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Subhas Bose: Did He Die in Air Crash or Escape to Russia?

Updated on January 6, 2020
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A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.


Subhas Bose was a leader in the Congress party. He was, however, a firebrand and believed in radical solutions to oust the Imperial power i.e the British. Gandhi wanted a non-confrontational approach and both men differed. The clash between Gandhi and Bose was building up. There were two reasons for it. Firstly, Gandhi was a political leader and he did not want his authority to be usurped and secondly, he disagreed with Bose regarding the method to achieve the end of British rule.

Matters came to a head in the 1938 session of the Congress party. Bose opposed Gandhi's nominee Pattabhi Sitaramayya for the post of the party president. Gandhi as an astute politician decided not to talk to Bose. He put this into effect by taking a vow of silence. Other leaders like Nehru and Patel who were stooges of Gandhi supported him. An exasperated Bose resigned and announced his vision to free India from British rule come what may. He formed his own splinter group called the "Forward Bloc".

Bose was put under house arrest in Calcutta by the British government. With war clouds looming over Europe they could ill afford to allow Bose to run around the country and propagate the end of the Raj. Bose had other plans and putting on the uniform of a Sergeant he escaped and traveled via Moscow to Germany. There are no reports of his having met Stalin but in Berlin, he met Hitler. He stayed in Germany for 2 years and in 1943 was transferred by a German U-Boat to the Indian Ocean, where a Japanese Submarine awaited him. He was transferred in mid-ocean and spirited away to Tokyo, where he met the Japanese wartime leader General Hideki Tojo.

The Purported Death of Bose

In 1945, Japan surrendered after the dropping of the Atomic bombs. Bose was in Taiwan at that time. With the surrender of Japan imminent, he had two options at that time. He could surrender to the British and be tried as a war criminal or he could escape to Russia and try to get the support of Stalin, for the liberation of India.

It was officially announced that Bose had died in an air crash and the government of India accepted this. In fact, the government ordered 3 Judicial commissions to investigate whether Bose really died in the air crash in Taiwan. The first two commissions accepted that Bose died in the air crash. The third commission headed by justice Mukherjee opined that Bose escaped the air crash and went away. The commission could not hazard a guess where he went.

The government of India at that time headed by the BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee rejected the findings of the commission and stuck to the fact that Bose died in the air crash.

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Controversy is Re-ignited

Bose disappeared from the scene and was not heard off ever since. The death of Bose and controversy surrounding him again gained fresh impetus when the government of Narendra Modi leaked two classified flies that brought to light that Nehru and the Congress party had kept the family of Subhas Chandra Bose under surveillance by the Intelligence Bureau for 20 years after the death of Bose.

The question is why Nehru and other Congress party leaders kept tabs on the family unless they had something to hide. Probably Nehru knew a lot more about Bose. Facts have now emerged that there was no plane crash in Taipei and this has been given in writing by the Nationalist Government of Taiwan. So if there was no crash, then what happened to Bose? where did he go? It is obvious that Bose himself faked his death to get the Allies off his back. Perhaps Nehru had a role in this entire episode.

It must, however, be stated that wartime records in Formosa must have been sketchy as there was turmoil all around after the surrender of Japan.

Could Bose have Escaped to Russia ?

There was a complete blackout about Bose and no news about him was available. If Bose did not die in the air crash( as there was no air crash), it is obvious he went somewhere. Now it appears that Bose escaped to Russia in a Japanese plane which made it to Manchuria. He is reported to have landed at an airfield controlled by Russia and taken to Moscow.

This was a grievous mistake as Stalin was unforgiving to anybody who had shaken the hand of Hitler and Tojo. Bose had thought that Stalin would side with him and help throw the British out of India. But in 1945 Russia and Britain were allies and there is every possibility that the British asked the Russians to imprison Bose. He was kept in Moscow for 17 months and then jailed in Siberia. He probably died in 1958/59. There are many who conjecture that Nehru was aware of this and made a pretense of Bose's death by ordering commissions of inquiry.

It must also be remembered that Nehru was mortally scared of Bose, for in case he had come back he would have led India and Nehru would have been sidelined. Can one forget that Bose defeated Gandhi's nominee in 1938 Congress party elections for president.?

Bose with General Tojo 1943
Bose with General Tojo 1943

Latest update

The situation in the 21st century is quite murky as far as the death of Bose is concerned. The West Bengal government de-classified 64 files on Netaji( Bose) in September 2015 and are now in the public domain. Unfortunately, they do not resolve the mystery of the death of Bose. One fact does emerge that Nehru kept the entire Bose family under the surveillance. Why? This is an intriguing question and there is every reason to believe that Nehru knew more than he revealed about Bose.

There is also the question as to what happened to Bose in Russia if at all he went there. Stalin was a shrewd man and he would have found Bose useful in his feud with the British and Western alliance. Only a study of the archives of the KGB can reveal this. No Indian government has shown any interest in pursuing this line of thought.

The mystery of the death of Bose will thus linger along. I personally feel that the ashes kept in the Tokyo temple are of Bose and they must be brought back with due reverence. I have no reason to doubt that Bose was killed in an air crash.


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