Netaji and mystery of the secret files – Mohan K. Tikku

Netaji files at Writers Building Kolkata

Mohan K. Tikku“I used to know a New Delhi-based Russian correspondent quite well. He would sometimes drop in at my office for a chat. One day I asked him if he could check some details with his embassy on my behalf. I briefed him about who Netaji was and the story of his having spent his last days in a jail in Russia. He promised to help. He turned up a few days later wearing a glum face. He said that he had been advised by his embassy that it was in nobody’s interest to ask these questions. He had been told that seeking answers to these questions would do no good to anybody.” – Mohan K. Tikku

Mamata Banerjee with the Netaji files in KolkataNow that Mamata Banerjee has served the appetiser, everybody is hungering after the big meal. The 64 Netaji files running into 12,744 pages that the West Bengal CM declassified on September 18 seem to indicate that Netaji had survived the air crash. The rest is mostly marginal, just a few missing sentences in the papers that deepen the mystery without revealing much.

The real story though, one assumes, rests in the files with the Centre. All one can do at the moment is hope that the West Bengal disclosures will act as the thin edge of the wedge and help raise questions that would make it imperative for the Centre to reveal more. Apparently, it is not an easy decision to make for whoever is in power at the Centre. The BJP, which used to be so vociferous on the demand to release the Netaji files while in the Opposition, was not very forthcoming when it came to power under Vajpayee. Whether Prime Minister Modi will act remains to be seen.

The version that has been officially peddled so far is that Netaji died in an air crash at the Taipei airport, and his ashes are lying at the Renkoji temple in Japan. But there are at least two other versions. One, that he was alive and returned to India incognito and spent the rest of his days as a sadhu in UP. The other theory is that he ended up in Stalinist Russia, was subjected to torture and died in custody.

Anita Bose PfaffThough there have been some differences of opinion among sections of the Bose clan, there is near unanimity on one point: Everybody wants closure. Netaji’s daughter Anita Pfaff told me during an interview way back in the Nineties, while she was here in connection with Netaji’s birth centenary celebrations, that she was realist enough to realise that her father would no longer be alive. But she wanted to know the circumstances in which he spent his last days. She shudders to think, she said, if her father was really tortured in a jail in Siberia.

During the 1990s, I was following the progress of the Mukherjee Commission, appointed to take a fresh look at the subject. I also used to be in touch with Professor Purabi Roy of Jadavpur University who was helping the commission in getting at the truth. The Mukherjee Commission report—like the West Bengal disclosures now—only hinted at possibilities, letting the mysteries persist.

At one point during those years, I happened to meet the then minister of state of external affairs at a party. During the conversation I broached the subject of the Netaji files. He sounded very cooperative, and promised to let me see the papers. It was agreed that I shall call upon the minister in his office on Monday morning. I turned up at the appointed hour. The minister asked for the officer dealing with the subject. He was told the officer was on tour and would be back in two or three days. Accordingly, the minister asked me to come back in a few days time.

When I went again a few days later, the minister called for the concerned person, a joint secretary-level officer. The officer spent about 20 minutes with the minister while I waited in the PA’s room. I was ushered in as soon as the officer had finished. The minister this time sang a different tune. He said there were no Netaji files, and there was not much in the ones there.

Obviously, he had been advised against letting me access Netaji’s files. I tried a different route some time later. I used to know a New Delhi-based Russian correspondent quite well. He would sometimes drop in at my office for a chat. One day I asked him if he could check some details with his embassy on my behalf. I briefed him about who Netaji was and the story of his having spent his last days in a jail in Russia. He promised to help. He turned up a few days later wearing a glum face. He said that he had been advised by his embassy that it was in nobody’s interest to ask these questions. He had been told that seeking answers to these questions would do no good to anybody.

Jawaharlal Nehru & Nikita Khrushchev Considering that the Russians had been quite open about the KGB papers after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was a bit surprising. The Russians, in fact, had sold many KGB papers to the Hoover Foundation at Stanford University as they were hard up for foreign exchange after the collapse of the USSR. I, personally, had seen some of the papers at the Hoover Foundation. The ones that I had accessed—for example—had indicated that the Soviets were funding the CPI, and that both Stalin and Mao knew about it.

If even the Russians were being so secretive about the subject, it suggests that the facts may be far more critical than we imagine them to be. And the story, that the files had been kept under wraps just to protect Nehru’s role in the episode, may be far from the truth. If that be the case, it is doubtful that the Centre would be any forthcoming than before. – Deccan Chronicle, 24 September 2015

» Mohan K. Tikku is a journalist and futurist based in New Delhi. He has reported from areas of conflict such as Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and the first Gulf war, and has authored a book on Sri Lanka. 

Netaji Files Kolkata

Netaji files in Kolkata

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4 Responses

  1. Anita Bose Pfaff

    Netaji’s daughter urges Modi to declassify files – PTI – The Hindu – 27 September 2015

    Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s daughter has appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declassify files relating to the leader that are with the Centre so that the mystery surrounding his disappearance over 70 years ago is unravelled.

    On the recent release of 64 secret files on Netaji by the West Bengal government, 72-year-old Anita Bose Pfaff said she was yet to receive copies of the documents. “I am, therefore, not aware of their content, especially not of any information about his death.”

    She also said, “I would appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declassify the files that are with the Centre.”

    “As a scholar, I certainly believe that all the old files which have been kept closed beyond thirty years should be declassified. As a daughter, I certainly also demand that those on my father be declassified,” Ms. Anita said in an email interview with PTI, joining the growing chorus for release of the Netaji files held by central government departments.

    Members of the Bose family, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and many others have been demanding declassification of the Netaji files by the Centre.

    Asked whether she would appeal to the British, Russian and Japan governments to declassify the files they have on Netaji, Ms. Anita said, “It would be helpful, if the Indian government appealed to those other governments to make files available for study. Some countries have a ‘right to information’ However, as long as the Indian government has not declassified their files, they are in a poor position to ask others.”

    Ms. Anita, a noted economist based in Germany, also demanded that DNA test of the ashes — believed to be that of Netaji — kept at Japan’s Renkoji temple be carried out in order to settle the mystery surrounding his death in an air crash.

    Noting that she believed her father died in the air crash in Taihoku airport in Taiwan in August in 1945 “until proved otherwise”, she said the ashes hold key to unravelling the mystery.

    “I certainly would like the ‘mystery’ settled. An agreement between Indian and Japanese governments to a DNA-test of the remains at Renkoji temple would certainly be helpful,” she said.

    “Moreover I wish the Indian public would concern themselves more with his life and his achievements from which there is much to be learned than with his death!” she said.

    She alleged that successive Congress governments had neglected the contributions made by Bose and his Indian National Army (INA).

    “The Congress governments have by and large neglected Netaji and INA’s contributions. The (Mukherjee) Commission did get a lot of time, some resources, though seems to have gotten little support,” Ms. Anita said.

  2. Mr. Tikku’s article supports the suspicion that Netaji Bose had been ill-treated (to put it mildly) in Soviet Union and probably died there in a prison. The Japanese government which had no use for him after the war, might have played a nasty role in Netaji’s capture by the Russians. That probably explains reluctance of governments of both these countries even to look into the matter.

    If the UP sadhu was indeed Netaji, as has been strongly suggested, it throws up an even bigger mystery than his disappearance: why should Netaji, a fearless fighter all his life, live incognito in his own country so long after independence? He had nothing to lose and everything to gain by coming out. Even if he had developed spiritual inclinations like Aurobindo Ghosh, he could make himself public.

    As regards Mr. Modi’s planned meeting with Bose family and others, we can only hope that the scenario painted by the Admin proves to be wrong [see comment below], but I am afraid that it may turn out to be true. Which is really tragic. The mystery, however enchanting, is now only of academic and emotional interest, it cannot affect anyone’s fortunes either way. All the dramatis personnae have departed from the scene, the international scene has changed beyond recognition and the countries involved are no longer what they were then. As to protecting Nehru’s reputation (or what is left of it), that should be the last priority of a government headed by Narendra Modi. And yet….

  3. Naredra Modi with Chandra and Usha Bose

    Prime Minister Modi has invited the 50-member Bose clan to his Lutyens redoubt in October. Included in the invitation are various authors, research scholars and government secretaries.

    Our guess is that he will ply them with saffron-flavoured shrikhand, show them half a dozen files that have a potentially scandalous content, and ask them to support him in refusing to release the files to the public.

    A few Bose uncles will protest. But the Prime Minister cannot be refused when he makes a personal request.

    All the signs are there that the Modi Sarkar has no intention of releasing the Netaji files to the public. It may release a few to appease the Bose family. But it will not release the files concerning Nehru’s activities (to protect his public image) or the files concerning the theft of gold and cash in Netaji’s treasure chest.

    Unfortunately for the Indian public, when it comes to perceived state secrets—real or imagined—this government is no different from the last one or the one before that.

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