Conspiracy Theories: What really happened to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose?

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Netaji Subash Chandra Bose’s death is still shrouded in mystery. But the various conspiracy theories about it make it even more mysterious. While recently the news about Gumnami Baba, a revered saint of Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, who was believed to be Bose himself, came to the fore, we never cease to imagine how the great man must have spent his last moments on earth.

Here is a look back at some of the most intriguing conspiracy theories:

At 2 pm on August 17, 1945, a Mitsubishi Ki-21 heavy bomber took off from Saigon airport. Inside the aircraft were 13 people, including Lt Gen Tsunamasa Shidei of the Imperial Japanese Army, Col Habibur Rahman of the Indian National Army and one man who sat in a seat a little behind the portside wing – Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

After an overnight halt in Vietnam, on August 18, the plane arrived to refuel in Taihoku, Formosa (now Taipei, Taiwan). Moments after the flight took off again, passengers heard a loud ‘bang’. Ground crew saw the port-side engine fall off, and the plane crashed. The pilots and Lt Gen Shidei were killed instantly, Col Rahman fell unconscious. Bose survived, but his gasoline-soaked clothes ignited, turning him into a human torch.

The Mitsubishi Ki-21 twin-engine heavy bomber that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Col Habibur Rahman boarded at Saigon airport around 2 PM on 17 August 1945. Image courtesy: Wikimedia

A few hours later, in coma in a hospital, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose passed away.

This is the established account of how one of India’s most famous freedom fighters died.

But is it true?

“There were no official reports released by the Governments of India or Britain,” historian Leonard Gordon says, “Even members of India’s Interim Government in 1946 waffled on the matter. Bose had disappeared several times earlier in his life; so rumors began again in 1945 and a powerful myth grew.”

What you will read next is a saga of secrets, political vendetta, outrageous claims, half-truths and full rumors that strive to prove that Netaji did not die on that fateful day in Taiwan.

No dead body Found

In the immediate aftermath, an intriguing, and perhaps damning fact emerged: Netaji’s other lieutenants, who were to follow him on another flight, never saw his body. No one took photographs of Bose’s injuries, or his body, nor was a death certificate issued.

Netaji with Mahatma Gandhi.

As news reached India, senior INA officer JR Bhonsle rejected the news. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Subhas is not dead. He is still alive and biding his time somewhere.”

Soon, rumours began doing the rounds that Bose was either in Soviet-held Manchuria, a prisoner of the Soviet Army, or had gone into hiding in Russia. Lakshmi Swaminathan, of the INA’s Jhansi Regiment, said in 1946 she thought Bose was in China.

The Sadhu story

In the 1950s, there emerged stories that Netaji had become a sadhu. And, the most elaborate of these took shape a decade later. Some of Netaji’s old associates formed the ‘Subhasbadi Janata’, and claimed Bose was now the chief sadhu in an ashram in Shoulmari in North Bengal.

Through well-crafted newspapers and magazines, the organisation was able to, quite convincingly, recreate Bose’s post-war activities.

According to the ‘Subhasbadis’, Bose returned to India after the war, became a sadhu, attended Gandhi’s funeral unseen in 1948, lived in a temple in Bareilly in the late 1950s, before finally settling in Shoulmari as Srimat Saradanandaji in 1959.

Other versions, too, began gathering credence. Bose remained either in
Maoist China or the Soviet Union. He attended Jawaharlal Nehru’s
cremation in 1964, of which there appeared to even be photographic

There were claims that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev told an interpreter in Delhi that the Soviet Union could produce Bose in 45 days if India so desired.

The Soviet Connection and a Conspiracy

After independence, Nehru took the Foreign Affairs portfolio himself and appointed Vijayalekshmi Pandit as the ambassador to Russia. After her term ended, Dr S. Radhakrishnan took her place.

There are reports that Dr Saroj Das, of Calcutta University, told his friend Dr RC Muzumdar that Dr Radhakrishnan had told him that Bose was in Russia.


The UPA government rejected the report in Parliament without citing any reason.

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