Perhaps, it all panders to the Bengali paranoia that Netaji might still return, under a fictitious identity, to a country that several years ago under the Nehru-Gandhi regime, had completely discredited the former’s contribution to the freedom struggle. Or perhaps, it is just an indulgence typical of a middle-class Bengali household that has always been in awe of Subhas’s ekla cholo re (Go your own way alone) spirit. After all, it’s hard to get his famous battle cries like Chalo Dilli out of the Bengali collective consciousness.
But the hard reality remains that Netaji never reached Delhi and Nehru became India’s first Prime Minister amid the bloodbath of Partition. “Nehru was won over by Lord Mountbatten and Edwina, so much so that he acquiesced all of their demands. He made Mountbatten India’s first Governor-General and accepted ‘Dominion Status’ and made other Congress leaders accept the same,” says Chitra Ghosh, niece of Subhas Chandra Bose. “Had Bose returned, the situation would have been totally different. His idea was to maintain a no-compromise stance with the British.”
Granddaughter of Sarat Chandra Bose and grand niece of Subhas, Madhuri who recently chronicled a book The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence: An Insider’s Account gives first-hand accounts of father Amiya Nath who was not just family but also their close political aide. Remembering Sarat at the stroke of midnight when the country was toasting Nehru’s convenient positioning of having ‘pulled the nation out of a deep slumber’. Madhuri Bose writes, “Sarat sat quietly on the first floor southern verandah of his Woodburn Park home in Calcutta. He had fought like a lion to prevent the Partition with all of its tragic consequences; the India of his and Subhas’s dreams had not materialised and Bengal was cleaved down the middle; and India as a dominion within the British empire accepted by Nehru had still to achieve the complete independence on which the brothers had never compromised. “The British Raj both admired and feared the Bose brothers.”
Would it be too far-fetched then to make a conjecture that the same fear had driven Nehru to demand the snooping on Subhas’s family, with British officials in the loop, after news hit the country of the latter’s alleged death in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945? “Nehru was informed first by Vijay Lakshmi Pandit and then by S Radhakrishnan that the air crash at Taiwan had not happened. Gandhi also knew that it was a false story,” says Chitra Ghosh. Even Samar Guha, an Indian independence movement activist and a close aide of Netaji, in his book Netaji: Alive or Dead had stated that when Nehru had visited Singapore before 1947, he was supposed to pay homage to Netaji. But he was later told by Mountbatten, then commander-in-chief, that they suspect that Netaji was alive. Since paying homage would make Subhas a hero and be harmful to his own political interests, Nehru steered away from it.
The hotly contested air crash conspiracy theory was finally put to rest when the West Bengal government, in 2015, declassified files that suggested Netaji being alive even after 1945. But the Nehru-Bose rivalry continued to intrigue Indian minds, partly because of the enigma surrounding Netaji due to successive governments’ refusal to declassify all files.