Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was a war leader like no other. He had raised the largest war donation by any Indian leader in the last century. On January 29, 1945, Indian residents of Rangoon (Burma) celebrated their beloved Netaji’s birthday by showing their love in terms of gold.
Rangoon, then the capital of Japanese-occupied-Burma, organised a week-long event as a mark of adulation for the 48th birthday of Netaji, the head of the Azad Hind. And by the end of the week, donations worth Rs 2 crore were collected, including over 80 kg of gold ornaments.
When Netaji made impassioned speeches, Indians based aboard would de-jewel themselves, and throw away the gold valuables at the leader’s feet as an obeisance to the cause of India’s freedom. But with the death of Netaji on 18 August, 1945 in a plane crash, the boxes containing several kilos of gold disappeared, allegedly stolen by Bose’s close aides.
The top secret documents from the era declassified last January reiterate the decades-long controversy of the gold treasure indeed was embezzled, and that too with full knowledge of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who also acted as the foreign minister. Correspondence between Tokyo and New Delhi between 1951 and 1955 shows that the Nehru government was aware of the embezzlement, but just pretended not to notice.
On May 21, 1951, Tokyo Mission head KK Chettur raised the issue by naming two close aides of Netaji: propaganda minister SA Ayer and head of the Indian Independence League (IIL) in Tokyo, Munga Ramamurti. Chettur wrote in October the same year that the Japanese government told the Mission that Bose had with him “substantial quantity of gold ornaments and precious stones, but that he was allowed to carry only two suitcases on the ill-fated flight.”
Chettur informed that “Netaji’s collection weighed more than himself”. Five years later, a classified report was made by the MEA to be submitted to Nehru by RD Sathe.
The report detailed how Ramamurti grew quite affluent while other Indian nationals in Tokyo were suffering in war-hit Japan. Sathe suspected that the treasures must have been divided with the British government, for Ramamurthy got close with Colonel Figges, the military attache of the British mission. Ramamurti was also invited by the colonel to settle down in the UK.”
It’s interesting to note that the report carried the Jawaharlal Nehru’s signature, with a mark by the foreign secretary saying that “the PM has seen this note”.
All the reports did nothing to look into the matter that involved the embezzlement of Rs 2 crore, a big sum at that time. On the contrary, Ramamurti continued live an opulent life in Japan, while Ayer was given a warm welcome when he returned to India. In 1953, Ayer went on to become an adviser for the publicity of Nehru’s flagship Five Year Plans.
They not only took the gold away, but also were rewarded by Nehru who seemed to have bitterness for Bose. This was the fate of two thieving man who looted Netaji’s war chest that was actually meant to fight a war against the British.