Rup Narayan Das
t a time when India is commemorating the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, and his passing away is still shrouded in mystery, it is worth a while to revisit a seminal work, Verdict from Formosa: Gallant End of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, authored by Harin Shah, a veteran journalist who visited Taiwan, then called Formosa, one year after the tragic plane crash in which Netaji was believed to have died 18 August 1945. The book was published in 1956, and this article is based on the book, which the author claims was “the eyewitness account from the crash to cremation collected on the spot in Formosa.” The book has a foreword from Dr Harekrushna Mahatab, then Governor of Bombay.
Shah writes in his book that he was “the only Indian having had the good fortune to visit Formosa after the end of the war” and “the bearer of conclusive eyewitness collected in Formosa, checked with Netaji’s co-victim in the air crash Col. Habibur Rehman and upheld by leaders like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.” He opines that “Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose embraced heroic martyrdom at Taipeh.” Although a number of books have been written about the mystery surrounding the disappearance and passing away of Netaji and also a number of enquiry commissions appointed by the government have submitted their reports, Shah’s book is arguably the earliest one based on interviews with informed and knowledgeable people in Taiwan.
The author takes the readers to the hoary era of Asian resurgence during and after the Second World War when leaders like Chiang Kai-shek, Aung San and Dr Sukarno dominated the emerging Asian firmament. The misrule of KMT and misreading of the ground situation by the US contributed to the failure of the KMT in assuming power in China. In early 1946, Harin Shah was at Nanking, the headquarters of the KMT regime in China, heading the Free Press of India News Service launched by Sadanand. From there, he flew to Taipeh (now Taipei) via Shanghai along with a battery of foreign correspondents. As unravelling the mystery of Netaji’s disappearance was his main objective, he talked to a cross section of people about this immediately after his arrival in Taipeh 30 August 1946. Shah was pleasantly surprised that the first question they shot at him was about ‘Chand la Bose’, and voluntarily added that they knew he had died in Taipeh. He talked to a cross section of intelligentsia in Taipeh who were knowledgeable about Netaji. Shah was gratified to find that some of the Formosan newspaper friends had genuinely undertaken to piece together available evidence about Netaji’s death in the plane crash.
Shah discussed the issue with as many people as possible while in Formosa. An important personality whom he met in Formosa and who threw light on Netaji’s life and times there was Prof KS Wei of Taipeh University. Culling out from the notes in his diary after meeting Prof Wei, Shah writes in his book attributing to the former, “… he died in August 1945… News published in Formosa papers… But no photos…He came by a bomber. Bomber was taking off. Gasoline tank leaked. He died in Japanese hospital…He was very brave. I was not in Taihoku at the time of his death. Whenever any accident occurred at the airport, Japanese used to cordon off. So probably, no eyewitness except Japanese military officers… I shall ask my friends to find out more…”
Prof Wei meant his words and sent across a book written in Japanese through Ms. Noliko, the hotel attendant for Shah’s room. The Professor’s covering letter, scribbled on the blank back page of the contents in the book, said, “…please find page 107 of this book… That will give you some information. Yesterday, I called on a Japanese Professor of Taipeh University, who was with the Japanese Military Headquarters as an interpreter when Bose’s death was made known. The exact date was August 1945, 19 at 1.30a.m.” The name of the Japanese book was 20 years of Pacific Hurricane. It mentioned the death through air crash at Taipeh.
Yet one more inference that Shah drew was from Dr Lee wan-chu, who was the editor of the Chinese-language newspaper Shin Sheng Jir Pao, published from Taipeh. Dr Lee wan-chu was also the Deputy Chairman of the Provincial Assembly of Formosa. Dr Lee personally went through the files in his office of the closed-down Japanese newspaper Taiwan Nichi Nichi Shimbun, published from Taipeh and found the 22 August, 1945 edition of the newspaper carrying an official press-note on Netaji’s death through plane crash at Taipeh. Dr Lee gave a copy of the original Japanese newspaper carrying the news. It said, “A press-note issued at 2 pm on 22nd inst. (August 1945) by the Intelligence Bureau of the Japanese Garrison Commander, Taihoku, states that Chandra Bose, Leader of the Provisional Government of Free India set out on a plane from Singapore on 16th August en-route Tokyo. He was proceeding to Tokyo to discuss with the Imperial Government. At 14 hours on 18th, the plane met with an accident in the vicinity of Taihoku airfield and Chandra Bose was heavily wounded.”
The news further said, “Although he was given treatment at the ‘South Gate’ Military Hospital, it proved of no avail, and he passed away on 19th August at zero hour.” Shah visited the South Gate Military Hospital which was under Japanese control at the time of the crash. With the cooperation of the Chinese Head of the Hospital Col. Wu Kuo Hsing, Shah could meet sister Tsan Pi Sha who was working with the military hospital from the Japanese time. She dropped a bombshell, to quote the author, when she said, “He (Netaji) died here. I was by his side.”
She further told Shah that Netaji had received injuries from burning. “He was burnt as a result of the crash which took place at the Taihoku airfield just before he was brought to the hospital. It was about the noon time August 18, 1945 that he was brought to the hospital. He was very severely burnt. He died the same night at 11,” she added. Shah also met Japanese people and ascertained vital facts. One such person was Dr Kunio Kawaishi, then Professor of Surgery at the University Hospital in Taipeh. When Netaji arrived on his last trip to Formosa, Dr Kunio was the Director of the University Hospital. Dr Kunio believed that Netaji probably died at the airport itself; so serious was the burning injury.
The book has so many startling revelations which only an authentic and objective investigation can confirm or contradict or one does not know if the mystery of Netaji’s death will remain a best kept secret.
The writer is a senior fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi. Views are personal.