Was he Subhas Chandra Bose in disguise? An investigation
Iqbal Malhotra | 08 Dec, 2015
Was he Subhas Chandra Bose in disguise? An investigation
An enterprising young London-based NRI, Sidhartha Satbhai recently commissioned Neil Millar, a former veteran of the Royal Signals Regiment of the British Army, to conduct an imagery analysis on the video and photographic evidence supplied to him in the case of The Bose Mystery.
This photographic and video evidence was given to Satbhai by an internet group, Anonymous, and pertains to an individual referred to as ‘The Tashkent Man’, who appears in both still and video imagery from the Tashkent Declaration of 10 January 1966.
The Tashkent Man is seen around India’s late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Pakistan’s late President Ayub Khan as well as Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin. Anonymous nudged Satbhai to obtain the relevant footage from Olga Dyubina of Net-Film in Russia, forensically determine the identity of this individual based on the evidence supplied, and ascertain whether it led to the Tashkent Man being one and the same as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Millar’s report and the accompanying evidence have been posted on Satbhai’s website, Thebosemystery.com.
The reasons that Anonymous turned this material over to Satbhai and how and why he selected Millar to conduct this investigation is beyond the scope of this article. Satbhai is unwilling to disclose the back story as he fears that such disclosure might impinge on the safety of his family. Millar, apart from being a veteran of the British Army and having served with it in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, has impressive academic and professional qualifications. He is an expert in CCTV and Imagery Analysis based casework, specialising in facial mapping / comparison and the analysis of historical imagery in relation to missing people.
Satbhai provided Millar with 13 folders of video clips and stills from a number of sources including AP, British Pathé, Chughtai Museum, Russian State Archive, RIA Novosti, etcetera. In paragraph four of his summary, Millar states, ‘I would be of the opinion that the imagery, both still and moving that has been supplied to me, in regards to the historical facial features of Subhas Chandra Bose and the individual identified as the Tashkent Man, lends support leaning towards strong support to the contention that they are one and the same person.’
Analysis of photographs of Subhas Chandra Bose
In order to review the facial features and ears of Subhas Chandra Bose, Millar has selected those images that surrender the best quality and detail available to him. He has however, utilised all of the imagery available to him, to confirm the presence of certain features where available to rule out any debris such as lens debris, which might provide false features/detail.
Millar made a number of observations: – Most of the images provided show Bose wearing glasses. One must consider the possibility that the eyes might appear smaller or distorted due to the magnification of the lenses; therefore it might prove difficult to accurately compare the eyes.
– Millar was informed that Bose’s height was approximately between 5 ft 9 in and 5ft 10in.
– It would appear to Millar that Bose’s build changed over the years up to the mid 1940’s. Millar has commented that Bose would have been, by the later images, of a medium build as opposed to being thin or noticeably heavy set.
Analysis of the Tashkent Man
Millar was provided with a plethora of historical video and images from various sources of the 1966 Tashkent peace talks. He was directed to an individual who can be seen on a number of occasions, the Tashkent Man. It would appear from the footage that he had been in a media role or a journalist, as he is frequently seen with a note pad.
Millar noted that Tashkent Man is seen wearing a different attire, which might support a theory that he was present over a number of days. Millar focused his analysis on the facial features and ears that are available within the imagery and footage supplied.
Millar’s conclusions in his report by and large confirm that Netaji and the Tashkent Man are one and the same person. To my mind, this is an extraordinary conclusion as it throws up a number of issues that in turn will lead to not one but several Pandora’s Boxes throwing open their lids. The first question that comes to mind is that in 1966 Netaji would have been 69 years old, given that he was born in 1897. The Tashkent Man looks at least 20 years younger. This could only have been achieved by plastic surgery or cosmetic changes to the appearance or a combination of both. A number of fleeing Nazis at the end of World War II underwent plastic surgery in Switzerland to alter their appearances. It is possible that Netaji changed his appearance.
The most famous plastic surgeon in the USSR was Alexander Shmelev. He was the only known plastic surgeon to have worked with the KGB and GRU. He transformed the physical appearance of many Soviet spies. His most famous public patient was Soviet era actress Orlova Lyobov.
But this observation is untenable in the face of the fact that Netaji’s face was his passport. If he had wanted to remain in Indian politics, it would have been a great disadvantage to him to permanently alter his appearance. Such an action could only make sense if Netaji had no intention of returning to India or participate in Indian public life in the post-Independence period.
The next question is that if Netaji altered his appearance and continued to live outside India, where did he live and what did he do? More so, if the Tashkent Man is indeed Netaji, then what was he doing at the peace talks there, hanging around Prime Minister Shastri and President Ayub?
The answer could be found in his alleged flight to the erstwhile Soviet Union from Manchuria in the wake of the collapse of the Kwantung Army and the surrender of Imperial Japan. We need to start from the beginning to trace Netaji’s journey from the time he went to Europe in 1933 to undergo treatment in Austria.
Last year in October, the British Government declassified certain MI5 files from the National Archive. One of those declassified files pertained to ACN Nambiar who went to Berlin in 1924 and set up the Indian Information Bureau, which functioned as a news agency. Though Nambiar posed as a journalist, he was actually recruited to the GRU, the Red Army’s Intelligence Service that was set up in 1918 by Leon Trotsky and which still survives today. Nambiar was married to Virendranath Chattopadhyaya’s sister for a few years. Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, Sarojini Naidu’s younger brother, was a member of the German Communist Party or KPD. For several years he lived with Agnes Smedley, an American who was also an agent of the OGPU, the predecessor to the NKVD/KGB. Just before Hitler came to power, he moved to Moscow. Both Nambiar and Chattopadhyaya used their journalistic cover to spy for the USSR.
During the years 1933 to 1936 when Netaji was in Central Europe, he tried unsuccessfully tried to meet Hitler and Goebbels. Because of Hitler’s inherently racist attitude and his admiration of the British Empire, Netaji was denied an audience. During these years, he was befriended by Nambiar, who convinced Netaji that the way to Indian independence lay through the help of the USSR.
Despite being stymied by the upper echelons of the Nazi leadership, Netaji developed strong middle-level contacts during the early years of the German Reich, particularly with the Abwehr. It is also possible that Netaji developed a rapport with the Abwehr Chief from 1935 to 1944, Admiral Canaris. It is well established that the Abwehr planned and executed Netaji’s escape from India in January 1941.
After his return to India in March 1936, Netaji managed to marshal the necessary financial and administrative resources to make a winning bid for the presidency of the Congress Party in 1938. Before this victory, he paid a visit to Europe between November 1937 and March 1938. He married his secretary, Emilie Schenkel in December 1937 in Bad Gastein, Austria. No scholar has ever looked into Emilie Schenkel’s antecedents, other than the fact that she was not of aristocratic stock. Was Schenkel ever recruited by Soviet Intelligence? Did Nambiar play a part? From 1945 to 1955, the Soviets occupied a part of Vienna and a part of Austria. Since she lived in the Soviet Zone, was Schenkel provided Soviet protection in post-war days? Did she ever meet Netaji or live with him in the post-war Soviet zone of Vienna? Was easy access to his family one of the reasons that Netaji could have decided to change his appearance and abandon returning to public life in India? These are critical areas of further research in order to decipher the Netaji mystery.
Interestingly, Nambiar, who was second-in-command to Netaji, headed the Free India Centre in Berlin. This Centre also controlled the Free Indian Legion or Legion Freies Indien in the Waffen-SS that was composed of Indian troops. Nambiar escaped from the collapsing Third Reich to Austria from where he was captured in June 1945. Did he make contact with Schenkel and pass on a message from Netaji? The Allies arrested him and were going to put him on trial in Nuremberg as a Nazi collaborator. However, he managed to escape and with the help of an Indian passport issued to him by Nehru’s interim government, took refuge in Switzerland and got a job at the Indian Legation in Berne. Thereafter he was appointed Indian Ambassador to Scandinavia and returned to Germany in 1951 as Indian Ambassador to West Germany. During this period he must have maintained contact with Schenkel. Did he also meet Netaji? Why didn’t any one question him about what he knew? This is one of the biggest unsolved riddles of contemporary Indian history.
It is useful to note that the 1930s was an extraordinarily creative period for the various arms of Soviet intelligence. The GRU and the OGPU/NKVD successfully recruited Richard Sorge in Germany; Hotsumi Ozaki in Japan; Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross and Donald Maclean in Britain; Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers in the US and Viren Chattopadhyaya, Bhagat Ram Talwar and Nambiar from India amongst others.
After marrying Emilie Schenkel in December 1937, did Netaji’s two impressive and successive victories as Congress President in 1938 and1939 have anything to do with Soviet desire to influence the upper echelons of the Congress Party during those days? It is widely established that Netaji’s second victory as Congress President in 1939 was unacceptable to Gandhi, who got the entire Congress Working Committee to resign and that in turn forced Netaji to quit as Congress President. Did the then Viceroy Lord Linlithgow convince Gandhi of a Soviet inspired attempt to hijack the Congress Party that turned Gandhiji against Netaji? Again these are new areas of research for scholars of that period.
On 23 August 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact just before the start of World War II. On 19 January 1941, with help from the Abwehr, Netaji escaped from house arrest in Calcutta, travelled to Peshawar and from there was helped across the border into Afghanistan by Bhagat Ram Talwar and Akbar Shah—both NKVD agents. The Soviet-Nazi pact came in handy to engineer Netaji’s escape. From Afghanistan, Netaji arrived in Moscow.
From what has been argued in this article and what information lies in the public domain, during the decade of the 1930s, Netaji had been unable to crack access to the top Nazi leadership and had turned to the USSR as the only hope in the international arena from who help could be expected in India’s freedom struggle.
Why then are we told that Netaji did not strike it lucky in Moscow in 1941 and decided that Germany was the appropriate place to turn to? This narrative has never been questioned. Two alternatives can be proposed. The first is that bowing to the greater wisdom of the Soviet-Nazi pact and the presence of Indian prisoners of war in Germany, it was agreed that the Germans now felt that Netaji was more attractive a proposition than he had been in the 1930s. The other is that the Soviets wanted a source of independent information within Nazi Germany and Netaji could be this source. Therefore they created the conditions on the ground to make it happen.
The Soviet Nazi pact collapsed in June 1941 with the Nazi invasion of the USSR. Netaji’s importance as an asset in Germany to the Soviets would have increased manifold. However, with the arrest of the most important Soviet spy in Japan, Richard Sorge on 18 October 1941 the Soviets did not have access to the top levels of decision-making in Japan. Since Netaji was unable to attract more than 3,000 Indian POWs to switch sides and join the Germans, it is argued that with the fall of Burma and the vast number of Indian soldiers captured during the fall of Singapore, it made more sense for Netaji to shift his focus to the Far East.
The line of argument that I am proposing is that Netaji’s real collaborator in his quest to create a credible alternative to the non-violent path to freedom was the USSR, and neither the Germans nor the Japanese. The latter two were mere pegs of convenience in this alternative paradigm of the freedom struggle.
Therefore, when Netaji and Lieutenant General Tsunamasa Shidei sought refuge with the advancing units of SMERSH in Dairen, Manchuria on 18 August 1945 were they both seeking political asylum or were they finally coming in from the cold?
If the Tashkent Man and Netaji are indeed the same person, then the circumstantial account provided in this article is broadly close to the truth. If however, the Tashkent Man is not Netaji and is merely an inexact doppelganger, then the argument holds that Netaji might have died in the USSR either as a prisoner or as an expedient inconvenience. In either case, the truth lies within Russia.
“I wanted to approach the mystery objectively”
Excerpts from an interview with Sidhartha Satbhai:
What prompted you to embark on this fascinating voyage of investigating death of Subhas Chandra Bose?
When one learns about Subhas Chandra Bose for the first time, one inevitably runs into the mystery surrounding his death. Given how much he had inspired me when I first discovered him, I took it as a challenge to find out more about his death. The more I studied existing material, the more fascinated I became. I noticed the lack of a scientific approach in any existing efforts at solving the mystery, and I took it upon myself to approach things objectively and exhaustively, backed by scientific approaches.
Did you fund the effort yourself or did others provide finances?
I funded this investigation myself. The official certified report on the Tashkent Man was funded by Bose admirers in India after they saw my work on Thebosemystery.com and felt that a certified report would add weight to the Tashkent Man theory. Most of these Bose admirers are believers in the Bhagwanji (Faizabad) angle to the Bose mystery, which claims that he lived in various parts of Uttar Pradesh from the 1950s onwards in the guise of a holy man until his death in 1985 in Faizabad.
What about the second phase of the investigation—the enquiry into the Paris Man?
This phase is currently ongoing. Bhagwanji claimed that he was present at the Paris peace talks of 1969. And, indeed, I found a Bose lookalike present at the 25 January session of those talks, which incidentally was the first plenary session of the talks. I am waiting for the Government of India to make a move on 23 January 2016 before deciding what I will do with this material.
Have you got the required funding?
I am still in the process of raising funds for completing the Paris Man work. My wife has been very supportive of my research over the years. The cost has not exactly been pocket change. However, over time, her attitude has changed to the point where she no longer finds it necessary to continue it. Even her opinion of Bose has changed from positive to negative—something that has happened with me as well.
Do you have any idea what Bose did and where he was based between 1945 and 1966?
He was most likely in Russia, followed by China and India. From India, he apparently carried out some sort of undercover work in various countries. In all probability, it was Russia that facilitated all his movements and this would mean he maintained contact with the Russians throughout. There could have been some involvement with China as well. While I’m working on it, getting any information from Red China’s records is next to impossible.