More than any of the other grand collaborators
of the Second World War, Bose proves how dangerous is that maxim that ‘my
enemy’s enemy is my friend’.
By June, 1945 powerful men close to the Emperor
had begun to explore ways of ending the war without losing the imperial
institution. Some of them reached out the Soviet union unaware that Stalin had
pledged to enter the war against Japan on the side of the Allies. Then at the beginning of August, the
Americans dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima then Nagasaki – and on 12 August, the
Emperor at last advised his cabinet that Japan had no choice but to surrender.
Although the Minister of War the ultranationalist General Anami Korechika and
other hawks hoped to continue fighting, the wishes of the Emperor prevailed.
was in Malaya when he heard the news about the attacks on Hiroshima and
Nagasaki – and decided at once to make contact with the Soviets. Although, as
he rightly suspected, there were widening rifts between the ‘Big Three’, it is
inconceivable that the Russians would have rushed to eject the British from
India. On the eve of his departure, he told the Japanese that the Soviets ‘are
the only ones who will resist the British. My fate is with them.’
future quarrel would not principally be with the British, whose power was
waning fast, but the Americans, transformed by the titanic struggle against the
Axis into a global superpower. Bose failed to notice that August 1945 saw the
first act of a new Cold War and that it was neither Japan nor the Soviet Union
that was determined to wind up the British Empire – but Churchill’s special
friends in Washington.
On 17 August, Bose flew into Saigon. He hoped to bring
most of the Azad Hind provisional government with him to the Soviet Union – but
at the last minute discovered that the Japanese could offer him two seats on a
flight taking Lt. General Shidei a Japanese expert on the Soviet Union to
Dairen in Manchuria via Taipei. Bose had to make a quick decision – and he
chose Colonel Habibir Rahman to accompany him in the second seat. The aircraft
was a twin engine Mitsubishi heavy
bomber of the type code named ‘Sally’ by the Americans. The plane was already
overloaded, but Bose insisted on loading two suitcases stuffed with
gold and jewellery. There were in fact no ‘seats’ on the aircraft - and Bose was wedged into the back on a pile
The aircraft took off on the evening of 17 August – and because it
was so late, stopped over at Tourane in Vietnam instead of flying straight on
to Taipei. As the Indians and Japanese rested, the pilot tried to carry out a
few repairs: take off had been unusually sluggish and he had noticed unusual
vibration in the left engine. The flight to Taipei took six hours. Bose and the
other passengers suffered freezing temperatures in the unheated cabin. On
landing, the pilot again complained about overloading and tried to get the left
engine checked. Perfunctory maintenance was then carried out. Bose enquired if
they would flying at the same altitude and, after being informed that they
would be, asked for an extra sweater.
At about 2.30 p, on the 19th
August, the pilot started engines and the Mitsubishi ponderously strained into
the air when it reached the the very end of the runway. Seconds later, at an
altitude of about 90 feet, an explosion ripped apart the left engine. The pilot
instantly lost control. The aircraft plunged to the ground. Bose’s companion
Colonel Rahman survived the crash – and was able to give a detailed account of
this gruesome sequence of events. The Mitsubishi broke into two and caught fire.
Both the pilot and General Shedhai died instantly. Rahman, sitting close to
Bose, was knocked unconscious. When Rahman came round, he saw that Bose had suffered serious
head injuries but had stood up and was trying to get out of the aircraft. Baggage
blocked the way. Bose was drenched in aircraft fuel – and as he struggled his clothing became a roaring inferno. Rahman tried desperately to douse the flames but Bose,
badly injured already, was horribly burnt. He collapsed, his hair on fire, his
face contorted in agony.
Many admirers of Bose believe, even today, that 'Netaji' survived
the crash and lived on - perhaps as a prisoner in the Soviet Union or as an
itinerant Sadu in India. There have been frequent 'Elvis like' sightings of the lost leader.
But there can be no doubt that Bose died in Taipei. In the Indian Office
collections of the British Library, we can read statements made by Captain
Taneyoshi Yoshimi, a medical officer in Japanese Imperial Army who was later questioned
in Stanley Goal, Hong Kong:
‘When he was laid on the bed, I personally cleaned
his injuries with oils and dressed them. He was suffering from extensive burns
over the whole of his body… During the first four hours, he was semi conscious,
and practically normal speaking quite a good deal. The first words I remember
his speaking were in Japanese, when he made a request for water. After the
fourth hour, he appeared to be sinking into unconsciousness. He murmured and
muttered in his state of coma but never regained consciousness. At about 2300
hours he died. There was, apart from the injuries mentioned above, abrasions on
his elbows and knees. There were no fractures…’
Cremation took place immediately. Yoshimi issued a death certificate which cited ‘Extensive burning
and shock’ as cause of death. Japanese army representatives arrived bringing mourning flowers, fruits and cakes.
On 5 September,
when Rahman had recovered, he accompanied Bose’s ashes to Tokyo – here they
were interred at the Renkoji temple by a Buddhist priest. Gandhi on hearing the
news said that ‘Subhas Bose died well. He was undoubtedly a patriot though
misguided.’ It is hard not to agree with the second point – but by ‘died well’
the Mahatma might have been hinting that it was just as well that his old rival
was longer in a position to plan for a second political coming as the British
prepared to hand over the Jewel in the Crown.