Explained: Why Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s remains are still in Japan

Ahead of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s death anniversary, his daughter has once again said that his remains should be brought back to India. No prime minister from the time of Jawarharlal Nehru has succeeded to get the ashes, which are currently kept at Tokyo’s Renkoji temple

It will be 77 years since Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s death on 18 August 1945. Yet his remains are not brought back to India, the country for which he fought relentlessly.

Days before his death anniversary, his daughter Anita Bose Pfaff said that the time had come to bring back his remains to India and suggested that DNA testing can provide answers to those still having doubts about his death.

The Austrian-born economist living in Germany said since her father did not live to experience the joy of freedom, it is time that at least his remains can return to Indian soil, reports the news agency PTI.

The freedom fighter is widely believed to have died in a plane crash in Taiwan. The complete declassification of the Netaji files was an attempt by the government to close the chapter on the mystery surrounding his demise.

On 30 May 2017, in response to a Right to Information application, the Ministry of Home Affairs said, “After considering the reports of Shah Nawaz Committee, Justice GD Khosla Commission and Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry, the Government has come to the conclusion that Netaji had died in the plane crash on 18.8.1945.”

Also read: The why of myths on Subhas Chandra Bose: Poor scholarship, bias and politicisation of history

Where are Netaji’s ashes?

The Japanese with whom Bose was last seen in a detailed investigative report of 1956, which was declassified in 2016, mentioned that the Indian leader was cremated at Taihoku Prefecture (in present-day Taipei). His remains were handed over to his confidante SA Ayar and his articles to Rama Murti of the Tokyo Indian Independence League at the Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo on 8 September 1945.

A picture of Bose is displayed at the altar of the Renkoji temple in Tokyo. AFP

On 14 September 1945, the remains were placed at the Renkoji temple near Tokyo and they rest there until this day. The urn was received by Reverend Kyoei Mochizuki, the priest of the temple, who vowed to take care of the ashes until they were taken to India. Every year since, on Netaji’s death anniversary, a memorial service is held at the temple by its chief priest. It is attended by prominent Japanese and Indian citizens including officials from the embassy.

According to the declassified Netaji files released by the government in 2016, India has been paying for the upkeep of the remains at the Renkoji temple. Between 1967 and 2005, India paid Rs 52,66,278 to the temple.

Have there been attempts to bring the remains to India?

It is said that several governments have tried to bring back the remains starting with India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru but have not succeeded.

The Netaji files show that the Nehru government had, in the early 1950s, taken custody of Bose’s ashes but was reluctant to bring them home because the leader’s family refused to accept his death.

Thereafter, there were many attempts made by the Japanese government to approach New Delhi but there was no response from the Congress which was in power at the Centre.

In 1979, when Morarji Desai was the premier, a Japanese military intelligence officer who had close ties with Bose’s Indian National Army (INA), urged India to take his remains and was assured that the issue would be taken care of in a year or two. However, Desai lost the prime minister’s chair and could not keep his promise, according to a report in India Today.

Why did the previous governments fail?

A year on, during Indira Gandhi’s regime, former Japanese army officers had informed her that Ryoichi Sasagawa, chairman of the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Association, offered to bear all the expenses for taking Bose’s remains “to his motherland for a permanent repose”, according to the report. But Gandhi made no efforts to take the matter forward.

The PV Narasimha Rao government’s plan to bring back the ashes from Renkoji to celebrate Netaji’s birth centenary in 1997 was shelved. Back then his daughter Anita Bose Pfaff had met Pranab Mukherjee, the then external affairs minister, in Germany and she said that she needed to consult with the family.

She had reportedly suggested taking the remains to Germany if Bose’s family and the political parties in India did not reach a consensus. However, this was not acceptable to both New Delhi and Tokyo.

Mahatma Gandhi with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on 2 March 1938 in Haripura, during a political meeting. AFP

Anita met IK Gujral after he took over as prime minister in January 1998 and also wrote a letter to him in February that year, requesting the GoI to “make arrangements to have the ashes of my father returned from Tokyo to his homeland, especially to Delhi, which after all was the goal of his INA campaign”, reports India Today. “The ashes should be immersed in the Ganges or parts of the ashes in different rivers of India,” she wrote in the letter, adding that political parties in the country “could join together in this effort, irrespective of their political programme”.

Gujral could do little to pay heed to the plea as he resigned a month later.

During his time as prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh exchanged letters with his Japanese counterpart Yoshiro Mori, in 2006, regarding the transfer of Netaji’s remains to India. But nothing came out of it.What has Netaji’s family been saying?

Bose’s younger brother Sailesh Bose wrote to Indira Gandhi in 1982 to pass an order not to bring the remains to India as he believed that there is no convincing proof that the remains are genuine, reports India Today.

A similar letter was sent to then PM VP Singh by his nephews, Ashoke Nath Bose, Amiya Nath Bose and Subrata Bose in May 1990. Most of the Bose family members did not believe that Netaji died in the plane crash.

According to the declassified Netaji files released by the government in 2016, India has been paying for the upkeep of Bose’s remains at the Renkoji temple. AFP

In 2007, Anita wrote to Dr Singh asking how the Indian government intended to be involved in the return of her father’s remains.

She also wrote to the priest of the Renkoji temple on 16 July 2007, saying, “I would be willing to take charge of my father’s, Subhas Chandra Bose’s, remains after which you and your late father have looked in such exemplary fashion for so many years. Let me express my great regard and gratitude to you and your family for your dedication to the task.”

Anita also said that she was willing to attempt a DNA test on the father’s remains, which she had earlier deemed unnecessary.

In 2018, Bose’s grandnephew and author Ashis Ray said that no government had made an effort to bring back the remains. In his book, “Laid to Rest: The Controversy over Subhas Chandra Bose’s Death”, he collated the findings of 11 different investigations and concluded that the freedom fighter died in the plane crash in Taipei.

“From the Nehru government to the Modi government, every single Indian administration has been convinced about the truth but has told to bring the remains to India,” Ray had told PTI in 2018.

What is the Modi government’s take?

Now, Netaji’s daughter has once again reiterated that the remains be brought to India, saying that a DNA test should be conducted.

“Modern technology now offers the means for sophisticated DNA testing, provided DNA can be extracted from the remains. To those who still doubt that Netaji died on August 18, 1945, it offers a chance to obtain scientific proof that the remains kept at Renkoji temple in Tokyo are his,” she said.

“The priest of Renkoji temple and the Japanese government agreed to such a test, as the documents in the annexures of the last governmental Indian investigation into Netaji’s death (the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry) show,” she added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the Netaji Bhawan in Kolkata. Before becoming PM, Modi had promised the bring the freedom fighter’s remains back to India. AFP

Before becoming prime minister, Modi had promised to bring Netaji’s remains back to India if voted to power. According to reports from May 2015, the PM was in favour of the DNA test of the remains.

Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee had expressed his readiness in 2000 to bring back the ashes.

But now even as the BJP-led government pays many a tribute to Bose, it has not been able to resolve the matter.

With inputs from agencies

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