Private admissions on a public issue


In a recently released documentary on Subhas Chandra Bose, Justice Mukherjee, who investigated for six years (1999-2005) Bose's mysterious disappearance, has been shown to make a comment which has given a new twist to the debate that has been going on since his report was rejected by the central government.

Justice Mukherjee has been shown as saying that he is absolutely sure that the Dasnami Sannyasi who was last known to have lived at Ram Bhawan in Faizabad of Uttar Pradesh, in 1985, was none other than Bose. "It is my personal feeling... But I am 100 per cent sure that he (the monk) is Netaji," he says.

Not surprisingly, this divergence between private belief and public verdict has been taken up as the stick to beat down the whole inquiry of six years by people who propagate Bose's death in the plane crash. Very predictably, half-truths and lies are being thrown around to confuse people.

Yet, this is an issue that must be addressed squarely.

Justice Mukherjee's assertion might not have any legal implication, but it certainly raises myriad questions. The natural question that follows is why Justice Mukherjee did not say this in his report despite such absolute certainty? What could have stopped him? Going by his report, the reason for his rejecting the possibility of the Sannyasi being Bose was "absence of any clinching evidence." Then how does one justify his certainty despite the absence of such clinching evidence?

The answer could lie in the evidence that was produced to him and also in the way the evidence was treated by him. To be able to make sense of his conviction, it is therefore important to understand the nature of the evidence that was produced and the way he treated it.

The two major categories of evidence that was produced were individual witness accounts and the personal belongings of the Sannyasi, which included numerous books, letters, Bose's family photographs. The Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry (JMCI) scrutinised over 2,600 of such items. Among the belongings were also found a few teeth kept in a match box. The letters were sent for handwriting analysis and the teeth were sent for DNA analysis. This line of investigation – that is, to see whether forensic evidence corroborates witness accounts - can hardly be flawed. Yet another factor was the kind of people who wrote letters to the Sannyasi. There were letters from Prafulla Ghosh (the first chief minister of West Bengal), MS Golwalkar (the RSS supremo at that time), Leela Roy (a firebrand revolutionary and close associate of Bose from the 1920s), Pabitra Mohan Roy (former intelligence officer in the INA) and many others.

Justice Mukherjee's observation on this part of the evidence is revealing:

Apparently, there is no reason for not acting or relying upon the evidence of the last two categories of witnesses particularly of the category who had seen Netaji before 1945 and also met Bhagwanji I Gunmami Baba face to face on a number of occasions, more so when their evidence regarding the frequent visits of some freedom fighters, eminent politicians and former members of INA on January 23 and during the Durga Puja festival is supported by the fact that letters written by some of them including Prof. Samar Guha, Dr.Pabitra Mohan Roy and Ms. Leela Roy were found in 'Rambhawan'.

So far so good. But...

...there are other formidable facts and circumstances on record which stand in the way of this Commission in arriving at a conclusive finding that Bhagwanji / Gumnami Baba was none other than Netaji.

These "other formidable facts" and circumstances were reports of the handwriting analysis and the DNA analysis. While the report from B Lal, for examiner of questioned documents of the government, and one of the foremost experts in this field, showed clearly in his analysis that the handwritings matched, the Office of the Government Examiner of Questioned Documents and Forensic Science Laboratory, Government of West Bengal, Kolkata gave the opposite opinion, but without providing any reasoned analysis. The result of the DNA analysis was also negative.

Thus, this issue was not rejected summarily by Justice Mukherjee, but he could not accept the hypothesis as majority evidence from the forensic examination did not support it. It is however important to recall that reasonable doubt have been cast on the reports of the government labs. There have been allegations of improper examination.

Now that Justice Mukherjee has given his personal view, this raises further questions on the veracity of the forensic evidence that came from the government institutions. This is a serious issue which should not be allowed to be brushed under the carpet.

It is also apposite to recall the other obstacles created towards smooth functioning of the commission — not providing crucial documents, destruction of files, not seeking high level assistance from Russia and the US governments. These are serious lapses by any criterion.

Thus, Justice Mukherjee's revelation now provides the biggest reason for re-opening the investigation. Any sensible government would get the message. Whether a prejudiced Indian government would, is another matter altogether. It has been consistently apathetic to one of the greatest sons of India.