Much Ado About Nothing
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his mysterious disappearance have always been on the top of political mysteries of the country. Therefore, the declassification of the 135 files related to Netaji, which are with the home ministry, and 64 files with the West Bengal government is a long standing demand. But until now, not a single political party in the country dared to bring them out in public domain. Therefore, when the fire brand lady of Indian politics and Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee took the bold decision and declared to declassify the 64 Netaji files, the gesture was welcomed by one and all and she became the talk of the town. But finally when Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal declassified 64 files containing 12,744 pages on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, it was found that there was nothing new related to Netaji’s disappearance and did little to resolve the essential mystery related to Netaji Subhash Chandra, although authors and researchers are working on it, reading and trying to find out something new.
While handing over these documents in digitised form to Netaji’s family members in the form of compact discs, Mamata Banerjee declared she believes after going through the files Netaji was alive even after 1945, passing the ball on to the centre to go deep into the 135 files and declassify them, which are with the Home Ministry at the Centre. Calling upon the Narendra Modi government at the Centre to follow suit and publicise secret documents, Banerjee said the declassified 64 files contained letters supporting the theory that Netaji was alive after 1945 and that his family was snooped upon.
“There are certain letters where many have said that Netaji was alive after 1945. Historians and researchers must study these files minutely. We must know the truth about the great, brave son of the soil. The truth should come out. If there is nothing to hide, why is the Centre not declassifying (the files)?” Mamata Banerjee said while addressing the media during the declassification of files. Mamata Banerjee, who examined several of the documents, said there were many intercepts of letters to the Bose family and they were under surveillance.”I have seen the documents, it is clear the family of Netaji was spied upon,” said Banerjee.
Recently during his popular Radio show ‘Mann Ki Baat’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he would be receiving family members of Subhash Chandra Bose next month but avoided any reference to the declassification of secret files with the Centre, which is being demanded by various sections after West Bengal government did so. “I got an opportunity to spend some time with them. That day it was decided that the extended family of Subhash Babu will visit the Prime Minister’s residence. Last week, I got confirmation that over 50 members of Subhash Babu are coming to visit the Prime Minister’s residence,” Modi said. Describing it as a momentous occasion for him, Modi said the family members of Netaji, perhaps for the first time, would be together visiting the Prime Minister’s residence.
The basis of Mamata Banerjee’s claim that Netaji was alive even after 1945 may be from file No. 22, which sheds light on intelligence gathered by the Bengal government (office of the deputy commissioner of police) on INA leaders, including Deb Nath Das. An extract, dated August 9, 1948, says: “Deb Nath Das, an ex-INA leader, who is actively engaged in anti-Congress propaganda, is preaching in political and party circles that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose is alive and is somewhere in Manchuria, China at present.” “To rouse the curiosity and even belief of the people, he (Das) says that Netaji told him before the plane-crash that the possibility of a third world war would emerge in the wake of the Second World War.” On August 22, 1945, Tokyo Radio announced the “death” of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in an air crash in Formosa (now Taiwan) on August 18, 1945, en route to Japan.
Apart from this it is also existed in public rumour like snooping of Bose family was done from time to time by British government and even after Independence it was continued by the government of Jawaharlal Nehru. To add more spice to the mystery, now come reports that 12 files about Netaji’s activities were not declassified and some pages with crucial information are missing in the files that were declassified.
No wonder, the declassification of 64 Netaji files in Bengal is being dubbed a pre-election gambit by Mamata Banerjee, as Assembly election in West Bengal are due next year and Netaji has always been a public sentiment. “She wants to use the sentiments revolving around Netaji for her own political benefits before next year’s Assembly polls,” says state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury.
Political parties hope those 70 years after his disappearance, Subhash Chandra Bose can be a vote-getter in Bengal. Almost bigger than the actual mystery of what happened to Subhash Bose is the mystery of this enduring appeal. “She (Banerjee) has been making such a hue and cry over the issue but I cannot fathom what new discovery she had made. The contents of the (declassified) files are not of any great importance. There is nothing in these files. Their declassification does not make any difference,” said the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) state secretary and leader of opposition in West Bengal Surjya Kanta Mishra said.
Amidst these entire political gambits, the real issue that is the disappearance of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose seems unlikely to die soon. One key source dealing at length with the Subhash Bose disappearance is a well-documented book by his grandnephew and scholar Sugata Bose, who is also a Trinamool Congress MP.
In a chapter of the book, titled His Majesty’s Opponent, Mr. Bose deals at length with accounts of the events of 1945 and afterwards and comes to the considered view that Netaji did die in hospital in Taiwan after the plane crash. While he sees accounts that Netaji lived long after the crash as either rumours or wilful fabrications. Sugata Bose makes it clear that Netaji’s close Indian National Army confidant Habibur Rahman—who accompanied Bose on the flight and survived the crash—broke the sad news to other INA colleagues.
Two inquiries the British instituted pre-Independence corroborated this, Bose adds. The first, in 1945 itself, quizzed the chief medical officer at the Taipei hospital and Japanese military officers. The British instituted the second inquiry in 1946. Both concluded that Netaji had died in the crash, Bose’s book recalls.
On the other hand Purabi Roy, who has researched Bose’s disappearance, holds a view very different from Sugata Bose. According to her, “In 1952, some CPI leaders like SA Dange met Stalin and discussed about Netaji. Dange’s daughter had recorded the conversation. This revealed that Netaji was alive at that time.” She added that even Gandhiji doubted that Netaji had died in the air crash.
Interestingly, a statement by Mahatma Gandhi in early 1946 that he felt Bose hadn’t died was read both by the government and people as hidden information he had. Gandhi clarified in the Harijan months later that strong evidence suggested Netaji was no more. The Jawaharlal Nehru government instituted an inquiry, headed by INA veteran Shah Nawaz Khan and having Bose’s eldest surviving brother as a member. This three-member inquiry committee quizzed Habibur Rahman, four Japanese survivors, doctors who had attended to Bose and even the Japanese interpreter who had met Bose in hospital and several times before. The committee concluded that Netaji had indeed died but his brother wrote a dissenting note as a member.
While an enquiry under the Indira government in 1970 also concluded the same, the Mukherjee Commission set up by Atal Bihari Vajpayee said the plane crash never took place, as Taiwan had no records pertaining to it. Sugata Bose disagrees, arguing that since Taiwan was under Japanese military occupation in 1945, the latter Chiang Kai-shek administration could not be expected to have the records.
The politics surrounding Netaji was always there, and it seems, it will remain forever. The biggest reality of this mystery is that Netaji remained such a figure in the history of the nation, even after his disappearance, the British ruler always feared he may resurface anytime, and now it seems the same fear is giving restless nights to the rulers of the country.
By Joydeep Dasgupta from Kolkata