Action against State Bank of India Necessary for Wrongful Disposal of Netaji’s Ashes

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

my article title, 18.4.1996

The above was the caption of my column dated 18 April 1996 in Orissa’s mainstream major daily ‘The Sambad’ in which I had exposed how the Manager of State Bank of India, Cuttack, who was a Bengali by birth, was conspiring to dispose off Netaji’s funeral ashes in the name of Gandhiji. No news reporter, but photographer of a local daily, also a Bengali, was calculatedly used to spread that Gandhiji’s ashes were lying abandoned in the said branch of SBI since 1950s. Soon the said contrived news hit the headlines without any investigation on factuality thereof.

This misleading news prompted Gandhiji’s great grandson Tushar Arun Gandhi to claim the ashes for immersion.

I met the concerned manager of SBI Mr. Roy to find out why he preferred a photographer to spread the information instead of the reporters. His conduct appeared very fidgety and he was quite evasive. He could not give any relevant answer to any of my query. He insisted that the “urn” containing the Ashes cannot but be of any other person than than Gandhiji. I had wanted to know, when I had not mentioned of any person, why was he saying that the ashes could not be of any person than of Gandhiji? He had kept mum. He had just said, “It is said to be of Gandhiji”. Who said this? He had no specific answer. One of my wife’s friend was an officer of the Child welfare wing of the Central Government. A few days after my discussion with the SBI officer at Cuttack, in a trip to New Delhi, I had been to the R.K.Puram residence of my wife’s friend. Her father was a former Cashier of SBI, Cuttack. In course of discussion, the ashes issue emerged. I asked her, had her father ever discussed the matter of the ashes in their home? She said, “Yes, once he had said that if Orissa government takes back the “urn”, a great secret of national importance would be opened. But, he neither had elaborated, nor had any of the family shown any interest to know the details”. Because of my wife’s friendship with his daughter, Mr. Sengupta was well known to me. I could not verify this electrifying information from him; because time was cruel. There was no possibility of meeting him physically. But this unverified information vis-a-vis the nervousness i had marked in the SBI officer Sri Roy, made me sure that the issue was not normal. Some mystery was hiding.

Then I investigated into what had happened to Gandhiji’s ashes in Orissa.

After assassination of Gandhiji, like all other parts of the Country, Orissa was drowned in the ocean of grief. He might have been “Mahatma” to all, but to people of Orissa he was the “God”. He was the strongest supporter of Orissa’s demand for amalgamation of all the Oriya speaking tracks and formation of Orissa as a province on the basis of its language. “This Fine Race” cannot be allowed to perish in scattered condition, he had argued in rejecting the vested interest counter pressure from the non-Oriyas, as a result of which, formation of modern Orissa as India’s first linguist State was expedited.

Bapuji BiyogeIn an elegy, the most revered titan of Oriya literature Bichhanda Charan Pattanayak had cried that, had the Himalayas broken on the heads of the people, had the water of the sea engulfed the land, people might have tolerated that, but it was impossible to stay calm on demise of the father of the nation.

Immersion completed with State Honor

Thousand and thousands of crying people were gathering everywhere Gandhiji’s “sacred” ashes were being immersed. The Central Government had created a separate ministry to conduct the immersion of Gandhiji’s sacred ashes all over India as official program and Orissa Cabinet was directly organizing and supervising the immersion that was being performed with State Honor befitting the supreme leader of the Country. Immersion was complete by 15th February, 1948.

After the sacred ashes were immersed all over the country including Orissa, the remaining portion thereof was finally immersed in the Prayaga Tirtha on 15th February 1948, the train wagon has been permanently preserved at Lulia.

So, it was impossible to retain a portion of the said sacred ashes separately in Orissa, off the record, without any official resolution to that extent.

From the State Bank records it transpired that, the Bank had received the same “said to be the ashes of Gandhiji” from the Secretary to the Chief Minister of Orissa on 29 November 1950 for safe custody.

To me, it had looked impossible. If what transpired in the State Bank of India at Cuttack was really the ashes of Gandhiji, then it must been kept thrown in any rubbish bin till Chief Minister Nabakrushna Chawdhury or his alleged secretary discovered the same on or before 29 November 1950. It was impossible to keep the “box” containing Gandhiji’s ashes without due respect for about three long years in a rubbish bin without anybody knowing it. Nobody or organization could have kept it without the knowledge of the Government, particularly of the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister of that time was Harekrushna Mahtab, a Gandhian, who had betrayed Netaji Subhas Bose to please Gandhiji by being the first to resign from Congress Executive to which Netaji had nominated him, when he had got elected as Congress President for the 2nd term by defeating Gandhi’s candidate Pattavi Sitarameya. He should never have kept Gandhiji’s ashes in disrespect, I decided.

Then I searched for government records to locate where the ashes were kept and why. I perused every bit of available official record.

Had the government kept it knowingly, the Cabinet must have adopted a resolution authorizing the government to preserve a portion of the ashes for any particular purpose to have been recorded with specification of place and condition where the same was to be kept and under express permission from the Government of India, particularly the Ministry that was specifically created to deal with the sacred ashes of the father of the nation. I found no trace of such records, not even any indirect indication, in any relevant file, despite meticulous search.

On the other hand, Nabakrushna Chowdhury had taken over from Mahtab. He is the man who had exposed Mahtab and his protege Biju Patnaik over their corrupt practices. It is in his period as Chief Minister, the “box” which was “said” to be containing the ashes of Gandhiji was deposited in the Bank on 29 November 1950. If that was the container of Gandhiji’s ashes, and Chowdhury should have got it with documents to accept the same as Gandhiji’s ashes, he should never have deposited the same so secretly in the State Bank and, on the other hand, should have kept on records from where and in what condition that was found, besides taking immediate steps to implement the project for which purpose the sacred ashes were preserved. He should have involved his cabinet in the project and informed everything to the Central Government. He should have fixed the responsibility for the three years long negligence to the ashes and even condemned Mahtab for his negligence and disrespect to the sacred ashes of Gandhiji. But he had done nothing like this.

This convinced me that the alleged ashes were never of Gandhiji’s.

If the same was not just a hoax, then whose ashes must be that? I started to speculate. Ms. Sengupta’s words reverberated in mind. As mentioned supra, her father, according to her, had once said that such a precious matter was lying in the strong room of SBI, which, if brought to light, can open a great secrecy of national importance. Could it be of Netaji? – I asked myself. Chowdhuri not alive. He had passed away in 1984. There was no chance of ascertaining the reality from him. His wife Malati Devi was not keeping well and that, she should reveal, what she could have heard, if at all she could have heard, from her husband about what was allegedly stashed in the SBI was not expected.

1950 Scenario

I journeyed into the 1950. Chief Minister Nabakrushna Chowdhury was in a deep quagmire over mass casualties at a place called Rantalei where a local healer called Nepali Baba was playing havoc. A news in a very influential daily of the then Calcutta that any disease gets cured by Nepali baba through the Hukum Ousadh (magic drops) he administers, lakhs of people had thronged to that village from almost every corner of the country. Thousand had died due to want of minimum amenities. The Chief Minister was at his wits’ end on how to handle the issue, the issue of faith of the people posing the strongest hurdle to necessary official action. At such a juncture, I thought, if somebody to whom it must have been known that Orissa was the birthplace of Netaji, honoring Hindu customs, could have brought his ashes to his birthplace for last rites and handed over the same to the Chief Minister in view of his family having gone away from Orissa – the place of his birth and upbringing, under tremendous pressure at that time due to Rantalei, and as Netaji’s family and followers in India were strongly to acceptance of his death as real, Chowdhury must have thought it prudent and proper to deposit the Ashes of Netaji in safe custody of the Bank.

As much as I studied the situation, this possibility appeared more plausible. I was sure that the ashes did not belong to Gandhiji. But I was not sure, if the same was of Netaji.

JB’s willingness for CBI inquiry

I met Chief Minister J. B. Patnaik in this matter and apprised him details of my speculation. I insisted that there should be a scientific examination of the alleged ashes to determine if the same was really human ashes and if found to be human ashes, DNA test thereof should be made, if possible with Tushar Gandhi as well as with Netaji’s reported remains preserved in Renkoji Temple, Tokyo, Japan. Sri Patnaik was a serious listener and on listening everything, he had told me that, even if he believed in my statement on Gandhiji’s ashes, he would take all steps to find if there was any official record on preservation of Gandhiji’s ashes till the deposit in the Bank on 29 November 1950. He even agreed to order for a CBI inquiry to facilitate a scientific analysis to determine as to whom really the same belong – Gandhiji or Netaji – before acting upon Tushar Gandhi’s request.

I published my observation in the Sambad, very ably brought out by JB’s son-in-law Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, under the caption “Gandharva Prayana, Chitabhasma: Gandhiji O Netaji” (Death of the demigod, Ashes: Netaji and Gandhiji) on 18 April 1996, detailing how circumstantial evidences strongly rejects the possibility of the ashes being of Gandhiji, while supporting the possibility of being of Netaji.

JB thought it prudent to ignore Tushar Gandhi’s demand for release of the ashes for immersion by him as Gandhiji’s.

The SBI approached the government for orders to hand over the ashes to Tushar Gandhi. By that time, JB had conducted a thorough check up of all relevant official records and it was found that my report was correct and there was no records at all indicating preservation of Gandiji’s ashes anywhere in any office since February 1948 or in the Bank on 29 November 1950. He, therefore, had told the Bank that the Government had never deposited the so-called “box” containing the alleged ashes and the Bank may do as it likes with the so-called ashes.

The Bank could have handed over the “box” to Tushar after receiving the above communication from government of Orissa.

But by that time, my article in Sambad published on 18 April 1996 had exposed the mischief of the Bank and Orissa, almost entirely, was inclined to believe in what I had exposed. Tushar admits this. According to him, “the Bank was ready to hand over the ashes to him; but unfortunately in the meantime several organizations and individuals jumped into the fray and complicated the matter.” The Bank, therefore, had informed the petitioner to secure court orders on the strength whereof they could part with the possession of the box.

He, therefore, had to prefer a petition on 26 May, 1996 in the form of a letter to the Chief Justice of India, which ultimately got registered as a writ case.

Bureaucracy and Lawyer didn’t honor JB

From records of this case it transpires that Tushar was told by Sri J.B. Patnaik that he was proposing to order a CBI enquiry so that the ashes could be chemically tested to ascertain if they really belonged to Mahatma Gandhi. But sadly, the State Government could not properly place its version in the Court, due to dependence on incompetent bureaucrats and insincere lawyers. It only stated that deposit of the wooden box said to be containing the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi purported to have been made by the Secretary to the then Chief Minister of Orissa as recorded in the said Deposit Register of the Bank is not reflected in any of the records of the State Government and hence the Commissioner- cum-Secretary to the Government of Orissa could not accept that the said box containing the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi had been deposited by the Government for safe custody. It neither pleaded before the Court that the Ash was needed to be chemically examined to ascertain if it really belonged to Mahatma Gandhi nor placed before the Court the fact that there was no ash of Gandhiji left in Orissa after official immersion and therefore the ash in custody of the Bank was never of Gandhiji.

Had the State bureaucracy and lawyer been sincere and true to the wishes of the Chief Minister, the court could certainly have ordered for chemical test of the ash and ultimately, the same could have been established as Netaji’s.

Action needed against SBI

On the other hand, SBI knew well that the “box” did not contain the ashes of Gandhiji, because nowhere on the said box it was so mentioned.

When to preliminary query from the PIL Cell of the Supreme Court, it had informed the Court that the urn bore the inscription, “It contains the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi”, (basing on which the contemplated PIL was registered as a writ case), in its affidavit in the writ case before the bench of CJI Justice Ahmadi and Justice Sujata V. Manohar, the SBI stated that the said “box” was sealed with a wax seal with the words “HPM Orissa” and was marked “Secretary HPM Orissa”.

When “Secretary HPM Orissa” was all that the “box” was marked with and sealed by a seal bearing “HPM Orissa”, and nothing else, how had the SBI in its letter to PIL Cell said that the said box bore the inscription “it contains the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi”?

We have already seen that its version was also different at different times.

Oral answer to Press apart, it has told Tusar Gandhi in its letter of 8 March 1996, “A sealed wooden box measuring approximately 18″ x 20″ said to contain an urn containing the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi was deposited with our Cuttack Branch on 29.11.1950 by the then Secretary to the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Orissa as s Safe Deposit Article. Safe Deposit Receipt No. 30/21 dated the 29th November 1950 was issued by the Branch”.

When, who “said” the SBI that it contains the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi was never spelt out, there is vast difference between “said to contain” and “It contains”.

On the other hand, the mark “HPM” was never defined.

On the alleged day of the deposit i.e. 29 N0vember 1050, Orissa had no “HPM” and no “Secretary to HPM”.

Cuttack branch of the SBI being the treasury Branch, it was well versed with and tied to official designations and seals of Orissa Government.

It could never have entertained any non-existing term as official. This means, when the term “HPM” was official, the SBI had received the sealed box.

We can read the term ‘HPM’ as ‘Hon’ble Prime Minister’.

Harekrushna Mahtab was the last Prime Minister of Orissa from 23-04-1946-12-05-1950. The term of his predecessor Prme Minister Krushna Chandra Gajapati Narayan Deo had ended on 30-06-1944.

Netaji was cremated on 22-8-1945 and his ashes were collected on 23-8-1945. In his affidavit dated 24-8-1945, Netaji’s closest aid and co-sufferer of the plane crash Col. Habibur Rehman Khan has clearly said, “I have requested the Army Authorities to arrange for removal of the ashes to Tokyo where they can be kept in a safe place and from where at a later date they will be removed to India”. In explaining the reason of making the affidavit, Col. Khan has said, the photographs that were taken of him “seated beside the body (of Netaji) in the box” and his affidavit should be kept with the ashes “so that one day India will know the truth regarding the death of its outstanding and heroic leader”.

Thus, certainly, as per advice of Col. Khan, the ashes of Netaji had come to Orissa, his birthplace.
By that time, if it was before 23-4-1946, there was no Prime Minister in Orissa; but the post of Secretary of the Prime Minister – corresponding to present post of Chief Secretary – was functioning.

This explains why the mark was “Secretary to HPM” and the seal was “HPM Orissa”.

The Secretary to Prime Minister Orissa must have received the ashes of Netaji and, as he was not a leader, but a government servant, instead of taking prompt action thereon, he should have waited till a new PM took over.

Mahtab took over as the new PM on 23-4-1946.

The secretary must have apprised Mahtab of this box containg the ashes of Netaji. As mentioned supra, Mahtab was anti-Netaji and had betrayed him to please Gandhiji when Gandhi had to concede defeat on victory of Subhas Bose over his Presidential candidate Pattabhi Sitarameya, as famously stressed by him in the term, “Pattabhi’s defeat is my defeat”.

Mahtab was too astute and opportunistic to earn irk of Gandhiji – who was then alive and the supreme leader of the country – by exposing the ashes of Netaji, which could have so ignited the revolutionary world of India that the entire Congress leadership including Gandhiji must have been made dwarfish.

So, it is clear that during Mahtab’s Prime Ministership, the “box” congaing the ashes of Netaji was not given any attention.

I have no reason not to say that, left to Mahtab, the same could have been completely destroyed. But, as the “Secretary to HPM” who was an official, had received the same, it could not be destroyed.

Mahtab’s term ended on 12-5-1950.

When Nabakrushna Chowdhury (12-5-1950 to 19-10-1956) took over as Orissa’s first Chief Minister, and after tackling the hurdles created by Mahtab and his proteges on his smooth functioning, he settled to work, his top official formerly known as “Secretary HPM Orissa” must have brought to his attention the sealed box congaing the ashes of Netaji with details of how the same was lying unattended to.

Chowdhury was a great Gandhian of his days, yet a great admirer of Netaji’s revolutionary conduct. He could have taken prompt steps in the matter; but by then the innumerable loss of life at Rantalei must have made his position precarious. Added to this, the country’s overall reluctance to accept Netaji’s death as real, and pending investigation into factuality of his death, must have prodded his political acumen and wisdom to handover the sealed box containing Netaji’s ashes to the State Bank for safe-keeping till the dusts were finally settled.

Against this backdrop, it is clear that the before the dusts were finally settled, in order to eliminate the most speaking and readily available proof of Netaji’s death, the Bengali vested interest officer of SBI had tampered with the original documentary roofs of the ashes being of Netaji and had contrived many means, as discussed above, to show the same as of Gandhiji.

Netaji’s death has been confirmed to have been occurred on 18 August 1945. His death and cremation records are in the pages of British Foreign Office’s file number FC1852/6 of 1956 and irrefutably.

I am sure, as I have already mentioned in my breaking analysis on 18 April 1996, due to the mischief of the SBI officer, who was a Bengali person and like many Bengalis was fanatically believing that Netaji was alive, Netaji’s ashes were immersed by Tusar Gandhi as Gandhiji’s. This aspect should be investigated into and for wrongful disposal of Netaji’s ashes, the State Bank of India should be taken to task.

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