Ashis Ray with Zaheer Rehman, grandson of Habibur Rehman, Subhas Chandra Bose’s most trusted aide who survived the air crash thay killed Bose. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai

Would India remain united if one of the country’s most beloved freedom fighters had been alive during the time of its Independence in 1947? The author of the latest book on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose believes it was highly possible.

In town to promote his book ‘Laid to Rest: The Controversy Over Subhas Chandra Bose’s Death,’ at the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature, Ashis Ray, spoke with Gulf News, shedding light on a variety of issues including the partition of India, the Kashmir conflict as well as the controversies surrounding the death of Bose.

An award-winning broadcaster and journalist based in London, Ray said had Bose been alive during the time of India’s independence, either the partition of India wouldn’t have happened or the relationship between India and Pakistan (which was carved out of united India under British rule) would be much better.

“I think, Muslims of India trusted Netaji (Subhas Chandra Bose) more than the other leaders of the Indian freedom struggle and he was a one of the most popular leaders among all Indians, so he would have been able to strengthen Mahatma Gandhi’s hand, who was against partition, if he was there at that time, because towards the end Gandhi was pretty much isolated. So, yes I feel the scenario would have been different,” said Ashis Ray, author of the critically acclaimed investigative book that brings together hard evidence on the still hotly debated demise of Bose.

Ray believes that he is not alone in this belief, adding that a lot of people in both India and Pakistan agree that the history of the Indian subcontinent would have been much different if that ill-fated Japanese military plane hadn’t crashed on August 18, 1945.

According to all official accounts, Bose died a few hours after a plane crash in Taipei, which Ray’s book confirms by piecing together a plethora of first-hand eyewitness accounts, laying to rest all speculations and conspiracy theories surrounding his death.

Addressing the ongoing Kashmir conflict that stemmed out of India’s partition in 1947 and over which both countries have fought several wars, with another war threatening to flare up recently, Ray urged the leaders of both countries to go back to the drawing board, building on former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s four-point formula.

“In 2006, Dr Manmohan Singh and Musharraf were so close to signing a deal and then things got out of hand. I think the best solution is to start working on the four-point formula proposed by Musharraf which Manmohan Singh had agreed as acceptable,” said Ray referring to the four point formula that includes demilitarisation or phased withdrawal of troops on both sides, no change to borders of Kashmir with Kashmiris allowed to move freely across the Line of Control.

Self-governance without independence and a joint supervision mechanism in Jammu and Kashmir involving India, Pakistan and Kashmir were the other two points.

Talking about increasing polarisation between religious groups in India, he said that despite the forces that were clamouring for partition of India, back in those days, Hindus and Muslims were very close to each other which is evident from the fact that Bose had a Muslim, Habibur Rehman as his closest confidant, who survived the crash that killed Bose.

“There is an interesting India-Pakistan story here as well. When partition happened, Habibur Rehman opted to be with Pakistan because he was from that part of the country and went on to become a brigadier in the Pakistan Army, but he travelled to India to give his testimony to the inquiry commission that was instituted to investigate the death of Bose,” said Ray, who has also used evidence provided by Rehman as well as several eyewitness accounts as the basis of his book.