Three Classified Files on Netaji's Death and Japan's Curious Refusal to Hand Them Over

Japan had always been wary of India’s first investigation into Subhas Chandra Bose's death. What can be in those files that needs to be kept secret even 76 years after the incident?

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The government of India, in 1955, decided to conduct an enquiry into the circumstances surrounding Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s death. It needed permission from Japan to conduct the enquiry on their soil and wanted to know whether the proposal was acceptable to them.

While consenting to the proposal, one Nakagawa, the Director of Asian Affairs, added that the “Government of Japan hopes that there would be:

(a) no departure from the main objectives in view and

(b) extraneous enquiries and aside researches would not be made”.

Here the question arises, why was Japan so wary of any “aside researches” (see image below) which may arise in the course of the investigation?

Nakagawa’s assent to India’s Investigation Proposal. Photo: Author provided.

It should also be noted that Nakagawa informed simultaneously that, on their side, the Japanese government was preparing a detailed note containing all the relevant information available about the circumstances relating to Bose’s death and that it would be happy to make the document available to us for transmission to India in confidence. The confidential Japanese report was issued to the Indian government in January, 1956, prior to the setting up of the Shahnawaz Khan-led three-member Enquiry Committee in April of that year.

Doubting Thomases are suspicious of the Japanese government’s motive and smell that Japan was trying subtly to set the framework of India’s investigation through this message.

All these questions arise today because of two very significant observations:

1. Japan is still holding back three files while all other countries have declared that they now have no classified files related to Netaji, and

2. The then-defunct Indian Independence League’s (IIL) seven-year-long investigation based on circumstantial evidence and individual contacts (published in 1953) revealed that the aircraft crash in which Bose had lost his life had not been an accident but an act of sabotage.

According to the IIL, Japanese officials could neither risk shielding Netaji from the Allies if he resurfaced, nor hand him over to them and endanger relations their with India. So, to “save herself from the wrath of both India and the occupation forces”, Japanese officials first diverted the route of Netaji’s plane, separated him from five of his six associates, and let only one travel with him.

The plane crash was deliberate. It was a manipulated crash meant only to cause bodily injuries to the passengers. It was not their intention to see everybody killed.

Also read: How – and Why – ‘Jana Gana Mana’ Became India’s National Anthem

The IIL report said that the Japanese military authorities had earlier been contacted by an Indian leader with a warning that Subhas Bose must not be allowed to come to India. Netaji’s plan A was to get dropped somewhere in Assam or Bengal in order to continue with the struggle. In 1944 he had sent a team of Secret Service personnel who worked for a year, setting up bases in several parts of East India. Going to the USSR was his plan B. 

Soon after Japan’s surrender, General MacArthur contacted Major General Iwaguro, who was once in charge of the liaison department vis-à-vis the IIL. He had earlier been marked by the Japanese high command for having pro-American sentiments. Colonel Kagowa, a senior officer of Hikari Kikan, served as the liaison to enemy forces in connection with the movements of Netaji. Kagowa and General Isoda were instrumental in diverting the course of the plane from Saigon towards Formosa.

Separating Gulzara Singh, Pritam Singh, Abid Hasan and Debnath Das at Saigon was a calculated plan. Extending the facility to Ayar to proceed to Tokyo directly was a predetermined plan. At Formosa, Netaji fell into the group of pro-American Japanese forces who were out to save themselves soon after the fall of Japan. Iwaguro and Colonel Fujiwara were involved in it too.

The Indian Independence League’s Report, Part 1. Photo: Author provided.

Dr Kan King-Yen, Director of Health and Hygiene in Taipei, in September 1946 told Harin Shah – a wartime correspondent who investigated the incident of Netaji’s death in 1945, and documented it in his book Verdict from Formosa: Gallant end of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose – that the Japanese did not want Netaji to proceed to Russia.

They deliberately directed the plane down onto the airfield to kill Netaji. No pictures were published but a small obituary notice appeared in the papers.

The two reports mentioned above, IIL’s and Kan’s, unconnected with each other, squarely put the blame for Netaji’s death on Japan. It is no wonder, then, that Indian governments of all hues have not insisted that Japan release the three secret files on Netaji.

Let’s not forget, years ago, the Congress-led government had warned that declassification would “damage relations with the foreign country”. We all instantly thought of Russia!

The Indian Independence League’s Report, Part 2. Photo: Author provided.

Consequently, upon declassifying all remaining Indian files on Bose and the INA in 2016, the Union government approached all foreign governments to declassify their files on Netaji. Minister Kiren Rijiju informed the parliament on April 29, 2016 that, in response, Austria, Germany, Russia, the UK and the USA had said that all their files on Netaji had been put in the public domain.

Japan was the only country which said that they had five secret files of which they would be declassifying two by the end of the year. That they did, but they made no comment on the release of the remaining three files. 

From the two files released, we found a detailed investigative report describing the plane crash, the subsequent death of Netaji and the handing over of Netaji’s remains and the INA’s treasures in Tokyo. 

The box of INA’s salvaged treasures. Photo: Author provided.

The Indian government pursued the case for the release of the three files. However, on March 9, 2017, the then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj came back to parliament with a reply from Japan stating that documents were declassified as per their policies after a prescribed time period based on an internal review mechanism. No exception could be made for India.

So, what can be in those files that needs to be kept secret even 76 years after the incident?

It is a standard practice that after every aviation accident, an investigation is conducted to find out the reasons for the crash. The investigation report that Japan submitted in 1956 starts from the time the left propeller of the plane fell off, soon after take-off. It does not deal with what caused the left propeller to fly off.   

Under these circumstances, it is imperative that the remaining three classified files in Japanese custody be made public in order to end all the speculation and controversy related to Netaji’s death.

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.