We learn about the past largely from the historians and researchers working on the information available in public domain – in archives, libraries or in private collections. There isn’t much historians can do other than speculate on occasions where they know something is there but can’t reach it. And this mystery is a clear case of history being held hostage to state secrecy. Did Netaji really die in the plane crash? – This is one such question which has been omnipresent in the minds of the Indian diaspora since his “death”.
Referred to as India’s Best Kept Secret by top civil servants of the country, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s disappearance and his final fate still remains a mystery and is surrounded by various controversies even 72 years after the plane crash which was reported to have killed him, took place. So, there has got to be a little more than rumours and speculations for the people to keep the issue alive so many decades after Bose’s political clout dissipated even from his home state Bengal.
In 1956 and again in 1970, the governments of Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi were pressurized into launching probes to resolve the issue. The inquiries of INA veteran Shah Nawaz Khan and well-known judge G D Khosla backed the crash theory and yet there was no end to what some people believed. They claimed that the official inquests were fixed.
In 1999, a court order reopened the case. The inquiry of M K Mukherjee, a former Supreme Court judge proved to be the game changer. The judge rapped the Government for not being sincere and evidenced that the story of Bose’s death in Taiwan was actually a Japanese smokescreen to obfuscate the trail of his escape towards Soviet Russia. The then Congress Government, of course, dismissed it.
In the last decade or so, much information has come on record, making it crystal clear that whatever happened to Netaji can be boiled down to mainly three theories: Netaji either died in Taiwan in 1945; in Soviet Russia in the 1950s or in Faizabad in 1985 where he lived as Gumnaami Baba.
During the 2014 Prime Ministerial election campaign, one of the major promises of Narendra Modi, when he came to West Bengal, was to declassify all the Netaji related documents under the possession of the Central Government and finally reveal the complete truth about the fate of Netaji, to the public. However, after the NDA Government came to power, a sort of quasi-declassification was done with regard to the PMO files but some excuse or the other was always given when asked to declassify the Intelligence Bureau files which, according to most of the researchers and family members of Bose, actually contain the most important information.
Recently, an RTI had been filed by Sayak Sen, an activist, regarding this matter. He had asked the following four questions in his application:
- What is the stand of Government of India on the fate of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose after the declassification of Netaji files?
- What is the stand of Government of India on the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Enquiry? If the Government rejects it then what are the reasons for the rejection?
- What is the view of Government of India on the theory that a person called Bhagwanji or Gumnaami Baba living in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, could have been Netaji?
- How many files have been declassified yet from each ministry and how many files are pending?
In answer to the first three questions, the Government has said,” As per Section 2(f) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, only information which is available in material form can be accessed. Matters of opinion, does not constitute information that can be accessed under the Act. “
However, the strangeness of the matter lies in the fact that the second question is whether the GOI accepts or rejects the Mukherjee Commission Report. No opinion has been asked for, here. Also, the term ‘each ministry’ is mentioned in the third question in spite of which the GOI has answered only with regard to the Ministry of Culture. So are they trying to hide some information available in the Home Ministry and Ministry of External Affairs?
Clement Attlee, during his visit to Calcutta, had told journalist Varun De that it was only due to Subhas Chandra Bose that the British had to leave India. However, here the question is not just about the fate of a national leader who was responsible for freeing India from the clutches of the British.
The question today is that if everything was so normal then why has the Government hesitated and is still hesitating to declassify documents about a freedom fighter for so many decades? If it is the Indian National Congress who was at fault, then why is the present NDA Government also keeping quite about this matter in spite of Narendra Modi initially assuring that no riots will take place if the truth comes out, rubbishing what the INC had used as an excuse for so long?