The analysis of the old evidence and collection of new evidence by the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry was assessed and ignored by an Under Secretary in the Home Ministry. The officer went ahead to put his faith on the old evidence which was rejected by a High Court judge and a former Supreme Court judge. By extension, it can be said that a junior bureaucrat sat upon the judgment of two eminent High Court and Supreme Court judges. The result is not surprising.
The assessment of the JMCI report started with an undersecretary in the MHA circulating his analysis of the report on January 16, 2006, nearly two months after the commission submitted its report to the government. The files do not have any information on how the assessment was assigned to an undersecretary, who listed out the "flaws" of the report and concluded that
"…it is felt that the report submitted by JMCI has many weaknesses and, although its report differs with those of the earlier committee and commission, it has not come out with adequate and solid reasons, justifications and grounds for coming to the conclusions. On studying the report it seems, as mentioned above, the conclusions are hasty and bristled with flaws. As it goes against the other two reports, acceptance of the report may lead to a lot of hue and cry by those who still want to bank on and exploit this issue. Also, the report is not going to solve the mystery about Netaji. On the contrary, it makes the issue more mysterious." (emphasis added)
Consider this: A commission headed by a former Supreme Court judge with no vested interest in the case investigates it for six long years and overturns a long-held official line. By any standard, the finding is astounding. It establishes that the story of Subhas Chandra Bose's death in a plane crash was nothing but a smokescreen created as a part of an elaborate plan to help him reach the Soviet Union. Thereafter, however, the Commission hits a wall. It cannot (for whatever reasons) shed light on what happened to Bose after that. What would a Government genuinely interested in unravelling the mystery do in such a situation? It could either go into the details of the reasons for the Commission's inability to answer the question and take its opinion on what to do next; or take the view of the Parliament; or consulted experts; or do something else to explore the options to bring a closure to the mystery.
But it did nothing of that sort. The undersecretary's note does not have any hint of such line of thought. On the contrary, it was categorical that the report should be junked because it does not answer the question of Bose's fate. By phenomenal logic, it is suggested that since we are not yet able to know what happened to him August 19, 1945 onwards, it is convenient to accept that he was dead on the previous day.
|Jawaharlal Nehru with Subhash Chandra Bose.|
Clearly, the overriding concerns were political, that is, apprehensions regarding the fallout of the findings of the report and the subsequent steps that would have become essential for the government to take.
Before taking up the observations in the undersecretary's note on the JMCI report, it would be useful to recollect the line of reasoning and the key conclusions of the JMCI.
a. The Commission started its investigation with the assumption that there was indeed a plane accident at Taipei (called Taihoku by the Japanese) on August 18, 1945 and set out to determine if Netaji had died in that accident.
b. In view of the outrageously contradictory witness accounts, it looked for definite evidence establishing Netaji's death and cremation, guided by the aphoristic saying, "men might lie but circumstances do not".
c. All the five sets of death and cremation records obtained by the Commission mentioned the name of a Taiwanese soldier Ichiro Okura and not that of Netaji. The Commission obtained the records of the crematorium for the period August 18-24, 1945. Not only those records created by the Japanese themselves do not contain Netaji's name, but they also do not have the names of the other passengers who were said to have died in the alleged plane crash. The register contains the details of others who were cremated during that period.
d. The chief doctor in the Nanmon Military Hospital where Netaji was treated, Taneyoshi Yoshimi claimed consistently that he had issued Netaji's death certificate on the night of his death and had applied for the cremation permit in the name of "Chandra Bose", and that he did not know any person called Ichiro Okura. The cremation records sent by the Taiwan Government to the Commission, however, showed the signature in the cremation permit to be that of Taneyoshi Yoshimi. In terms of self-contradiction, the junior doctor in the hospital, Tsuruta, was no different. Tsuruta told an enquiry by the Japanese Government in December 1955 that it was he who issued the death certificate for Netaji several days after his alleged death, in the name of "Hachiro Okhura". A few months later he told the Shah Nawaz Committee that he did not issue any death certificate and he did not know if Yoshimi did. Significantly, neither Yoshimi, nor Tsuruta knew Netaji, and were told by the Japanese officers that they were treating him. Years later, in 1988, Yoshimi gave another Japanese researcher a copy of Netaji's death certificate signed by him. The Commission concluded that in view of lack of records in Netaji's name and incoherencies in his statements, Yoshimi could not be telling the truth. The documents bearing Okura's name in no way suggested that they pertained to Netaji.
e. Rather than treating the plane crash as an isolated incident, Justice Mukherjee placed it in the context of the plan hatched by Netaji and his INA colleagues, with support from the Japanese, to reach Russia via Manchuria. The plan, it has been established beyond doubt, was top secret. The line of reasoning was that the story of the plane crash could have been created to bolster the secrecy and throw the Allied forces off track. Lack of any record indicating a plane crash in Taipei reinforces this argument. Even local newspapers, which were publishing news about the Bose family in India, did not publish any story about the plane crash. The Taiwan government informed the Commission that there was no evidence of the occurrence of a plane crash in August 1945.
f. Serious discrepancies in Habibur Rahman's statements, wide variations between how he described injuries in his body from the accident and what other eyewitness accounts stated, and lack of any medical record about his treatment led the Commission to conclude that he played a crucial role in Netaji's escape plan and that the discrepancies resulted from retelling of a fabricated story. That he preferred to remain silent instead of communicating the news of the plane crash or death of Netaji to any one of his colleagues strengthened the suspicion.
Let's now turn to observations in the note of the undersecretary in light of the key findings of the Commission discussed above. The chief characteristic of the note that stands out is that its intention is to discover flaws in the JMCI report. While the Commission's reasoning and conclusions are subjected to hairsplitting, the reports of the Shah Nawaz Committee and the GD Khosla Commission are presented as the benchmark. Forgotten are all the concerns about the contradictions and loopholes which led to the formation of JMCI.
Now, the contentions of the note, one by one.
1. The JMCI did not investigate into the antecedents of Ichiro Okura in whose name the cremation certificate was issued by the Japanese. That Netaji and Okura were not the same person could be acceptable only if the Commission could establish that there was a real person of that name.
It would be useful to note before commenting on the validity of this argument that not only Justice Mukherjee, but also GD Khosla - on whose report the Government place so much trust - clearly stated that documents related to Okura "relate to a totally different person and not Bose at all". They "have no evidentiary value at all, and neither of them proves or disproves anything," Khosla wrote. The undersecretary created the "what if" scenario despite being aware of the Khosla report's verdict.
The obvious and self-evident fact is that these documents were issued in the name of another person, real or imaginary. Dr Yoshimi, the senior doctor who treated Bose stated categorically that he had issued the death certificate and applied for the cremation permit in the name of "Chandra Bose". The attempt to force fit Okura with Netaji makes no sense.
More seriously, the principle of justice stipulates that the onus of proving a claim is on the claimant. The situation here is completely opposite: not a single person has been able to establish that Okura was the pseudonym for Bose. Yet, turning the principle of "burden of proof" on its head, the undersecretary accuses JMCI of not disproving a claim that is yet to be proven.
2. Construing the absence of cremation records related to Netaji and his co-passengers as negation of the plane crash story is not justified. If the Japanese wanted to keep the news about Netaji's death a secret, they would certainly not keep any evidence of others also in the register.
3. The fact that Taiwan newspapers were reporting on locally unimportant issues such as release of Netaji's family members from British prison in India, but not on the alleged death of Netaji in their locality cannot be construed as evidence of non-occurrence of the plane crash. Such silence could have been easily obtained by the Japanese army.
The above two points concern the creation of a speculative "what if" scenario on a supposed Japanese plan to keep the news of the plane crash and Netaji's death a secret.
The alleged crash happened on August 18, and by August 20 the Southern Command of the Japanese Army was informing Hikari Kikan that Netaji's body was flown to Tokyo. If the Japanese wanted to maintain secrecy would they try to take the body to Tokyo just two days after the alleged crash? Being ready to take the body to Tokyo is a far cry from any plan of secrecy. The dates of cremation, over which again there was little agreement amongst witnesses (one of the many discrepancies), usually vary between August 21 and August 22 - dates for which there is no evidence of secrecy seeking by the Japanese. Moreover, Would Yoshimi categorically and consistently claim that he issued the death and cremation certificates in Netaji's name if there was a gag order?
Subsequently, the Japanese news agency Domei published Netaji's death story on August 23. Therefore, the span of secrecy imposed by the Japanese army, if assumed to be true, was about two-three days. Why would the local press not give any coverage to such an accident immediately after the assumed period of silence?
|Who benefits from Subhas Bose's death being shrouded in mystery?|
It is also striking that the government found it so difficult to accept the same principle applied by Justice Mukherjee which was applied by Union home minister Patil towards a former prime minister. Mr Patil implied that if claimed documents did not exist, it indicated that the claimant was lying. Justice Mukherjee applied this principle to the perpetrators of the story of plane crash, just as Shivraj Patil applied to Morarji Desai.
4. There is no source which supports the Commission's claim that the bomber in which Netaji was apparently travelling from Taihoku attained a height of 12-14,000 feet before nosediving. Planes in those days were not of such high standards to have gained such height immediately after take-off, and if it did, it was not possible for the plane to have fallen within the precinct of the airfield.
5. As the plane was small and space scanty, during the nose-diving there might not have been a major change in the seating position and hence, the story regarding Netaji's being drenched by petrol may not be ruled out. In any case, the Commission's finding on this point may not be based on very strong ground.
These contentions highlight minor details to run down the key arguments and findings of the Commission and makes unverified assumptions at the same time. Justice Mukherjee may have made a small mistake in quoting Habibur Rahman to place the height attained by the plane to be "possibly over 12-14,000 feet", but it is not wide off the mark. Rahman had told the Shah Nawaz Committee that the plane was flying at 1,000 feet or above before it started nosediving. A fall from that height is no less effective in killing passengers in a flight, especially when the plane did not even have proper seats. Even if one assumes that the bureaucratic speculation of Netaji's position remaining unchanged during the plane's free fall to be true, it is difficult to explain how the petrol singled out Netaji as its target and avoided Habibur Rahman, who by his own admission to the Shah Nawaz Committee sat close behind, "almost touching each other".
The note while splitting hairs in this manner, remarkably remained silent on the fact about the information provided by the Taiwan government that there was no evidence of any plane crash on August 18, 1945.
6. The charge levelled by the Commission that Dr Taneyoshi Yoshimi had manufactured a death certificate which showed the name of Netaji, in 1988, is not valid. It is not possible that a person such as Dr Yoshimi would manufacture a death certificate just to put the Commission on a wrong track. The copy of the certificate provided in the report is an English version, whereas the original one must have been in Japanese. The report does not indicate whether the Commission examined the original certificate, whether that was a typed or hand-written certificate, whether in 1988 when Dr Yoshimi gave the copy to Mr Toshikazu, photocopy was made from carbon copy or original one. There was ample scope to inquire about this certificate, but nothing has been mentioned. If it was found that the copy from which Dr Yoshimi gave a photocopy to Mr Toshikazu did not stand the above tests, Commission's conclusion could be justified. The evidence provided by Dr Yoshimi to the earlier Committee and Commission was found to be consistent. It may so happen that in view of Netaji's stature and statesmanship, Dr Yoshimi had retained a copy of the death certificate as a memento and from that he gave a photocopy to Mr. Toshikazu. While deposing before the Shah Nawaz Commission and describing the scene in the hospital after death of Netaji, as mentioned in the report, "…describing this poignant scene before the committee, Dr Yoshimi himself broke down and sobbed audibly".
These claims clearly show that the officer writing the note had not read the JMCI report carefully. Annexure D/12 of the report gives the details of the death certificate. It shows the English version of the certificate, issued by Dr Yoshimi in 1988 to another Japanese gentleman named Toshikazu Shimoda, but clearly mentions that it had seen a copy of the original, which was written in Japanese language. Dr Shimoda shared both a copy of the original certificate and a translation done by him with Dr Purabi Roy and the Commission had access to both and the same were placed on record as exhibits.
If Dr Yoshimi had retained a copy of the certificate, wouldn't he have shown it to the Shah Nawaz Committee and especially to the Khosla Commission - who faced the same dilemma over the identity of Ichiro Okura? It beats common sense as to why he would keep such a vital piece of evidence away from to official inquiries.
The laboured argument, which reflects nothing but desperation to invent the flaws in the JMCI report, is presented in way add a touch of emotional drama by drawing attention of the senior bureaucrats who would read the note to an emotional scene enacted in front of the Shah Nawaz Committee when the doctor "sobbed audibly" at the "death" of a person whom he never knew.
7. The Commission has not given sufficient reasons/grounds for coming to the conclusions that Netaji is dead and did not die in the said plane crash. No doubt people living beyond 100 years are very few, but it is not rare. Unless there is solid reason/ground/ evidence, such a conclusion can be termed as conjecture/imaginary and that cannot stand logic.
The Commission logically explained its position on this point without trying to cover the fact that it was an assumption that Netaji was dead, based on "probability" and "possibility". In any case, in view of the fact that the report of the Commission unambiguously established that the plane crash did not take place, this matter takes a secondary position and requires further investigation.
8. The Commission has claimed that Netaji might have disappeared from Taipei as that was the place where he and Habibur Rahman were last found together. But he could have made his exit from Tourane also where they had passed one night together. What if Netaji had disappeared from there and Habibur Rahman in connivance with the Japanese Government started cooking up the story of plane crash and death of Netaji at Taihoku giving Netaji lot of time to disappear? In the absence of adequate justification backed by cogent reason, such conclusions make the report fragile and frail.
The objection raised here appears almost frivolous. It is clear again that the undersecretary did not read the JMCI report carefully, which clearly states that "no firm opinion can be formed about Netaji's exit point" and that it can only be "inferred" that he disappeared from Taipei.
9. "If Netaji did not die in the plane crash, where has he disappeared? He just could not vanish in the thin air. It was well-nigh impossible for someone like Netaji to remain hidden in some turner or Asia or elsewhere running away from his cherished dream of freeing India from the alien rulers. Under no stretch of imagination can it be said that he was coward and seeing that the Japanese were surrendering and the Russians were aligning with the Allied Forces, he would give up the fight for independence leaving his comrades in the lurch and live a secluded indolent life in some corner of this planet. This simply does not fit in with the fiery and indomitable character of Netaji."
These are valid questions and need answers, rather than being used to hush up the central finding of the JMCI. These are questions for the cabinet to have discussed in order to determine the next course of action - if it was interested in a closure, that is - when it took up the matter of the JMCI report. The logical follow up act would have been to continue the investigation with all the seriousness that the Government could bring to bear upon other sources of information, which remained unexplored or underexplored for whatever reason.
In fact, if the above discussions demonstrate anything, it is that instead of the JMCI, it was the first assessment of the UPA government which was "hasty" and "bristled with flaws". As we shall see in the concluding section of this series, these flawed charges designed to somehow spot lacunae in the JMCI report continued unchallenged, and finally contributed to the government's rejection of the report.