Nehru was repeatedly apprised of the misappropriation of Netaji’s funds at the hands of two former INA officials after Netaji’s mysterious demise. Instead of heeding these alarms, the Nehru government granted ostentatious positions to a former INA official suspected of embezzling Netaji’s treasure. Another former INA official suspected of embezzlement was given a free run despite his moving back to India from Japan. Here’s another account of how Netaji’s jewels and funds, and questions pertaining to the same were handled by the Nehru government.
On 21 May 1951, former Indian Ambassador to Japan KK Chettur wrote to the then commonwealth relations secretary BN Chakravarty alleging that two key aides of Bose could have played a role in the misappropriation of INA funds. The suspects were INA publicity and propaganda minister SA Ayer and the head of the Indian Independence League in Tokyo Munga Ramamurti.
Chettar reportedly wrote, “As you are no doubt aware, there have been serious allegations against Ramamurti with regard to the misappropriation of the funds of the late Indian Independence League, as also the personal property of the late Subhas Chandra Bose, consisting of considerable quantities of diamonds, jewellery, gold, and other valuable articles. Rightly or wrongly, Ayer’s name has also been associated with these charges…”
The report by the Indian embassy in Tokyo also mentioned that a certain party there had seen the treasure boxes in Ayer’s room, the same man later chosen by Nehru as his aide. “There is a party here who has seen the (treasure) boxes in Ayer’s rooms and who was also to buy off the contents of these few boxes. What happened to these boxes subsequently is a mystery as all that we have got from Ayer is 300 gms of gold and about 260 rupees worth of cash,” Chettur stated adding that “Bose must have carried very much more that has now been handed over to us (by Murti and Ayer), and even if allowances are made for the loss of the part of the treasures when the plane crashed.”
Again, in 1953, former secretary of the Indian Independence League (IIL) in Japan, VB Seth repeatedly reached out to the Nehru government drawing attention to Ramamurti’s activities in the country and demanding that action be taken against him to recover the amount (of INA funds) misappropriated by him.
In a letter to the then Home Minister dated 18th February 1953, Sheth wrote, “The Indian community in Japan is eager to compel Rama Murti a former official of the defunct IIL in Eastern Asia to give a full account of what he has done with the treasure and jewels of Netaji, the value of which in August 1945 was estimated at Rs 80 lakhs.”
According to Sheth, Ramamurti disposed of the treasure through his Indian, Japanese, and British accomplices, and enriched himself overnight becoming a multi-millionaire. He said that the Customs authorities in Tokyo were awaiting Murti’s return in order to prosecute him for evading duties amounting to about 2000,000 yen.
The treasure that was in Ramamurti’s hold, documents show, belonged to Netaji and was recovered by another suspect named SA Ayer, information minister in the INA, after the Taihoku plane crash in which Netaji is said to have died.
Ayer – who was the regional officer of the Central Board of Film Censors (Bombay) at the time Sheth wrote to the Centre – gave Netaji’s treasure and jewels packed in three boxes to Ramamurti in return for a blank receipt. The details have been revealed in the declassified files on Netaji in 2016.
“No Sooner had Rama Murti received the treasure and jewels, than he started converting them into cash through accomplices. It must be pointed out that soon after the Japanese capitulation, Rama Murti became a daily visitor to the then British Military Mission in Tokyo, and not only did he give information against Indians and about the Azad Hind Movement to the British Intelligence officers but in collusion with some of them disposed of a part of the treasure and jewels,” Sheth wrote in his letter.
He further underlined how Ramamurti had very little money till the termination of World War 2, but suddenly became rich between 1946 and 1948. Sheth attributed Ramamurti’s sudden riches to a “portion of the looted wealth he had used to run a black market operation in Tokyo concealed behind the false front of a trader.”
A report dated 1st February 1953 published in the Japanese daily ‘The Mainichi’ quoted AM Nair, who was a liaison officer in 1945 between the IIL and the Japanese. “The jewels, collected mostly from the Indians of Burma, were packed for an airdrop if necessary into three boxes. They were put in the case of Appadurai Subbier Ayer (SA Ayer),” Naird reportedly said.
He added in his statement to ‘The Mainichi’, “Ayer followed in the next plane (after Bose) with these boxes and he did not learn of Bose’s death until he arrived in Tokyo. Three days after Ayer landed in Japan he turned these three boxes over to Rama Murti and received for them a blank receipt.”
Nair was further quoted as saying that “the jewels, with an estimated value of a million dollars, had never been accounted for.” He said, “The only record that exists of them will be this receipt. It is rather difficult to understand how a man of Ayer’s intelligence could have turned these boxes over to Murti and received for them a blank receipt.”
Ramamurti’s brother J Murti in November 1952 was arrested by the Japanese police for evading Customs duty amounting to 1316000 yen. He was accused of conspiring with a former Japanese finance ministry official for forging a tariff payment certificate.
Ramamurti’s wife Gita Murti was indicted in December 1952 by the Japanese government for violating Customs Law by conspiring to evade import duties amounting to yen 1500000.
Furthermore, on 1 November 1955, another secret report was filed in the Ministry of External Affairs for the reference of the Prime Minister who was kept in the loop throughout. The report titled, “INA treasure and their handling by Messrs Ayer and Ramammurti” was authored by RD Sathe and confirmed that “Mr Ayer’s activities in Japan have been rather suspicious.”
The note, which was signed by then PM Nehru dated 5 November 1951 and had a noting of the foreign secretary that the PM had seen it, further stated underlined “the affluence of Mr Ramamurti which turned many heads in Tokyo.”
Despite such damning allegations and cause for suspicion coming from the Indian community in Tokyo, including INA and IIL veterans and Indian government officials, records show that SA Ayer was made the regional manager of the Central Board of Film Censors, Bombay, and was made the publicity advisor for Nehru’s flagship five-year plan. Meanwhile, Ramamurti after enjoying a lavish lifestyle in Japan returned to Chennai in India as the Nehru government displayed a complete inability to even probe the veracity of the very serious charges against him.
This also raises suspicion about the intent of the Nehru government over the silent treatment meted out to a raging issue of the time, as it continues to be one today.
In response to a correspondence by the Ministry of External Affairs on VB Sheth’s letter, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that they were asked to keep an eye on Ramamurti and his activities, and referred to the Indian Embassy’s (in Tokyo) letter dated 27th January 1953. The Home Ministry’s letter signed by the then Under Secretary UK Ghoshal dated 15th April 1953, read:
“The Intelligence Bureau has already taken steps to comply with this request (VB Seth’s request). Beyond this, it is difficult to see what the Home Ministry can do. If Ramamurti or anybody else has been guilty of misappropriation of funds belonging to the Indian Independence League or the Azad Hind Government, no tangible evidence is likely to be available in this country. This is quite obvious from even the allegations that Shri Sheth has been making. Our people cannot conduct any formal investigation in foreign countries, and it would be necessary to enlist the assistance of the police of Burma, Thailand, and Japan. I am not sure whether the Ministry of External Affairs would consider it desirable – on grounds of policy – to take this sort of action.“
Two days later, on 17th April 1953, the MEA responded by saying, “We referred the matter to the Home Ministry who have made it clear, in their note above, that they can do little beyond keeping an eye on Mr. Ram Murti’s activities during his stay in India.”
The two correspondences show how the MHA and the MEA, the latter portfolio held by Nehru himself, were engaged in shifting accountability of the matter under Nehru’s regime. But the basic approach was that of denial to take action even when Ramamurti was in India and was charged by Japanese authorities too.
In September 1951, Nehru met SA Ayer following which on 23rd September 1951 he instructed the Indian Embassy in Tokyo to take Netaji’s treasure from Ramamurti and keep it in the Mission until further instructions.
Records show that the nature and quantity of the treasure were shared by the Mission with Nehru and on 24th September, the first secretary of the embassy, VC Trivedi along with the Registrar, went to Ramamurti’s residence, opened and weighed the contents, and took possession of the same.
Documents show that three cloth bundles containing valuables, a paper package containing gold pieces, and cash amounting to 20,000 yen were found. The list of the same including the weight of the packages was sent to the government. The contents were weighed again in the MEA on an “unspecified date”, which the then govt said was valued at Rs 90,000.
It was brought to India in November 1952 by Mr Damle, then Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, again under Nehru’s instructions. The box was put under the custody of the National Museum on 30th December 1953. Nehru instructed that the treasure would be kept as evidence of the aircraft accident in which Bose supposedly lost his life. Here is what Nehru had to say after inspecting the treasure:
“I saw this treasure. It made a poor show. Apart from some gold pieces, it consisted of charred remains of some rather cheap jewellery chiefly some silver and gold articles, all broken up. I think that this should be kept as it is. Apart from everything else, it is some evidence of the aircraft accident and subsequent fire.”
Notably, Ambassador Chettur had drawn the conclusion that “Ayer, apprehensive of the early conclusion of the Peace Treaty, had come to Tokyo to “divide the loot and salve his and Ramamurti’s conscience by the handing over of a small quantity to the Government in the hope that by doing so, he would also succeed in drawing a red herring across the trail.”
And it seems that Ayer, as Chettur feared, did succeed in his pursuit for it won him Nehru’s attention and a big fat raise with the government at that.
Meanwhile, on 9th October 1978, the box was opened again by the Morarji Desai administration to check the contents of the treasure brought from Tokyo in 1952. As per government records, the box contained 17 packages which included medals, rings, chains, wristwatches, car rings, pendants, ear studs, brooches, bangles, fragments of stones, shirt buttons. signet rings, nose ring stones, iron nail and other miscellaneous items in damaged or charred condition.
Shockingly, Nehru’s dubious response and position on the matter continued for quite some time. On 6th April 1954, former INA officer Shah Nawaz Khan, MP from Meerut, wrote to his colleague General JK Bhonsle, the Deputy Minister for Rehabilitation, pointing out that an amount of Rs 10 lakh either in cash or gold and jewels belonging to the Azad Hind Fauj was in Singapore waiting to be claimed.
Khan categorically stated that he feels that “INA Relief and Enquiry Committee is the only organisation who have any claim on this money.” “I would be grateful if you would kindly take up this case so that this money is taken over by our diplomatic representative in Singapore and sent to the President, INA Relief and Enquiry Committee in Delhi.”
13 days later, on 19th April 1954, Nehru wrote to Bhonsle against Khan’s recommendation. He wrote, “I have asked our Representative in Singapore to enquire about this. But there is no chance whatever of our getting this money for the INA Relief Fund or any other purpose. Similar questions arose in the past, and all kinds of difficulties were pointed out. There was another much smaller sum which I managed to get after years of argument and on the understanding that this would be left in Singapore for scholarships to Indian students there. I appointed a small committee for the purpose. The most we can do is to get this money also added to that scholarship fund. There is also the question of Pakistan sharing it.”
It must be noted that Nehru had hired INA veteran General JK Bhonsle with the intention to spy on him and extract information from him as was the case with several other INA veterans and Netaji’s very family for a good 10 plus years.
What happened to the INA/IIL treasure stored abroad?
Interestingly, during his tour to the British-occupied Malaya in 1946, a year before India officially gained Independence, Nehru was “presented with purses” using which he created the Indian Relief Committee (IRC). Records show that on 8th July 1950, Nehru “decided that the balance in the Trust relating to the IRC funds as well as the INA and IIL funds seized in South East Asia countries should be invested and utilised for payment of scholarships in the University of Malaya.”
These funds were combined with unspecified balance amounts pending from certain shipping companies. In a government note dated 10th October 1953, it was stated, “Since the PM’s decision was to utilise the IIL funds in Malaya for the award of scholarships, the question of their transfer to India does not seem to have been considered.” The scholarship was meant for Indian students studying in Singapore.
The above-mentioned funds are the same ones that were with the Custodian of Enemy Property in Singapore and accounted for Straits $147,163 in 1950. The Nehru govt had said that their representative in Malaya informed them that the currency had been revalued and therefore it was difficult to assess the exact value of these assets. Then came the point of sharing these “unaccounted” funds with Pakistan. And then, it was decided, that the amount that will accrue to India will be amalgamated with the IRC funds as soon as it is obtained from Singapore.
However, the previous correspondence says that the question of the transfer of these funds was never considered as it was decided that the funds would be used for scholarships for Indian students in the Peninsula.
Suspiciously, a Mr Hardial Singh had also deposited “some gold belonging to the INA”, in Nehru’s name. On 30th June 1950, Nehru took a note of the same and wrote, “There is the question of this gold which was in a sense given to me and deposited by me in the bank in 1946. There is a separate question of other INA funds. These two questions should be dealt with separately.”
Whether these funds were the same as those with the Custodian of Enemy Property in Singapore and why they were deposited in Nehru’s name is again mysterious.
Moreover, correspondence from the then Foreign Secretary RK Nehru to Nehru says that the estimated value of the scholarship funds is Straits $288,483. But of the combined amount, how much accounted specifically for the INA/IIL funds has not been clearly mentioned in the several letters exchanged on the matter thereby raising suspicion about both the amalgamation of a certain part of the funds with other money and its disposal.
The unspecific nature of information shared by the Nehru government, the lack of accountability of funds in Singapore, convoluted versions of their exchanges/whereabouts, and questionable disposal of the funds raise serious concerns about Nehru’s intention for the legacy of INA and IIL at large.
Another sum that belonged to the Indian Independence League (IIL) was confiscated by the British in Thailand in 1949 after the surrender of the Japanese, and received by the Indian Embassy in Bangkok in 1950 after making an appeal. The amount was deposited in the Indian Overseas Bank Ltd at three per cent interest. The note attached to Nehru’s letter to WB CM mentions the amount in Thailand to be Rs 29638 while another note with the same contents was sent to another department which mentions the amount to be Rs 79638, pointing at a huge discrepency.
It is surprising that two years after Independence, the British were still cracking down on the Indians living abroad who had contributed to the freedom struggle. Did the Nehru government establish no communication with its people abroad? Did the Nehru government not settle the matter of its citizens abroad with the British or in British colonies post-independence? Couldn’t the Nehru government have directly contacted its citizens abroad and directed them to account for such financial matters which concerned India?
Where does the issue stand now?
When the Modi government declassified documents on Netaji and INA, his family member Chandra Bose reportedly demanded an independent inquiry into the whereabouts of INA funds. “Who else but the Congress under Nehru received a portion of this fund? There were two other black sheep in the INA who misused the money in their possession. I want an independent inquiry on this issue,” Bose said.
The above-mentioned details of the management of INA funds came after Nehru formed an INA Relief and Enquiry Committee in 1946, strangely, at the Congress House; a trust was formed under the same. Reportedly, the trust was set up to handle a sum of two lakh rupees out of the INA fund, and Nehru and Bidhan Chandra Roy were among the signatories of the trust deed. But the INA funds which were transferred to India were reportedly much more.
According to this report, the PMO records show that a VKC Ramalingam Nadar chase the issue with the RBI in Mumbai which did not respond. In 1987, claims were made that then PM Rajiv Gandhi received Rs 48 crore from Japan, Myanmar, and Singapore. A proposal was then made to set up a Netaji memorial in the capital.
A letter by former CPM MP Basudev Achariya to Rajiv Gandhi welcomed the return of the assets on 11th June 1987 which accumulated an interest estimated up to Rs 114 crore.
On 29 July 2016, a PIL was filed in the Calcutta HC asking for an inquiry commission to look into the disappearance of the INA treasure “received by the government after transfer of power and submit a report to the court.” After submitting the PIL, advocate Rudrajyoti Bhattacharya alleged that “there has been extensive embezzlement of INA funds at various stages.”
Aruna Chatterjee, a member of the INA Jhansi Brigade, had reportedly recalled an occasion in Rangoon where huge gold ornaments were heaped on one end of a scale while Netaji stood on the other end thereby corroborating the Indian Ambassador Chettur’s claims. “Where has this huge wealth gone? I understand that the INA used some of this wealth during the War while it was fighting the battle. But then a portion of it was transferred to India. The country wants to know who is the custodian of this wealth. The government needs to come clear,” she had said.
A deceptive approach seems to have been taken by Nehru himself owing to the INA funds lying abroad including the treasure Netaji was carrying with him. Every correspondence, as unclear as it appeared, gave a different account of the matter. No follow-up seems to have been done about the funds but a rush to move the money was apparent in the correspondences. The limited declassified documents, although studied in detail, reveal another very dubious and possibly corrupt side of Nehru who ensured that the exact whereabouts of INA funds were kept under wraps at all times.