Come August 18, India's celebrations of Independence Day subside giving way to remember Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, the ever-green youth icon of the freedom struggle who was last seen 73 years ago on August 18, 1945 in his last sojourn to Manchuria but met with a fatal plane crash.
Shortly after its take off from a military base in Taihoku, present day Taipei in Taiwan, the ill-fated military aircraft crashed and caught fire in which Netaji reportedly suffered third-degree burns. He was rushed to nearby Nanmon Military Hospital by his aide-de-camp (ADC) Colonel Habibur Rehman Khan, where he was treated for burns but soon slipped into coma.
Netaji died around 8 PM on the same day as per hospital sources though some reports said Netaji breathed his last at 11 PM on Aug. 18, 1945.
Keeping aside the controversy over his death, Colonel Habibur Rehman, who lived in Pakistan and testified before the 1956 Netaji Inquiry Committee headed by Major General Shah Nawaz Khan, recollected Netaji's last words in Hindi before his death:
"I have fought to the last for India's independence and now am giving my life in the same attempt. Countrymen! Continue the fight for independence. Before long India will be free. Long Live Azad Hind."
While the British intelligence wing was among the first to probe and confirm the plane crash theory, it was corraborated a year later by Harin Shah, a journalist with Mumbai's Free Press Journal, who visited Taipei and recorded the accident and Netaji's death.
There is little to prove that Netaji had escaped the plane crash and reached his destination Manchuria. His last words to the Japanese doctor who treated him were: "I feel as if blood is rushing to my head. I would like to sleep a while," reveal the archives collected by Ashis Ray of Bosefiles.info.
Bose family members and many academics have refuted the plane crash theory for long, though two commissions of enquiry proved substantially that Netaji did succumb to his burns in the plane crash on August 18, 1945. However, the third commission early this century held the view that there was no written record of Netaji being killed in the plane crash, ignoring the time-tested secrecy maintained in military records.
Though the recent row over a French secret report was a last-ditch attempt to keep the controversy alive, it is time India decides to bring Netaji's ashes back home as per his daughter's wishes. Kept at Renkoji Buddhist temple in Tokyo outskirts, the ashes are given annual ceremonial tribute on August 18 every year. Is this what Netaji deserves?