The desire to attain fame and wealth perhaps led Jai Gurudev – the late founder of the Netaji cult whose followers clashed with the police in Mathura on June 2 – to project himself as the freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose. The death toll in the clash rose to 29 on Sunday.
In 1975, the self-styled spiritual leader was badly thrashed for daring to claim he was Netaji, and the police had to intervene to save him. And though Gurudev died in 2012, many of his followers continue to believe that he was indeed Bose (who is reported to have died in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945.)
Yet Jai Gurudev isn’t the only sadhu linked to Netaji.
The Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry – the most recent of three official inquiries over 60-odd years into the fate of Bose, which ran from 1999 to 2006 – investigated at least three theories, all of which revolved around Netaji surviving the plane crash in Taiwan, and returning to India where he lived in the guise of a sadhu.
The Sheopur theory
This theory, as noted by the Mukherjee panel report, was that Netaji was one of three persons who survived a plane crash at Pandola village in Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh in 1946. The other two survivors were German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Netaji’s trusted aide Habibur Rahman. Netaji apparently then went on to live as a sadhu in the area for three decades.
Quoting affidavits filed in support of this theory, the Mukherjee panel report noted that in 1946 “a plane crash-landed in the neighbouring village of Pandola and the three persons who survived the crash were a ‘Sadhu’, Col. Habibur Rahman and Hitler.”
The affidavits, filed by three locals, said that after the crash, Netaji lived in the area “on the bank of the river nearby” as a sadhu under the name of Jyotirdev. They said upon Jyotirdev’s death on May 21, 1977, the Madhya Pradesh government confiscated papers that would have proved that the sadhu was actually Netaji.
The Mukherjee panel examined this theory, and rejected it.
The Cooch Behar theory
Both the Mukherjee panel and the Khosla Commission, which preceded it, also examined another theory that Bose lived like a sadhu under the name Sharadanandji at an ashram in Shoulmari in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal since 1959.
The Mukherjee Commission report said:
“At the inception nobody took notice of the Ashram and for that matter of the Sadhu, but when it extended its geographical area over 100 acres of land, its inhabitants rose to about 1,500 and armed guards were posted, outsiders living in and around the place became inquisitive about the real identity of the Sadhu as well as the goings-on at the Ashram.”
The rumour persisted, and in the early 1960s, it spread throughout the country. In 1973, the sadhu reportedly shifted base to Dehradun, where he died in 1977.
Both the Khosla and the Mukherjee panels dismissed the claim that this sadhu was Subhash Chandra Bose in disguise.
The Gumnami Baba theory
The most elaborate of all such theories – which was picked up by the Sangh Parivar, and still has a good number of supporters – relates to a sadhu who lived by the name of Gumnami Baba in eastern Uttar Pradesh during the 1970s and early 1980s, who died in Faizabad on September 16, 1985.
The claim that Gumnami Baba was indeed Bose was made only after the sadhu died.
As part of its investigations, the Mukherjee panel sent the handwriting samples of Gumnami Baba and Netaji for comparison to two different labs – the Government Examiner of Questioned Documents in Shimla, and the Forensic Science Laboratory in Kolkata. Both found a difference in structure as well as stress in the two samples, concluding that they were not from the same person. Gumnami Baba failed DNA scrutiny too. Samples of the sadhu’s teeth were subjected to DNA testing as were samples of blood collected from Netaji’s relatives. The DNA did not match.
The Mukherjee panel dismissed the Gumnami Baba theory in 2006. Yet, the legend of Gumnami Baba – unlike other Netaji conspiracy theories – has refused to die down. Partly because of political patronage, and partly due to an unusual interest shown by a section of media and some of Netaji’s distant relatives.