The real fact
It's amazing how Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose continues to be in news 60 years after his disputed death. In a way, this has been in defiance of successive Indian governments who would rather the people sidelined him as they did. A recent BBC online poll put named Bose the third greatest-ever leader in South Asia after Jinnha and Gandhi. Strikingly, as per the same poll, the stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and the inimitable Atal Bihari Vajpayee don't even blip on the radar anymore.
The coming months will see Subhas making a comeback of a sort. India's longest running political controversy is heading towards its grand finale. For five years the media and the lawmakers in India have adopted a touch and go sort of approach towards the inquiry of Justice MK Mukherjee into the "death" of Subhas Bose. Not any longer. The Commission, formed in 1999 following a Court order, is gearing up to present its report by November. The Government will have to present it in Parliament along with an action taken report. All those of you who have interest in either politics, or history, or intrigue, or mystery better watch out: It doesn't get any bigger than this.
Psst ...Top Secret!
Let this impression be trashed at the outset that the Netaji mystery belongs to a different era. No doubt it started in 1945; but it has been simmering till date. The controversy is a bombshell and that's what the official records hint at. Netaji is supposed to have died at the end of second world war, and yet the Indian Government continues to sit on files about him. And they are wary of approaching the British and Russian Governments to release the papers they are keeping to themselves.
But why so much of precaution over some details about a man who ceased to be a problem to his adversaries in and outside India decades back? This is for you Gen-X dudes: Some of the classified Netaji files maintained by the Government of India are of mid-1990s vintage! That is, post-Rajiv Gandhi period. Perish the idea ... "Oh, such an old story, what is the fuss now!" The Government of India wouldn't agree. They think there is something about Netaji that can spell big time trouble even now. That's why they refused to hand over several Top Secret files to the Mukherjee Commission. Why would they be doing so? Well, in the case of two Narasimha Rao period files, they reasoned that the "disclosure of the nature and contents of these documents would ... hurt the sentiments of the people at large and may evoke wide-spread reactions .... Diplomatic relations with friendly countries may also be adversely affected if the said documents are disclosed."
Should not we demand to know what these documents have to say? How on earth can some bits about a dead man affect India's relations with other countries? Should not we ask our Government to state facts? Don't we have a right to know what happened to the man who liberated us?
It's cynicism exemplified when people say, "How long can we go on inquiring?" If Americans, for instance, were to be besotted with same defeatist thinking, they would not have become the great power they are today. Indeed they don't give up. How can one leave out in cold those who fought for one's country? Only last year the US Government asked the Indian Government to help them trace out their missing WWII airmen. Netaji went missing while waging war for freedom for us and we don't want to know what happened to him! What is it if not brazen ungratefulness?
Those who dismissively say that "there have been commissions after commissions" have no idea what sort of frauds were played on the nation by the previous "commissions". In 1956, Shah Nawaz Khan, a Congress MP and a secretary to then Railway Minister, headed a committee -- a puppet on a string, actually. There are reasons to believe that he did what he was told by the Nehru government. Shah Nawaz was made a minister after this "command performance". GD Khosla, who headed a commission in early 1970s, was a friend of Nehru's to start with. He wrote the biography of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi even as he inquired into Netaji's disappearance. Can you imagine such things happening now? Both these panels declared that Netaji had died in a plane crash in Taiwan. Never mind that they did not bother to know what the Taiwan Government thought, much as people wanted them to.
"But the issue is dead!" Ok, for argument's sake, if that be the case, it is going to COME ALIVE. A Commission of Inquiry headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court of India is going to hand over a report to Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who, at the moment, doesn't seem to be at ease with the direction the Commission is heading to. The report will have to be discussed by the Union Cabinet before being presented in Parliament for a free for all debate. It is inevitable that Netaji mystery will become a hot topic.
Funny how people jump to conclusions. "My grandfather was in the INA and he said Netaji died and therefore I believe so." This is how some give their verdict on the issue the nation is debating for 6 decades. If only it were that easy. There were over 50,000 people aligned with the Provisional Government of Free India and only a handful knew what happened to Netaji in his last known days. The rest were in as much dark as the Indians back home. They all heard stories ... Netaji died or Netaji escaped. The truth, or inkling of it, came out after interrogations and inquiries, whose reports are not wholly in public domain.
On August 25, 1945 the Indian newspapers broke the news that Netaji had died in a freak plane crash in Taipei (then Taihoku) on August 18th. He had been flying to Tokyo to work out the INA's surrender when this happened. The British would believe none of it. Viceroy Archibald Wavell noted in his diary on 23 August that "I wonder if the Japanese announcement of Subhas Chandra Bose's death in a air-crash is true. I suspect it very much, it is just what should be given out if he meant to go underground.…" They dispatched their crack intelligence teams to South East Asia. The findings were bewildering. Netaji was not heading to Tokyo. Months before the world war staggered to a halt, he'd begun planning a new chapter of his war on colonialism. He saw the Cold War coming and reached out to the USSR. The British intelligence got clear information that Subhas was going to Russia at the time of his death. The Japanese had given out a false story about his destination. The survivors of the crash were rounded up and records were captured. The pictured that emerged was of deceit. Eyewitnesses were found to be lying and records appeared as if they had been planted.
Americans chipped in with help. In fact it were they who had the best knowledge. They reached Taiwan in September 1945 and guess what they found. " ... there is no direct evidence that Subhas Chandra Bose was killed in a airplane crash … despite the public statements of the Japanese to that effect." This, stated the State Department, ten months after Netaji's "death". What really happened? "The D.I.B. during his recent visit to London mentioned the receipt ... of information to the effect that Subhas Bose was alive in Russia." This is from a May 1946 report and D.I.B. means, Director of Intelligence Bureau Sir Norman Smith.
The Government of free India knew about the Soviet connection to the Netaji mystery. But all they did was to dilly-dally and state that no inquiry was required. It took ten years of pressure before Prime Minister Nehru agreed to inquire into the matter. This must be hammered: The Government never wanted to probe Netaji's fate. From Shah Nawaz to Justice Manoj Mukherjee, each time they were forced to. Isn't it revolting?
Thank God for Mukherjee Commission! Or shall we thank Mikhail Gorbachev? The fall of the USSR brought the Netaji issue out. In mid-1990s the Russians themselves began saying that Subhas was with them after his death. The matter reached India and the press did rake it up. But Narasimha Rao, with Pranab Mukherjee in tow, would not say a thing. A patriotic fellow moved to Calcutta High Court and the court found the matter to be wide open for inquiry. The Government was chided and told to form a Commission of Inquiry to find out where and how Netaji had died. Mercifully, at the time the verdict came, the NDA was in power.
The inquiry of the Mukherjee Commission in past five years has been path breaking. They have found out, among other things, that the Government of India, at the PMO level, indulged in systematic, unlawful destruction of evidence concerning the Netaji death case. The Government did not want any inquiry in Taiwan, which is precisely what Justice Mukherjee did. The result: the ROC Government ruled out the very occurrence of the crash we had been told over the decades had killed Netaji.
Indian Government also did not want any inquiry in Russia; but that is happening now. Hurrah! After much pulls and pressures, the Mukherjee Commission will visit Russia from September 20 onwards. However, that's not a good enough development. The Government's last communication to the Commission suggests that they won't do anything to help the Commission access security and intelligence related classified papers in Russia, said to be containing definite information about Netaji's "post-death" life. Time has come for us, the people of India, to demand from our Government something that they should have done decades back on their own: For God's sake, request the Head of the Russian Government to state facts. This will be our redemption. The people of India must know what happened to their liberator.