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Modi open to DNA test on Netaji's ashes

By Rashme Sehgal
February 01, 2016 21:43 IST
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'The extended Bose family is insisting that the Japanese government must release all the information they have on Bose' ashes.'
It cannot be forgotten that Bose was in Japanese care when his 'death' occurred. Ultimately, it is the Japanese who hold the secret about what happened to him.'
Rashme Sehgal reports.

When Madhuri Bose, Subhas Chandra Bose's grand niece, called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 15, 2015, to present him a copy of her book The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence (Sage), she had one request of him.

'Could a DNA test be conducted on the ashes of her grand uncle which have been lying in the Renkoji temple in Tokyo for the last 70 years?' she asked.

Madhuri was representing the views of The Open Platform for Netaji, comprising the majority of Netaji's relatives who, while not subscribing to the theory that he had died in an air crash in 1945, were nevertheless open to the idea that the ashes kept at the Renkoji temple in Tokyo could belong to Bose.

Modi informed her that he too had made enquiries on this matter and had been informed that since Bose had been cremated, the heat could have destroyed his DNA molecules. But he also emphasised that he was open to the idea of having a DNA test conducted after due consultation with specialists.

Madhuri Bose has consulted Dr Mark Stoneking, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and an authority on DNA sequencing. Dr Stoneking believes the cremation could have destroyed vital DNA tissues, but a test could still be conducted.

Madhuri's views are endorsed by Netaji's only child, Dr Anita Pfaff, a former professor of economics at the University of Augsburg, Germany, who has also been pressing for conducting a DNA test.

Dr Pfaff has repeatedly emphasised that although she believes that the 1945 air crash in Taipei was the 'most likely' cause of her father's death, a DNA test would help bring closure to what she believes has become a very unseemly controversy.

But such a step can be taken only with the agreement of both the Indian and Japanese governments.

Madhuri Bose agrees and therefore went ahead and raised this issue with Modi. "I pointed out to the prime minister that the Japanese government would have to give its agreement to having a DNA test. Supposing the test shows that these ashes are not Bose's, then it will show the Japanese government in very embarrassing light."

"This is why the extended Bose family is insisting that the Japanese government must release all the information they have on it. It cannot be forgotten that Bose was in Japanese care when his 'death' occurred. Ultimately, it is the Japanese who hold the secret about what happened to him," adds Madhuri Bose.

"General (Douglas) MacArthur of the United States sent an investigative team to Taipei soon after the accident, but they were not able to find any evidence regarding the plane crash," she says.

Dr Pfaff has gone on record to state that according to the photographs of the ashes which have been seen by experts, there are pictures of the bones and that it might be possible to extract DNA from the centre of the bones. If this is done, she believes it should put to rest this rather 'undignified discussion' which has been going on for several decades.

She has also been quoted as saying if these indeed prove to be his ashes, she would like to bring them to India and immerse a part of them in the Ganga.

Dr Pfaff had written to then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao, which is displayed in the National Archives, expressing concern at the delay in bringing back her father's ashes to India.

But Abhijit Ray, a grandnephew of Bose, has put a spanner in the works by insisting that the ashes in the Renkoji temple do not belong to his uncle. 'When we grew up, we were told that the urn contained only his ashes and a gold tooth. Then when some pictures were released, they showed some bones including his skull bone and jawbone. I for one believe the urn has been tampered with,' said Ray.

The mystery of Netaji's death deepened following Justice Manoj Mukherjee's visit to the Renkoji temple in Tokyo. 'The temple authorities refused to open the urn despite his request for the same. They said there was no carpenter available to open it,' said Ray.

The Justice Mukherjee Commission of inquiry was set up in 1999 to go into Netaji's disappearance.

Madhuri Bose concurs with his stand, going on to state, "The Japanese authorities told Justice Mukherjee it was a holiday and so the urn could not be opened. The Indian embassy subsequently arranged to take pictures of the ashes, which showed large pieces of bone, which were sent back to India."

The Justice Mukherjee Commission report submitted in 2006 had debunked the air crash theory as claimed by the Japanese authorities.

It is for this reason that the extended Bose family have been demanding a declassification of all Netaji files in the UK, US, China, Japan, Russia and India in order to resolve the mystery of his disappearance.

'We have been demanding a total declassification of all his files including the 70 Intelligence Bureau files,' Ray said. 'So far, 64 files have been declassified in West Bengal and another 100 in Delhi. The government has promised to declassify 20 files every month. We want all the intelligence files in other countries also to be declassified in order to get to the bottom of this mystery.'

Once all the files have been declassified, Ray believes it will provide an opportunity for historians to rewrite the history of India's freedom struggle. 'On April 14, 1944, a maidan in Manipur was captured by the INA on which the Indian flag was hoisted. There is no mention of this in any history book. I believe the history of India's independence struggle must highlight the role of the revolutionaries and their sacrifices,' Ray said.

Madhuri Bose had spoken to the last British viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, to ascertain his views on Netaji's disappearance. In the course of their conversation Mountbatten admitted the British government made 'a monumental mistake to have put the three Indian National Army officers on trial.'

Chandra Bose, another grand nephew of Netaji, questions how an air crash took place and 'both the bodies disappeared with no photographs of the dead,' while on September 25, 1945, an American bomber crashed at the same site, but the full records are available for this accident.

Then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was known to be keen to get Bose's ashes to India but only after a consensus had been reached across all parties. Then external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha had cautioned then home minister L K Advani in a secret letter written on October 16, 2003 that Bose's disappearance remained a politically sensitive issue.

On the DNA testing issue, Sinha questioned 'whether the DNA testing of ashes should be conducted at all and whether this should be done by Indian or Japanese experts.'

Prime Minister Modi has asked the Bose family to speak to DNA experts in the US and Germany regarding the feasibility of DNA testing, after which the Indian government is expected to take a call on this matter.

IMAGE: The urn containing Netaji's ashes in Renkoji temple, Tokyo. Photograph: Toshifumi Kitamura/Getty Images

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