On 23 January 2016 when the first of ‘Netaji files’ are finally declassified and released for public scrutiny, a part of Indian history will die. The good news is that a part of Indian history will also be reborn, this time, hopefully, with the truth.
For too long this nation has blindly lapped up the historical narrative of India’s independence that has been dictated by politicians of a single party, rather than by historians and scholars based on comprehensive research of known facts, and the biggest victim of this state sponsored mirage of historical fact has been Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
Netaji is dead, that’s a fact, but what we do not know is how he died. So why should this nation wake up after 68 years of independence so eager to go through the declassified files? After all, the nation did not take to the streets to force previous governments to declassify the files nor did they sit on railway tracks or organise candle-lit night vigils, so why is it so important to know what happened to Netaji?
It’s because who we are today is a result of the history that we came from and therefore, we need to know whether the history told to us for 68 long years was the truth. If not, why were we lied to, and on whose calling? Who benefitted the most by hiding the truth in locked up files and keeping it away from the nation under the guise of threat to ‘national’ security?
The genesis of the rift between Subhash Bose and Gandhi-Nehru combine
To find some answers we need to go back in history to the time between 1927 and 1945. This was a period that saw Subhash Chandra Bose rise as an impressionable leader who had the charisma and leadership quality to motivate the masses. He was always outspoken with a mind of his own and was strongly driven by the need for India to find its voice and freedom.
Joining the Congress party, he worked under Chittaranjan Das who was his political mentor. By 1927, Subhash Bose became the General Secretary and was actively working alongside Jawaharlal Nehru. This is the phase when Mahatma Gandhi first began to show preference for mild and pliable Jawaharlal Nehru, who was more on the lines of his ‘pacifist’ thinking over the more assertive and vocal Subhash Bose. To party workers, Bose was more popular on intellect, charisma and leadership qualities.
In December 1928, Bose organised the Indian National Congress in Calcutta but will be remembered for turning up in military uniform dressed as the General Officer Commanding of the Congress Volunteer Corp. Mahatma Gandhi did not take kindly to this military expression which he felt was digressing from his path of pacifist opposition. But Bose’s popularity was growing within the party much to the dislike of both Mahatma Gandhi and his favourite protégé Jawaharlal.
Mahatma Gandhi takes sides
In 1938, despite Mahatma Gandhi’s opposition, Subhash Bose emerged as the popular party choice for president and he soon took over the party. While Bose wanted a more direct action to force the British to vacate India, the Gandhi-Nehru duo favoured a more pacifist line. By now Bose was getting more assertive much to Gandhi’s dislike. Gandhi tried to get Bose to take a path outside the party by forming his own group. While Bose favoured unity within the party, his position was increasingly becoming tenuous.
By now his relations with Jawaharlal was turning frosty. Both clearly didn’t agree on many issues. In the 1939 party elections for president, Bose was again in contention. Gandhi favoured Pattabhi Sitaramayya for president but in the hectic run up to the elections, it was Subhash Bose who once again proved to be the popular choice and was elected president for the second time. Tension continued between Bose and Gandhi who then forced him to resign.
This is one of two critical moments in Indian fight for independence where history could have been very different from what we know today. The other moment was when INA arrived on India’s doorstep in the North East. Mahatma Gandhi played a decisive role in Subhash’s ouster which forced Bose to follow his own path in pursuit of India’s freedom.
Subhash Bose reaches out for support
We know most of what happened thereafter. He travelled to Soviet Union seeking support for his cause only to be passed on to Hitler’s Germany. There too he got lukewarm response and his subsequent historic journey to Japan that was to culminate in his organizing the Indian National Army and leading the march towards India. INA reached Moirang in Manipur and Subhash Bose raised his tricolor for the first time on Indian soil.
With Japanese defeat and subsequent surrender, INA was forced to retreat along with the Japanese. But here is where, Subhash Bose comes out as a ‘never say die’ leader who never gave up the focus to free India as his only goal. He did not give up when the Congress turned its back on him in 1939, he did not give up when the Soviets let him down, same with the Germans and when INA was forced to withdraw and finally disintegrate, he chose to fight on for another day and moved to Manchuria in China hoping to once again seek Soviet support in post war scenario. This is where the fog of war begins.
Did he really die in an air crash?
The official version given to us was Subhash Bose died in an air crash. His body was cremated and his ashes supposedly kept in an urn in Renkoji Temple in Japan till date. That’s what the official line has been for 68 years. So if that was true, what was the need to keep Netaji files under the tightest security?
And what if he survived? Would Jawaharlal Nehru still have become the India’s first Prime Minister, especially when Subhash Bose’s stature continued to surpass his? Bose was far more popular of the two back in 1939, as he was in 1945. So, had he survived, he would have been the biggest threat to Nehru. So, did Nehru play a role in his disappearance?
West Bengal government takes the first step
From the first set of files released by the West Bengal government, it is obvious that Nehru was paranoid about his former rival returning post-independence, since he was fully aware that Bose could overshadow him and his political career, were he to ever return. The files show how Nehru, and subsequently Indira Gandhi, continued to keep his family members under surveillance long after the supposed death of Bose. What was the Nehru-Gandhi family so worried about?
What are in those files that all Indian governments have been so afraid to release? The official reason given has been that the contents will impact India’s relationship with several foreign countries. But the world has long changed. The Soviet Union doesn’t exist, Germany and Japan are no more the same nations and UK has moved on. So the argument about threat to foreign relations does not hold relevance any longer.
And finally, the truth to come out
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be credited for taking the bold decision to release the files and start the process on 23 January 2016. BJP leader and former law minister Subramanium Swamy has had the opportunity to look into the files and has hinted that the content will expose Nehru’s involvement and connivance with the British and the Soviets in keeping Bose out of India.
For 68 long years, we have been taught history woven around a patriotic narrative solely centered around the Nehru legacy, with all other stalwarts painted lesser heroes, and this continued to be carried forward by the Congress. The declassification of Netaji files is going to bust this myth once and for all. And it is now time for history to be re-written like it happened. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose must reclaim his role as India’s most inspirational hero in the struggle for independence.
PMO hands over first set of Netaji files
Of the 58 secret files pertaining to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s death, the first batch comprising 33 files has been handed over by the PMO to the National Archives for ‘further processing, preservation and digitization’. This is the first step towards the process of de-classification of the files that is to begin from 23 January 2016, which also happens to be Netaji’s birthday.
On 23 January, 2016, the birth anniversary of legendary freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, India will witness the declassification of some of the secret files on him. The current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi would be making files related to the life of Bose public at an event attended by the freedom fighter’s family members and some distinguished leaders.