“I hope that we get closure on this matter and that we get the remains returned and I hope we can do this without controversy because that would be the worst thing we could do for Netaji’s memory,” Bose-Pfaff, an economist based in Germany, said on Sunday.
She was speaking in London at the launch of a book by veteran Indian foreign correspondent Ashis Ray titled “Laid to Rest: The Controversy over Subhas Chandra Bose’s Death”.
Many have refused to believe that Bose died in a plane crash in Taipei in 1945. Ray’s book lays out his investigations into the incident, drawing on 11 other reports and numerous eyewitness accounts’ conclusive evidence that Bose perished shortly after the accident.
His ashes are now kept in a temple in Japan.
Bose-Pfaff said she understood why so many people – both relatives and admirers – had been reluctant to accept the tragic account of events, pointing out that the difficulties in communicating internationally at the time meant nobody could be immediately certain of the facts.
“People like mysteries,” she added, “and my father was a romantic and tragic hero and so somehow it was not so surprising.”
But she dismissed the multiple, competing theories as to how he may have survived the crash, criticising the 2006 Justice Manoj Mukherjee inquiry commission for ignoring personal testimonies.
Ray echoed her message about Bose’s remains. “It’s about time India did something to bring the ashes to India.”
The launch of the book took place at the British Library as part of the London edition of the renowned Jaipur Literature Festival.
Ray, great-nephew of Subhas Bose, and Bose-Pfaff, who grew up with her Austrian mother, were interviewed on stage by London-based academic Somnath Batabyal in a room packed with festival attendees.
Asked about the alleged bad blood between her father and Jawaharlal Nehru, Bose-Pfaff talked about her own experience of meeting India’s first Prime Minister.
“Nehru was personally very friendly to my mother and towards me, during my first visit to India. I don’t recall us talking about his relationship with my father.”
Describing the difference between the two men, she said: “In a way, they were of the same camp but my father would not compromise even if Gandhi said so whereas Nehru would.”
Both speakers addressed the issue of Bose’s apparent fascist sympathies, explaining that he sought support from the Axis powers – specifically Germany and Japan – during World War II only because of their opposition to the British as his priority was the freedom of India from foreign rule.
Bose-Pfaff described her father’s meeting with Hitler as a “disappointment”. Ray said it had been “fractious” and that Bose had later described the Nazi leader in Bengali as “raving mad”.
Bose-Pfaff also talked about the impact on her own life of being related to such a significant political figure, explaining that living outside India meant she did not feel the pressure experienced by the children of other leaders of the freedom movement, such as Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, for example – to assume political responsibilities.
“I owe it to my mother that the legacy was not too difficult. She said, ‘your father was a great man but that doesn’t make you a great anything’. I tried to educate me to be humble.”