What Nehru's sister knew about Netaji's death
I wonder if there is a political observer who hasn't known about Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit in the context of the Subhas Chandra Bose' disappearance.
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In the political realm, no other brother-sister bonding was as formidable as the one between Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.
Nehru's talented kid sister was a leader in her own right. Had it not been for her politically savvy niece Indira, Vijaya Lakshmi would have left a far stronger imprint in our history than she did.
Vijaya Lakshmi was a member of the Constituent Assembly, the first woman president of the United Nations General Assembly, a governor and an MP from Phulpur after her brother’s passing away in 1964.
But the reason why Vijaya Lakshmi's name continues to crop up the parallel world of conspiracies is due to her alleged association with the mother of all political controversies.
I wonder if there any political animal out there who never heard something about her in the context of the Subhas Bose disappearance case.
In brief, presumed dead in an air crash in Taiwan, Netaji was actually alive and in Soviet Russia in 1946. Today, there is much to go by this theory, including documents, testimonies and, to an extent, the report of the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry. The report appends evidence that there was no crash, and Bose flew towards Russia. But whether or not Bose landed in USSR could not be established because the former Supreme Court judge could not get an access to security and intelligence related archives in Moscow. The government of ours evidently did nothing in this regard.
The government of India has from the very start played a not so much sterling role in the entire affair. Nehru dismissed the Russian angle to the Bose mystery and down to this day the government view is that there was never any Russian angle to the Bose mystery.
Speaking in the Rajya Sabha on August 24, 2006 in the favour of the indefensible blatant dismissal of the Mukherjee Commission report, then home minister Shivraj Patil asked: "If he were alive, what made him stay away from the country? Why did he not come, if he were alive?" Dr Murli Manohar Joshi of the BJP gave him a fitting rejoinder: "Suppose Netaji was arrested by some country, suppose he was not a free man? How could he come?"
Now, was Bose in Russia or not could only be ascertained by asking our Russian friends. Going by official records, our government hasn’t done that properly. In fact, the overall approach has been highly suspicious. The first feeble attempt was made in the year 1990 only. Which means, officially, no approaches were made by statesmanly Nehru to ascertain facts from the friendly foreign nation called USSR, in view of the widespread belief that Bose was either their guest, or a prisoner.
But it was heard on the grapevine that the matter was raised, unofficially. By India's first mission head in Moscow after Independence. And that head happened to be Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.
In my search for the truth about Bose, I got to hear from many - well-read people of refinement to village yokels alike - that Vijaya Lakshmi came to know about Bose's presence in Soviet Russia. The story goes that when she came back from Moscow she made a statement in private that she knew something whose disclosure "would electrify India and the resultant happiness would be greater than what the people had experienced on 15 August 1947". The same story holds that Nehru asked Vijaya Lakshmi to keep her mouth shut. And a good sister that she was, she deferred to his judgment.
A spiced up account of the same claim was dished out in 2013 by Swami Jyotirupananda, the head of the Ramakrishna Mission’s Moscow chapter. The monk alleged that Vijaya Lakshmi was allowed to have a look at an imprisoned Bose "through a hole in the cell door". She saw Bose "very ill, distraught and probably mentally ill". "He did not have adequate warm clothes and suffered in the cold. She wanted to disclose this in India but was not allowed to meet the press.” The monk also assumed that Bose "must have died in the prison itself".
I’d rather place my money on the words of Rai Singh Yadav, a former Director of the erstwhile Information Service of India under the MEA. It used to do the work nowadays R&AW does. Yadav, now deceased, told me that he once had the privilege of attending “Ambassador Pandit” at an airport lounge. Tormented by a Russian diplomat's taunt to him in Europe years ago that "your Quisling was with us", Yadav mustered courage to ask Vijaya Lakshmi about her "important statement" on return to India from USSR. When she kept on sipping her drink, he repeated, "Madam, unfortunately that important statement of yours was not understood by people!" According to Yadav, she then sidestepped the issue.
The only time Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was properly asked to verify her stand was in early 1970s after a few witnesses appearing before the second probe into Subhas Bose's fate made allegations. Vijaya Lakshmi then filed an affidavit before the GD Khosla commission stating that she never met Bose after he left India in 1941. This qualified statement did not rule out the possibility of her coming to know of Bose’s presence in Soviet Russia, a revelation of catastrophic political proportions and ramifications.
There was some argument before the commission whether or not the circumstances warranted her cross-examination by lawyers. The commission's counsel TR Bhasin himself on July 6, 1972 reiterated the demand to summon Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.
However, in his final report, Khosla justified not summoning her to have her grilled by lawyers. He wrote that there was "no reason whatsoever for disbelieving" Vijaya Lakshmi’s affidavit, which is not traceable in the declassified records of the Khosla commission. "It is far more reliable and acceptable than the evidence of a host of witnesses who have made incredible statements," added Khosla.
The explanation sounds fine to me on the face of it. But somehow it doesn't square with "chairman" Khosla's own announcement as it appears in the recently declassified record of the commission’s proceeding dated July 24, 1973.
Despite Khosla's assertion that "Mrs Pandit will come on the 26th", she never did.
And he, a personal friend of Nehru, never complained.