Why did British refuse to trust sole witness to Netaji's death?

Declassified records show Habibur Rahman Khan was the only Indian witness to his leader's reported death on August 18, 1945.

 |  3-minute read |   16-02-2016
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British and Indian security officials who interrogated the main witness to the reported death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose disbelieved his version, Raj-era documents available in the National Archives, New Delhi show. Lt Col Habibur Rahman Khan, Subhas Chandra Bose's fiercely loyal ADC, was the only Indian witness to his leader's reported death in Taihoku (Taipei) on August 18, 1945.

The story of Netaji's death was based solely on the verbal account of Rahman, supported by unsatisfactory supporting statements of a few Japanese.

It turns out that even Rahman's version was doubtful and therefore not believed by the Raj-era officials who investigated Bose's death soon after it was reported by the Japanese.

The investigation into Bose's reported death was monitored by the combined section at the military intelligence directorate in the GHQ, India under the lead of IB deputy director W McK Wright.

On March 25, 1946, McK Wright was informed by Colonel GD Anderson, who had supervised Rahman's interrogation at the Red Fort, that even after months Rahman still "adhered to his earlier attitude of ingenuous denial".

hrreexamination_021616042503.jpg [The National Archives, New Delhi] 

Interrogating officer Major Hyat Khan conveyed to Anderson in his hand written report - available in the National Archives in New Delhi - that even if Rahman "was in the know of Bose's plans, he would not disclose them. His manner is not very convincing. He talks in a secretive way even if no one is about".

Anderson then emphasised to McK Wright that Rahman's "equanimity could only be shaken if positive facts could be adduced to disprove his account of Bose's death at Taihoku" and wondered if the proofs - hospital records that he had earlier specified - "have been obtained from local sources or inquiry at Taihoku".

hrreexamination2_021616042552.jpg [The National Archives, New Delhi]

Anderson's report prompted the Intelligence Bureau to raise a series of questions. On April 2, 1946, these were listed out as a re-interrogation of Rahman was planned.

On April 10, Anderson informed the IB about the outcome of Habibur Rahman's re-interrogation, now carried out by Capt Habibullah Malik.

Malik had observed in his report that "throughout the protracted questioning, resentment was visible from B1269's (Rahman's) face and he made no bones about it". 

"The results obtained are far from satisfactory and do not take us much further from the original position," he wrote.

Malik detailed that "Habibur Rahman has shown little cooperation during the course of this re-interrogation" and that he was taking recourse to an "attitude of ingenuous denials under the cloak of forgetfulness". He even observed that Rahman was taking an "undue advantage…of his stuttering habit".

After Rahman was released, he was questioned at length by Mahatma Gandhi and ace lawyer and Subhas Bose's elder brother Sarat Bose, the man he knew his brother more than anyone else. While Gandhiji made a public statement that Rahman convinced him about the veracity of the Taiwan death theory, his private statements showed otherwise. In fact, a letter written in July 1946 on his behalf to an eminent American stated his belief that Bose was in Soviet Russia.  

As for Sarat, he made a public statement sometime before he passed away in 1950 that as per his impression Rahman "had orders from his chief to keep his whereabouts a closely guarded secret".

In our times, two of Sarat's grandsons, Harvard University don Sugata Bose and London-based former journalist Ashis Ray, are doing all that they can to cover-up their grandfather's assessment about Netaji's fate. Incidentally, both have a link to the Congress party.

Writer

Anuj Dhar Anuj Dhar @anujdhar

Anuj Dhar has researched the issue of Subhas Chandra Bose's mysterious disappearance for over a decade. His 2012 bestselling book India's Biggest Cover-up triggered the demand for declassification of the Bose files.

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