already. Should the Government of India feel unable to officially receive my father’s remains from Japan, I shall take them to India myself, performing the necessary and appropriate rites.” She also “would like to have a DNA test done…in order to hopefully convince some people (including a number of my relatives) who do not believe that my father died following the plane crash…”
It is learnt that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh exchanged letter with Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, in 2006, regarding transfer of the remains to India.
Through her letter dated June 8, 2007, Anita wrote to Manmohan Singh: “It would be of interest to me to know if and how the Government of India intends to be involved in the return of my father’s remains.”
She also hoped that the transfer of Netaji’s remains would be concluded the same year, i.e. 2007, on the 60th year of India’s Independence and the year of Netaji’s 110th birthday.
This was followed by Anita thanking the Chief Priest of the Renkoji Temple, through her letter dated July 16, 2007:
“I would be willing to take charge of my father’s, Subhas Chandra Bose’s, remains after which you and your late father have looked in such exemplary fashion for so many years. Let me express my great regard and gratitude to you and your family for your dedication to the task.”
“I had decided to attempt to have a DNA test of my father’s remains performed, if technologically at all possible. Originally I had considered such a test unnecessary and inappropriate.”
Netaji was a devout Hindu but no ‘shraddha’ has been performed for his soul for its pilgrimage from the lower to the higher realms.
No investigation, no inquiry, not even the rejected Mukherjee Commission said Netaji is still alive.
So, it is incumbent upon Anita as the only child and legal heir of Bose to perform the ritual ceremony as per Hindu rites and family tradition. To perform the ceremony, she does not require permission from the government. This would be her private and personal affair.
She should be given access to the remains that she trusts to be her father’s for this purpose too.
In 2016, Anita reiterated to the world’s largest circulated daily, Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, “I want to bring back his remains to India, which is now an independent nation. Indian independence was his (her father’s) ardent wish.”
The following year, in October 2017, on an occasion in London, she expressed her fervent desire that the remains be transferred to India. Her sentiment being, it was her father’s ambition to return to an independent India, and since it did not happen, his remains should at least touch Indian soil. Also, as per the Bengali Hindu tradition, they should be immersed in the Ganga.
On October 23, 2017, she said:
“Despite overwhelming evidences in favour of death in plane crash, some people serve their own purpose by lingering with death ‘mystery’. Through their mystery stories they have done enough damage to the valour and courage of Netaji.”
In a TV interview on January 23, 2021, she said:
“As far as I am concerned we are not in the dark as far as his last days are concerned. I think some people are just not satisfied with the declassification of his papers because they expect something else to be found which wasn’t there. If we went ahead with the DNA …we might be able to convince those who are rational about their thoughts in these things one way or another. Let’s look at the outcome if the DNA can be extracted.”
In her bid to take forward her plans, Anita and two of her cousins, Professor Dwarka Nath Bose and Ardhendu Bose, wrote to Modi in 2016 and 2019 on bringing in the remains and conducting a DNA test, if feasible.
Prime Minister Modi
According to newspaper reports of May 2015, Modi was in favour of a DNA test of the remains at Renkoji temple.
A year earlier in March 2014, before becoming the Prime Minister, he assured the countrymen that he would bring Netaji’s remains to India if voted to power, which no other government had done till then. In a letter to Balasaheb Deshmukh, founder of the ‘Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Indo-Japan Organisation’, dated December 5, 2013, Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat, expressed his profound happiness at the initiative they are taking to honour the priest who for generations had been taking care of the ashes of Netaji at the Renkoji Temple.
Not only Modi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Prime Minister from 1998 to 2004, too expressed his readiness in 2000, to bring Netaji’s remains to India. But bringing of the remains has not happened so far.
With great expectations Netaji enthusiasts and countrymen trust that Modi will do the same in bringing the mortal remains of Netaji from Japan and end the devilish mystery. If DNA can be extracted from the relics, well and good, but that should not in any way become an impediment to bringing the remains.
When we have accepted Netaji’s sword in 1967 without any forensic test and without even Japan’s participation; when we have accepted INA treasures in 1952 without any cross verification, then there should not be any reticence to accept Netaji’s remains – which has official acceptance of both countries. It is now our turn to give the tallest freedom fighter his long-overdue place of honour in his motherland.
Sumeru Roy Chaudhury is an architecture graduate from IIT, Kharagpur. He was the chief architect of the CPWD. He has studied the Netaji files and related documents in detail.