The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Queries on Netaji ashes, and thanks for Atal

Munich, May 30: A Bengali and a Sardarji were studying at Cambridge. Both were in love with the same girl. Finally, she went away with the Sikh boy. The Bengali remarked wistfully: “If only Netaji were here….”

Netaji was not in Munich (is he still lying forgotten in some prison in the boondocks of Vladivostok'), but his daughter Anita Pffaf was. She and her husband Martin Pffaf had been invited by the minister president of Bavaria for a reception in honour of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the historic Residenz museum.

Earlier in the evening, the Pffafs had called on the Prime Minister. “Oh, it was just a courtesy call. And I also thanked him for paying a visit to Renkoji Temple in Tokyo where my father’s ashes are kept. It meant that he recognised them as Netaji’s ashes and accepted the chain of events that led to his death,” she said.

Netaji’s legend is such that his followers are today deeply divided over the circumstances relating to his disappearance. Broadly, there are those who believe that Netaji actually died in the plane crash in 1945 in Taipei and the ashes in Japan are his. Then there are those who believe that the plane crash was a ploy used by the wily Netaji to make good his escape before Taipei fell so there is no question of any ashes anywhere.

But where did he go' The third category of his followers believes that from Taiwan, he went to Russia for help and was arrested in Vladivostok and since then has been languishing in some unknown prison there. The Mukherjee Commission is the latest inquiry into Netaji’s death or disappearance.

Such is the attachment of Bengalis to Netaji that a fiery woman MP from Bengal made an emotional plea for bringing his ashes back. “What business do the Japanese have taking Netaji’s ash' His ash belongs to India and his ash must be brought back,” she thundered till she was asked to shut up by fellow MPs from the state because of her embarrassingly miserable pronunciation. Or so the story goes.

Did her thanking the Prime Minister for visiting Renkoji Temple mean that Anita accepted the fact of his death' “Yes,” she replied. Anita is the child of Netaji’s German wife. He met her mother when he came to seek Hitler’s help against the British and married her before leaving for Japan on Hitler’s advice to start his armed movement from Asia. He left in a submarine, met Tojo, the Japanese dictator and then went to Singapore to organise the Azad Hind Fauj.

It may be in the interest of some people to keep up the legend of his being alive. But Anita clearly rejects all such theories. “If he were alive, there would have been no reason for him not to return to India after it gained Independence. Some say he was in a Soviet prison. But even then, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the truth would have come out by now,” she argued.

About the commission, Netaji’s daughter said: “I know that the Mukherjee Commission is looking into the controversy of his death. I personally do not expect the commission to come out with anything startling or different.”

She said the commission had not approached her. “In any case I do not want to waste the commission’s time and resources. I was a child then — first in Austria and then here in Germany. So I would have nothing to add to what is already known.”

She hopes that the commission would go to Taiwan to meet the sole survivor of the ill-fated crash. “I wish they would talk to the Indian doctor who was in that plane and still lives, I believe, in Taiwan. No inquiry commission has gone and talked to him.”

Anita felt that this was not the opportune time to demand that Netaji’s ashes be brought back to India. “The Mukherjee Commission is yet to complete its work. And we should not hurt the sentiments of the Japanese either who have been keeping his remains with tremendous respect,” she said.

Anita said she and her husband, both professors at the University of Augsburg, were active Social Democratic politicians. Martin was a MP for 12 years. Anita contested the last election to the Bundestag but lost. “Perhaps it is my age. I am 60 now and people prefer younger MPs — perhaps people who are in their thirties. But the Social Democratic Party also did not do too well in Bavaria,” she explained.

Besides the Pffafs, Zubin Mehta also called on the Prime Minister. “I gave him a bottle of olive oil from my farm in Tuscany (Italy) to congratulate him on his renewed effort at peace with Pakistan,” he said.

Mehta is the music director of the Bavarian State Opera based in Munich.

What was his advice to Vajpayee' “Oh, I told him I wish that his next state visit would be to Pakistan,” he replied but then asked tentatively, “Is that going to happen any time soon'”

Then on a wistful note, he asked, “Why have Parsis disappeared from the Indian cricket team' We always had an Umrigar or a Farookh Engineer on the team.”

What was his explanation' “Oh well, I suppose Parsis themselves are a disappearing breed now. There aren’t too many of them left,” he replied.

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