BY ASHIS RAY
Japan, more than any other country, came forward to endorse and support in practical terms Subhas Bose’s quest for India’s freedom.
Between 1941 and 1943, Bose, previously twice elected President of the Indian National Congress, was in Berlin. While there, and before he came to South-East Asia, he proposed a tripartite acceptance of Indian independence by the Axis powers, namely Germany, Japan and Italy.
The Japanese Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo had earlier committed to a policy of ‘India for Indians’. But the German Fuehrer Adolf Hitler rejected Japan’s draft declaration supporting freedom for Indians.
Then at a meeting with the Italian Duce Benito Mussolini in Salzburg, Hitler prevailed on his Italian counterpart to do the same. Mussolini, though, stirred by Bose’s plea, changed his mind.
The Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano wrote in his diary: “He (meaning Mussolini) has telegraphed the Germans, proposing -– contrary to the Salzburg decisions -– proceeding at once with the declaration. I feel that Hitler will not agree to it very willingly.’ He was right; the Fuehrer did shoot it down.
Bose’s one and only meeting with Hitler took place in May 1942. By this stage, Bose was quite disillusioned with Germany. He had already written to German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop asking for travel arrangements to Asia.
At the talks between Bose and Hitler, Bose repeated his request for a ‘free India’ declaration. Hitler did not directly answer the question. He said: ‘India is endlessly far from Germany.’
By May 1943, Bose was in Tokyo. He met the Chief of Army Staff General Hajime Sugiyama and Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu. Then on the June 12, 1943 he called on Prime Minister Tojo and made an immediate impact on him. Bose implored the Japanese leader to endorse Indian independence. Soon after, Tojo informed the Japanese parliament, the DIET: ‘We firmly resolve that Japan will do everything possible to help Indian independence.’
With Japanese co-operation, Bose proclaimed in Singapore a Provisional Government of Free India on the October 21, 1943. This government was recognised by Japan, Germany, Italy, Croatia, the Philippines, Thailand and Burma, among others. The Irish President Eamon de Valera sent a message of congratulations to Bose.
Japan handed over partial control of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean, which were Indian territory and had been captured from the British in the Second World War.
In March 1944, Bose’s Indian National Army or the INA alongside Japanese forces launched an offensive on the Indo-Burma border to enter the Manipur and Nagaland areas of North-Eastern India. The INA raised the Indian flag at Moirang in Manipur and Kohima in Nagaland. A second campaign was waged in 1945.
The battles between on the one hand troops under British command and the United States Air Force and on the other the Japanese Army and the INA, are widely acknowledged as one of the bloodiest and fiercest in the Second World War. It was a colossal sacrifice of lives by both sides, including by Japanese soldiers and Bose’s INA.
Japan and the INA obviously lost. But British military intelligence admitted: ‘A measure of courage cannot be denied to the leaders of the INA front-line units in Burma in 1945 when they faced up to British equipment, tanks, guns and aircraft with rifles and bullock-carts and empty stomachs.’
On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered in the Second World War. Three days later, Bose was on his way to Tokyo when his plane crashed in Taipei and he tragically passed away in a Japanese military hospital a few hours later. He was cremated in Taipei; and his mortal remains were thereafter taken to Tokyo.
Despite Japan’s traumatic state in the immediate aftermath of the War, Japanese authorities maintained performing their duty towards Bose. On August 30, 1945, 12 days after Bose’s death, American General Douglas MacArthur asked the Government of Japan to look into the matter of Bose’s reported passing. Within 15 days, Japan produced an interim report which confirmed the tragedy.
In January 1956, at the Indian government’s request, the Japanese government produced a final report on what happened to Bose, and handed this over to the Indian embassy in Tokyo.
In 1966, the mass circulated Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun embarked on a monumental project, entitled Emperor in The Showa Era, to preserve for generations to come a record of Japan’s involvement in the Second World War. One entire chapter in this volume was devoted to Bose, the Provisional Government of Free India and the INA. All Japanese personnel connected with the air disaster were interviewed in-depth for their first-hand recollections. They all confirmed Bose had perished as a result of the plane crash.
I went public with my findings on Bose’s heroic but unfortunate end as far back as in 1995. I visited Tokyo several times for this purpose, interviewing face-to-face, among others, Dr Taneyoshi Yoshimi at Miyazaki. Dr Yoshimi was in-charge of the hospital where Bose was carried after the crash in a critical condition. Dr Yoshimi personally participated in Bose’s treatment.
Eventually I wrote a book Laid to Rest, highlighting 11 independent official and unofficial investigations into the issue; all of which reached the same conclusion. That Bose died consequent to the air crash, was cremated at Taipei and his remains are those that are being safeguarded at Renkoji Temple.
I take this opportunity to thank the Japanese government for its kind assistance to me. I am also indebted to Yukichi Arai, son of Captain Keikichi Arai, who survived the plane crash that eventually killed Bose.
I am very pleased that the Indian government at long last declassified all its files pertaining to Bose; and this as expected reconfirmed the truth. Thereafter, under India’s Right to Information Act, the Home Ministry of the Government of India ratified that Bose had indeed died as a result of the crash.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1950s and Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in the 1990s attempted to bring Bose’s remains to India; but were thwarted in their endeavours. Other Indian prime ministers appear to have perhaps not taken an initiative for fear of unrest within India.
In effect, even after 76 years, the remains continue to be kept at Tokyo’s Renkoji Temple. Genuine lovers of Bose have been and will remain grateful to Japan for its remarkable compassion and understanding. It is perhaps a reflection of the unshakeable bond that was established between Japan and Bose.
Bose’s daughter and only child Professor Anita Bose Pfaff fervently desires that her father’s remains be sent to India for a final disposal. She has reasoned that it was her father’s ambition to see a free India. This ambition was clearly not fulfilled. Thus, she says, his remains should at least touch the soil of India to honour his dream.
She also points out her father was a Hindu; and that the final rites should take place in accordance with Hindu tradition. This means in his case an immersion of his remains in the River Ganga.
Now that her mother Emilie Schenkl is no more, Professor Pfaff has complete legal and moral authority over her father’s mortal remains. Japan to the best of my knowledge has always been ready to transfer the remains to the Government of India, if New Delhi made such a request.
With respect, the remains do not belong to the Government of India. The lawful and sentimental rights to the remains rest solely with Professor Anita Bose Pfaff. Therefore, as we commemorate the 78th anniversary of the proclamation of the Provisional Government of Free India, and approach Bose’s 125th birth anniversary, I appeal to the Government of Japan to kindly consider handing over Netaji’s mortal remains to his daughter Professor Pfaff.
(Ashis Ray is the author of ‘Laid to Rest: The Controversy over Subhas Chandra Bose’s Death’ and a chronicler of Netaji. This article is excerpted from his contribution to an event jointly organised by the Samurai Museum, Indo-Japan Samurai Center (both in Tokyo) and the Ministry of External Affairs. October 21 was the 78th anniversary of the Azad Hind Government)