Fifty-four years after his mysterious disappearance in an air crash in Taiwan in 1945, controversy continues over the ‘death’ of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Generation after generation of Bengalis have dismissed Bose’s death in the said air crash citing lack of corroborative evidence. But for all their emotional attachment to one of the most enduring icons of Indian patriotism, and (let it not be forgotten) Bengali pride, few had ever given thought to righting a historical wrong done to this legendary freedom fighter. This concerns his unclear status as a war criminal for leading the Indian National Army (INA) against the British during World War II.
In March this year, responding to demands made by participants at a convention on Bose that the government act towards getting the British government to remove his name from the roll of war criminals, Indian Home Minister L.K. Advani said that, as per information received from London, Bose had never been declared a war criminal. This prompted Oslo-based Bengali economist and Subhas Chandra Bose researcher, Amalendu Guha, to seek clarification from the chairman of the International Court of Justice on whether charges of war crime brought against Bose by the British government during World War II had later been withdrawn. (The Nuremberg trial documents refer to Bose as an Indian nationalist opposing Gandhi, and as one who had declared sympathy for Germany in World War II and had accepted an invitation to go to Germany. )
The response from the International Court only added to the confusion. The Court said it had no evidence of war criminal charges against Subhas Chandra Bose. “In the archives of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal which were deposited with the International Court of Justice, no trace could be found of charges against Subhas Chandra Bose,” wrote a Court official. But he also added that further research had produced some references to Bose in the so-called ministries case (USA vs Ernst von Weizsacker et al) before the US Military Tribunal IV, which was created by Ordinance No 7 of the military government, Germany, United States zone. According to the official, the Court does not possess the archives of those tribunals, only the published record of their proceedings.
Guha had earlier written to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the reply from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had said that the question of Subhas Chandra Bose and other members of the INA, was considered in 1945 by the Government of India in consultation with the British government; the relevant papers, the letter added, are to be found in Volume VI of The Transfer of Power series, while others are available at the Public Record Office or the British Library.
“But in those documents Netaji is mentioned as a war criminal who would be tried after the War,” argues Guha. “Mr L.K. Advani was wrong when he declared that there was no charges of war criminality against Bose from the Government of India because the independent government in 1947 inherited all liabilities from the former royal British government.”
“Ironically, the British Prime Minister did not hesitate to reply to my letter on the issue while the highest authority in India never cared to respond. This shows how the Indian official circle and certain principal political parties treat Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his contribution for the country’s freedom struggle,” says the professor. “It is sad that Netaji, who was recognised by Gandhiji as the Patriot of Patriots and lives in the hearts of millions of Indians as the greatest freedom fighter, should be still branded as a war criminal officially and the government does nothing to revoke the tag.”
The matter is hardly closed. More will be heard on this front, promises Ashok Ghosh —general secretary of the West Bengal unit of Forward Bloc, the party founded by Bose —when the question is raised yet again in the Netaji Inquiry Commission, set up by the central government to probe into all issues related to Subhas Chandra Bose. The Netaji saga thus is likely endure for some time to come.