Only the politically naive or the incorrigible romantic nationalist would have expected anything dramatic to emerge from the 64 #NetajiFiles ‘declassified’ by the West Bengal government on Friday (18th). It is doubtful if even the files stored in the vaults of the Prime Minister’s Office will finally seal the mystery of Netaji’s (by now certain) death. As, Anuj Dhar, the intrepid historian who relentlessly researched the Netaji story (and, arguably, the catalyst behind the clamour for declassification) says – the real truth probably lies in the records of IB and RAW, since the documents in the PMO may have been doctored to suit a particular (Nehruvian, he suggests) line of narrative.
The story has thankfully moved on from ‘Is Netaji still alive?’ to ‘Did Netaji actually die in the air-crash?’ Fifty years ago the excitement was around unconfirmed reports of ‘Netaji sightings’ (much like the illusory Himalayan Yeti) – be it a photograph at Nehru’s funeral or in an Ashram in Uttar Pradesh. The ‘believers’ (the term ‘Bhakt’ hadn’t entered the popular political lexicon then) lived in the hope of Netaji returning from self-imposed exile to save the country from the brink of collapse in the hands of the Nehru-Gandhi parivar (since then, of course, we have had the advent of Narendra Modi and the ‘Netaji’ title itself has been appropriated by a Wrestler from UP). To that extent – the debate has subsided to a more rationale plane – albeit still emotionally and politically polarised.
What is at stake is not Netaji’s contribution to India’s Independence - which has over the years been, by and large, comprehensively chronicled – but whether truth about his disappearance and eventual death has been tampered with – at the instance and to the advantage of the political lineage – that substantially took over the reins of India post 1947.
What’s clear so far is, there was surveillance on all members of Netaji’s family who showed the slightest political inclination – his elder brother Sarat, nephews Amiya and Sisir till as late as early 70s. It is pertinent to note – other than the Nehrus – the Bose’ were one of the few significant political families of pre-independence India. While Nehru’s other political challengers were neutralised either by design, default or (natural) death – here was a family with educated and charismatic members who could potentially rise to national prominence.
The Russian angle – its veracity or lack of it notwithstanding – could be a ‘’red-herring’’ as well - as some researchers believe. If indeed the Nehru government had confirmation of Netaji dying in Soviet custody – it might have suited its interest to ‘leak’ the news and put paid to the myriad theories of his disappearance - even at the cost of scrapping the Taipei Air-crash story.
What would have been of greater concern to the then ruling establishment – perhaps, more than Netaji’s own existence – is whether he left behind links with foreign powers - who could be using his family members to mount an alternative political movement – within or outside the Congress. Though in the 50s or 60s it would have been inconceivable for Netaji’s German wife or daughter to come to India and lay claim to his political legacy (like some other foreigner spouses and their mixed off-springs in later years) – it may not have been so farfetched for some of his other family members to do so, especially Sisir Bose – who many considered to be the political heir of Subhas Bose (having collaborated in his escape from India). Coupled with this is the wide-spread speculation of stashes of INA Funds and other treasures (like gold and jewellery received as donations) left behind in Japan or elsewhere to which the family may have access.
In the coming days - till after the 50 members of the Bose family meet the Prime Minister - we shall see and hear a lot of sound and fury in a war of spin masters. We already find ‘sarkari’ historians nurtured by the previous regime at work and calculated plants appearing about Netaji’s meeting with Hitler, his taking part in Mao’s revolution or helping in other Communist uprisings in South-Asia and plans to establish ‘ruthless dictatorship’ in India – like Tito or Mao. Interestingly, if any of these tales turn out to be true then it would make Netaji an even larger cult figure.
Therefore, chances are, even if all the files are opened to the public – the disclosures will still be like the classic ‘Bikini Act’ – revealing only what is suggestive but hiding the vital.
But, the enigma of Subhas Bose will be etched in the memory of Indians (not just Bengalis) for a long time – as the testosterone hero of the National Independence – a foil to the effete nationalism of Nehru.
Article first published in +DailyO India Today