On July 29, a PIL was filed in Calcutta High Court asking for an inquiry commission to look into the disappearance of gold and jewelry of the INA. Could this stir another Hornet’s Nest?
By Sujit Bhar
When Subhas Chandra Bose took over the leadership of the Indian Independence League and the Indian National Army (INA) from an ageing Rash Behari Bose on May 11, 1943, after his radio broadcast from Tokyo, he had the arduous task of rebuilding it into a hard-nosed battle regiment which it had ceased to be. The idea was to return the INA to its full potential with the help of Imperial Japan and, to an extent, Hitler’s Germany. The funds for this huge task mostly came from Japan which also provided the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as a base for the government-in-exile after Singapore was used as a base.
Bose, though, had his feet on the ground and realized that to be able to carry out daily duties and to fund the huge expenses of a standing army he needed funds that were not tied to the imperial design. Bose, thus, sent out an appeal to Indians within the country and to all expatriates (especially in the Far East) to send in money and all that they can afford. The response was rousing and the money collected at the provincial Azad Hind Bank in Singapore is said to have amounted to Rs 114 crore and gold ornaments, 11.3 kg (some estimates put it at a staggering 900kg). They were said to be distributed among banks in Bangkok, Burma, Malaya and other places in Southeast Asia.
AZAD HIND BANK
Post the historic Imphal victory, the British came back with a vengeance and the INA was defeated. That, and the huge setbacks that Japan was suffering in war, prompted the Japanese to start diverting funds to the front tackling American advances. Bose escaped, carrying a part of the “treasure” in suitcases, while part of it lay in Azad Hind Bank in Singapore’s accounts. Bose’s whereabouts have remained disputed till date.
The large amount of money reported to be in the said banks too remained disputed. On July 29, a PIL was filed in Calcutta High Court seeking an order directing the center to constitute an inquiry commission and submit a report on the whereabouts of the INA “treasure” “received by the government after transfer of power and submit a report to the court”.
Bose’s call for help from the people of India and expatriates resulted in donations pouring in, and as of January 26, 1945, donations in cash, gold (11kg 300 gm) and other valuables received by the Azad Hind government in exile were equal to his (Netaji’s) weight.
The “treasure” obviously refers to the monies and the gold, reportedly at the banks and the “received” tag emanates from a reference to an alleged letter written by the then governor of Singapore on May 6, 1950, to the secretary of state for the colonies in London. In the letter, the governor had allegedly communicated that the gold received from INA funds at Singapore after the end of World War-II weighed approximately 5,634 gms and that it was deposited in the Indian Overseas Bank. And the clincher in the PIL is that the gold was deposited here in the name of Jawaharlal Nehru!
The fact that such allegations have been made without substantial documentary evidence shows that there seems to have been no paper trail vis-à-vis the said money.
Admitting the PIL, the Calcutta High Court division bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice Arijit Banerjee directed the center to file an affidavit within four weeks. The matter has been fixed for final hearing after eight weeks.
After submitting the petition on behalf of activist Surojit Dasgupta, advocate Rudrajyoti Bhattacharya alleged that there has been extensive embezzlement of INA “funds” at various stages. According to the petitioners, “for continuance of provincial government of Azad Hind in exile and funding India’s freedom struggle, Netaji had appealed to people of Indian origin to contribute so as to materialize the aim and objective of the Indian National Army”. They further said the donations, which “in accumulation, amounted to several hundred crores (of Rupees) in cash, gold and jewellery”, were deposited in the said banks.
One of the foundations of this PIL seems to be a top secret letter dated October 20, 1951, signed by KK Chettur, a member of the Indian liaison mission in Tokyo, and addressed to S Dutt, secretary, Common-wealth Relations. The letter allegedly states that Bose’s call for financial help from the people of India and expatriates resulted in donations pouring in, and that as of January 26, 1945, donations in cash, gold (11kg 300 gm) and other valuables received by the Azad Hind government in exile were equal to his (Netaji’s) weight. The PIL does not say so, but some reports have talked about a “war chest” of 100 kg of gold and jewelry.
It wasn’t just the gold that has been missing, says the petition. The petitioners quote one PK Banerjee of the Indian Embassy in Japan who had written another top secret letter dated March 7, 1961, to the then joint secretary, Ministry of external affairs in Delhi. In it, Banerjee had allegedly described that he had seen in the INA “treasure” a priceless emerald Buddha statuette of an amazing 17,880 carats. The value of that has not been ascertained. The PIL says that there are no less than 37 IB and Ministry of External Affairs files which have references to the INA treasure, but most of them are still classified.
According to the petition, there is another file, this one with the PMO—the petitioners claim that the file No. is 2(67)/56-71PM—which “refers to a trust formed under the supervision of the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress set up to handle a sum of Rs 2 lakh of the INA fund. Nehru and Bidhan Chandra Roy (erstwhile Congress leader and former chief minister of West Bengal) were among the signatories of the trust deed”.
The value of the “treasure” apart, the PIL stresses on the embezzlement issue. This has been done for so long by so many that the money has virtually been lost. That there was a large amount of money and gold in the banks is incontrovertible.
Kolkata-based Aruna Chatterjee, a member of INA’s Jhansi Brigade (the women’s wing) has been reported in the media as recalling one incident in Rangoon (now Yangon) where Subhas Bose was actually weighed against the gold ornaments. Not that he liked the idea of being weighed against gold (some reports say he was totally against this), but he probably gave in to public pressure. “Where has this huge wealth gone?” Chatterjee has asked. “I understand that the INA used some of this during the War. But then, a portion of it was transferred to India. The country wants to know who is the custodian of this wealth? The government needs to come clear.”
Whatever be the fate of the PIL, it is clear that there needs to be some clarity on the issue with Bose being the huge public figure that he was. A public outcry had resulted in the NDA government, especially its leader Narendra Modi, promising a declassification of related files for the public. But when they were declassified, the only controversial fact that came out was that the Congress had tailed Bose’s family for a decade after Independence. While this put the Congress in a poor light, the rest of the revelations were so mundane that one wondered why they were classified as “Secret” at all.
Netaji researcher R Moitra told India Legal: “Basically, we Indians have been taken on a wild-goose chase for a long, long time. For example, I am sure there is no connection between Netaji’s death/disappearance with Renkoji temple in Japan where the freedom fighter’s ashes were allegedly kept after recovery from a plane crash. It is complete hogwash, and politicians and others have taken the opportunity to make government-funded Japan visits allegedly to pay homage at the temple, while the real story lies hidden in those top secret files. This PIL would face a rebuff from the government. Slowly, this too, will gather dust till another one comes along.”
Lead Picture: A portrait of Netaji at an exhibition. Photo: UNI