Netaji files: India’s worst-kept secret
The decision by the Bengal government to declassify 64 secret files on ‘Netaji’ Subhas Chandra Bose – India’s most mystifying freedom fighter — has truly set the cat among the pigeon. On September 18, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee placed in public domain, for the first time, the secret dossiers on Netaji, compiled by the state unit of Intelligence Bureau (IB), at the behest of the government of India. These secret documents clearly reveal that members of the Bose family in Kolkata were kept under surveillance from 1948 to 1968 — decades after the plane crash at Taihoku, Japan, on August 18, 1945, reportedly killed Netaji.
Reacting to the latest revelation, Sugata Bose – a Netaji kin and son of Dr Sisir Kumar Bose, who drove Netaji as he dodged British sleuths during the ‘great escape’ from house-arrest in Kolkata in 1945 – told Gulf News from New Delhi: “The most disgraceful aspect of such surveillance is that private letters exchanged between my father and Netaji’s wife Emile Schenkl were opened, read and copied. This shows Indian democracy in the first two decades after independence in poor light.”
Sugata, a professor of History at Harvard University and a member of Lok Sabha (Lower House of parliament) from Jadavpur in West Bengal, further said: “I have been demanding for several years now that all old files and data that the government has in its possession, that are more than 25 or 30 years old, should be opened up and made available to scholars and the public.
With Mamata’s move to declassify the Netaji files, pressure has mounted on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make public a much bigger gamut of some 132 files that are in the possession of the Union Government. Modi, in fact, is due to meet members of the Bose family at his residence next month to discuss the issue of declassification of files that have hitherto been kept away from the public for the ostensible reason that their disclosure may jeopardise India’s relations with certain countries.
Even without going into the merits of such an excuse, one wonders that at a point in time when the world’s largest democracy and the second-most populous nation is earning rave reviews for launching a probe to unravel the mysteries on Mars, there is one mystery that modern India continues to get warped in: The truth behind the ‘death’ or ‘disappearance’ – call it what you will – of Netaji. His clarion call of “Give me blood and I will give you freedom”, seeking an armed conflict to end British rule in India, found a ready-resonance not only within undivided India, but also caught the attention of a globe torn between the angst of an Adolf Hitler and the Allied forces’ resolve to counter his delusional worldview.
In 1945, Bose escaped from his residence in Calcutta (Kolkata) and slipped out of India on his way to Germany, via Afghanistan and Soviet Russia. After his parley with Hitler, Bose realised that Germany was keen on using India’s man-power — as represented by the Bose-led Indian National Army, a force comprising some 3,000 soldiers of Indian origin based primarily in south-east Asia – to further Nazi ambitions, with no sincere intention of helping realise Bose’s dream of a free India. With his hopes dashed, Bose made a last-ditch attempt to win over the Japanese authorities and secretly left Germany in a submarine for Japan.
Recorded history says that while in Japan, Netaji took a flight in Taihoku on a Mitsubishi Ki-21 heavy bomber in the afternoon of August 18, 1945. But minutes after the plane took off, it had an engine failure and it crashed in Formosa (present-day Taiwan), with Netaji suffering severe burn injuries. He died later that night in hospital. Days later, his ashes were handed over to the priest at the Buddhist Renkoji Temple in the Japanese capital.
But the various conspiracy theories surrounding Bose’s ‘death’ have far outshined whatever empirical data and circumstantial evidence there have ever been to corroborate the plane crash theory. In fact, many believe the Taihoku crash was a decoy to help him escape from Japan, with the knowledge of the Taiwanese and Japanese governments.
Yet, in the 67 years since India’s independence, subsequent Congress-led governments at the Centre have made repeated attempts to lend credence to the Taihoku air crash theory. According to one school of thought, Jawaharlal Nehru – wary of the likely impact on public life and opinion if Netaji ever returned to India — had reportedly commissioned the IB to plant dummies of Netaji lookalikes all across the country to dilute any notion of a perceived Netaji ‘homecoming’.
It is believed that in mid-1990, a Cabinet minister from New Delhi had visited Netaji’s widow Emile Schenkl at a destination in Europe, seeking her signature on a testament that would proclaim the ashes kept at Renkoji Temple as Netaji’s. Schenkl reportedly refused to budge.
Starting with India’s first prime minister Nehru in 1947 and until the late 1960s, subsequent Congress governments at the Centre produced several secret files on Netaji. It is this shroud of secrecy that has deepened suspicion in many quarters over the Indian government’s role in an alleged cover-up. Modi too has toed the Congress line, hitherto refusing to declassify the files.
In 1999, the Central Government constituted the single-member Justice Manoj Mukherjee Commission to probe the truth behind Bose’s ‘death’. The Mukherjee Commission made a startling observation that the Nehru government came to know in 1956 that Netaji was still alive. Yet, it did not bring the truth into public domain.
Prior to that, the Shah Nawaz Committee could throw little light on the issue, while the Khosla Commission came up with an alarming observation that most of the government files and documents pertaining to Bose had either been destroyed or were missing. The last inquiry was ordered by Calcutta High Court in 1998, but couldn’t make much headway.
‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ they say. Despite being one of India’s most celebrated freedom fighters, Bose will perhaps never have a memorial and his ‘death’ anniversary will probably not be observed in the near future.