If Narendra Modi has hijacked the myth and magic of Netaji from under her very nose then Mamata Banerjee has no one else to blame but herself. If the West Bengal chief minister hadn’t gone and declassified 60-odd files on Subhash Chandra Bose lying with the state government in Kolkata last September, the Centre may not have found the ground so well prepared for mounting its own operation to appropriate Bengal’s hero as part of the BJP’s pantheon of new gods.
That is how coups are made and unmade. When Mamata Banerjee announced her declassification last September, it was seen as a masterstroke that would, by tickling the fragile Bengali ego, earn her suitable political dividend in a pre-election year. Now she is hoist with her own petard with the Modi government upping the ante, releasing, on the dear departed leader’s 119th birthday no less, 100 “secret” files against her 62 (her entire cache), promising to release 25 more every month for the whole of this year, and turning the whole business into a grand spectacle with the Prime Minister pressing a button to release the digitised files to public scrutiny and octogenarian Bose family members sobbing openly in front of TV cameras overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment.
For the various Boses and their spouses milling around in the National Archives in Delhi’s cold it was truly a momentous occasion. These Boses had refused to believe the official version of their illustrious relative dying in a plane crash on 18 August, 1945 at Taihoku (now Taipei) in Formosa (now Taiwan), something that was endorsed by two subsequent commissions of enquiry, the first set up by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the second by his daughter Indira Gandhi though disputed by the third instituted by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government and which submitted its report in 2005. They were also convinced the proof of his death or disappearance during the war was to be found in the government of India’s secret files. Hence their undying gratitude to Prime Minister Modi for making them available to one and all.
It is hugely unlikely of course that they will get what they seek from these files. One afternoon is not enough for anyone, however passionately committed to seeking the truth, to even skim through 100 files of who knows how many pages (the 62 files in Kolkata are said to be over 1200 pages) but doubts have been raised by the Boses themselves even before a proper perusal. Earlier in the day, Chandra Bose, the unofficial spokesman of this group of Boses, told PTI, “We feel that certain very important files were destroyed during the Congress regime in order to hide the truth. So we feel the Indian government should take steps to ensure the release of files lying in Russia, Germany, UK, USA.” Which means the game has just about begun.
But the BJP won’t be complaining. It is enough for it to have the issue on the boil for as long as possible. For a party that had clamoured for the declassification of the Bose files as part of its election campaign and then had gone and hidden behind “endangering relations with friendly nations” to keep them classified after coming to power, the urge to be so open and forthcoming now about the mystery surrounding the death of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose can only be political. To begin with, it gets to add a pre-Independence icon to its limited shelf of such heroes, which it has been trying desperately to enlarge by claiming even Congress stalwarts such as Sardar Patel as its own. It also gets another stick to beat the Congress with, something that is not be scoffed at in these troubled times. Even if the files do not reveal anything particularly damaging about Jawaharlal Nehru whose antipathy to Subhash Bose is well documented, the Congress will have no satisfactory answer to why it refused to make these papers public all these years.
Congress-baiting, though, is hardly of much consequence to Mamata Banerjee. The Congress does not threaten her in any way. She does, however, see herself as the sole spokesperson for all things Bengali and has every intention of remaining so. In her eyes, she is the true inheritor of Subhash Bose’s mantle, not even Forward Bloc, the party started by Bose in 1939 after he split from the Congress but has for years now been one of the weaker constituents of the CPM-led Left Front.
But suddenly Mamata Banerjee finds herself in danger of losing one of Bengal’s greatest prides to the “non-Bengalis”. Especially if the perception gains ground that she is hand-in-glove with the wrong Bose bloc. For the Boses are not one when it comes to the death of the most famous member of their family. Like Anita Bose Pfaff, the daughter of Subhash Bose and his German wife Emily Schenkel, Trinamool MP Sugata Bose and his mother, former Trinamool MP Krishna Bose, also believe in the plane crash theory. Sugata Bose and his mother were pointedly not invited to today’s event in Delhi.
In his much-acclaimed book His Majesty’s Opponent published a couple of years ago, Sugata Bose, a historian of repute and the Gardiner professor at Harvard University, has openly stated that he is convinced that his grand-uncle did die in that plane crash in August 1945. Mamata Banerjee has openly tried to distance herself from this stand. Recently, at a meeting where Sugata Bose was also present, she said in the presence of TV cameras, “Whatever you may say, Sugata-da, I don’t believe Netaji died in that plane crash.” Later, Sugata Bose could only say, “She spoke from emotion, mine is an academic study.” Evidently, academic research do not votes get. Bengalis want to believe in the myth that Netaji not only defied the British and gave them the slip from his home in Kolkata, but he defied God too and made his way, maybe, to Russia.
Well, it is a long time since a Bengali dominated the headlines, even if he is a dead one, whether he died in 1945 or not. That is surely some consolation for all Bengalis, whatever their surname.