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"Taihoku plane crash is the most probable theory"


ANITA BOSE | Issue Dated: May 12, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Subhash Chandra Bose | Netaji | Anita Bose | Jawaharlal Nehru | Shah Nawaz Committee |Habibur Rahman |

Anita Bose Pfaff was an infant when she last met her father. She grew up under the burden of being the only bloodline of Subhash Chandra Bose – Netaji – one of India’s most celebrated freedom fighters, who some some scholars believe, could have posed a stiff challenge to Jawaharlal Nehru to become India’s first Prime Minister.  Netaji’s death in the wee hours of World War II remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of modern times. Three probe panels (headed by former INA lieutenant Shah Nawaz Khan, Justice G D Khosla and Justice M K Mukherjee) probed and gave different versions of his death. None was totally satisfactory and answered all questions. The last one, Mukherjee Commission, claimed even though Netaji did not die in that plane accident, he in all probability is no more because of his age. The controversy was reignited when the UPA-I government said it did not accept the findings of Mukherjee Commission. Bose’s daughter Anita Bose Pfaff did not embrace politics though her husband was in active politics in Germany. Instead she preferred academics. Both she and husband Martin, whom she met in Bangalore four decades ago, are ex-professors at the University of Augusburg, Germany. Though Pfaff lives in Europe, she visits India frequently and keeps in touch with the Bose family in Kolkata. Excerpts of an exclusive wide-ranging interview with Kakoli Ray.

What is the first memory of your father?
ABP: I had no first memory as I was only four weeks old when he saw me last. All my memories are second hand.
KR: Was it a photograph on the wall, a book or any other item – how did you relate to your father first time?
ABP: My mother (Emilie Schenkl) kept photographs of my father so I saw him in photos. But beyond that it is difficult to pin it down to a particular time because a child does not relate to the political situation. That was all rather abstract, which did not mean anything. I learnt he was a famous person but as a child that didn’t mean very much. I learnt more from intimate contact with some my father’s family members who lived with us in Vienna later.
KR: When did Bose family members come to Vienna?
ABP: I met my first cousin in 1947. I was about four-and-half when my uncle -- my father’s second brother Sarat Bose – came with his wife and three children to meet us. Two of his children stayed in Vienna somewhat longer, up to eight to ten years, from 1949-50  to 1961-62.

KR: Can you share some of the anecdotes about your father which you heard from your mother?
ABP: I did not hear it from my mother but from conclusions of a grown up woman, I can tell you he was a terrible husband. He was married to a woman but his first and foremost love was something else leaving his wife to play the second or third fiddle. But my mother never criticised or complained. I came to that conclusion later on. When I was a child there were many others who grew up without a father because a number of them were killed in World War-II. So that was not so unusual. Ultimately he led a life which he decided to live. Originally he planned to leave before I was born, which did not happen because the news had leaked out. He had to postpone his departure as leaving early was too dangerous. The difference with others (fathers of other children in school) were they were conscripted in the army. My parents had spent relatively little time together.

KR: How much time?
ABP: About five years. They used to correspond as that generation was very good at writing letters. The time spent together was not very long. There was work and a lot of travel. But not very much of what we call normal family life.

KR: Did they travel or stay at home?
ABP: Since my father’s health was not all that good, they went to some spa now and then. The longest time they spent together was in Rome.

KR: Do you remember the Taihoku plane accident (in which Netaji was killed) ?
ABP: No, I was too young. I was only two-and-half years old when that happened. I only heard details from my mother when I was 8.

KR: His death continues to be a mystery and returns to the news every now and then. Recently the Allahabad High Court has asked UP government to probe the mysterious Gumnami baba.
ABP:There are some bizarre tales. The story about Gumnami baba is one of them. Justice Mukherjee who investigated my father’s death, examined many of these bizarre stories but came to  the  conclusion that they were not true. Its also strange how rumours start. Somebody starts speculating, others pick up and in the end something absolutely nonsensical comes up. For example I heard a story in Kolkata this time that I will return with my father’s ashes and will hold a press conference on January 23. This is total nonsense.
KR: Do you believe the findings on the Taihoku plane accident?
ABP: It is a fairly consistent story though not one hundred per cent consistent. If  you ask people you will get identical versions from everybody on plane. It sounds quite plausible. Other stories are speculative and unsubstantiated.

KR: Are there any particular missing pieces of puzzle in the crash report?
ABP: I have not investigated it myself. The Mukherjee Commission came to the conclusion that he did not die in that plane accident (It concluded that the accident story was concocted by the Japanese army and Bose’s comrade Habibur Rahman to create a smokescreen for his escape. The Mukherjee Commission could not find any conclusive and convincing evidence of what happened there. For example, the death certificate is not available. The doctor who was alive till a few years ago did not know what happened to it. Naturally he won’t keep the death certificate. By the end of World War II, and even though Japanese were particular in documenting things, they would not necessarily do that few days after the end of such a major war and ten days after the bombardment of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It sounds to  me quite plausible and in fact it might be suspicious if they were safekeeping documents under the circumstances. While getting out of that area they probably decided which document to take and what to destroy. It seems plausible that Japanese won’t necessarily have such documentation under such circumstances. By and large that seems to be the most consistent account. There were sufficient number of eye witnesses. The children of people who died in that crash also gave corroborating statements.
KR: Did you speak to Col Habibur Rahman? He was the only Indian who accompanied Bose on that famous 90-day submarine journey from Europe to Japan and was with Bose even in the plane. He survived the reported crash and deposed before the Shah Nawaz Committee.
ABP: Unfortunately not. He was in Pakistan when I was in India first and I never visited Pakistan. My mother wanted me to meet him but I was not staying that long (in India) and it was complicated to get permissions to visit Pakistan.
KR: On one of your India visits in the 1960s, you were hosted by Jawaharlal Nehru? Did he speak about your father’s death and investigations?
ABP:  It was very exciting for an 18-year-old to live with the Prime Minister (Teen Murti House) in a palatial house. I had little time to interact with him informally as other guests were around. Indira Gandhi was there as a six-year-old. Nehru set up the Shahnawaz Commission and did not say anything outside what the Commission said. Now the Mukherjee Commission has a different version. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017