Amid the 100 files pertaining to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose that the centre put up in the public domain on Saturday, the one that stole the show was not even part of the declassified documents.
A mysterious, scanned facsimile widely circulated on Saturday in social media, websites and electronic media, and carried in the Sunday edition of major newspapers is a letter, purportedly written by Jawaharlal Nehru in December 1945 to then British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, referring to Bose as a "war criminal."
The purported letter reads:
"Dear Mr Attlee, I understand from reliable sources that Subhas Chandra Bose, your war criminal, has been allowed to enter Russian territory by Stalin. This is a clear treachery and betrayal of faith by the Russians as Russia has been an ally of the British-Americans, which she should not have done. Please take note of it and do what you consider proper and fit." The missive bears no cursive signature, just "Yours Sincerely, Jawaharlal Nehru," in printed lines.
Curiously, different publications reported several versions of this ostensibly same facsimile.
For instance, the one carried by The Times of India shows 26 December as the date on which it was written. It also has the spelling of 'Jawaharlal' spelt wrongly as 'Jwaharlal.'
The one carried by DNA carries the correct spelling of Jawaharlal, but it is dated 27 December.
The one carried by website opindia.com carries a version where the spelling of Attlee is wrong, though the date matches with that of the one carried by DNA.
The text in all these versions is similar, but all versions have either typographical, grammatical or factual errors. And they do not bear the National Archives of India watermark.
The letter could have been dismissed as a poor attempt at malicious forgery to whip up passions on the contentious issue of Subhas Chandra Bose's death, a line taken by the Congress party, as expected.
Former Union minister and Congress leader Anand Sharma has blasted the "fake letter", taking offence at the way "a lie was circulated." Historian Ram Guha has also called it "inauthentic".
The letter certainly wasn't part of the declassified documents released on Saturday. It has long been a part of the social media folklore, mysteriously appearing at different times and then vanishing from public memory.
But if it was totally fake, why did it gain so much currency prompting a reaction from the Congress? They could have simply ignored it.
One of the reasons could be that the declassified documents confirm the existence of a sworn affidavit of stenographer Shyam Lal Jain who had told the Khosla Commission set up in 1970 to investigate Netaji's death that he had indeed had typed such a letter dictated by Nehru in December 1945.
The deposition finds mention in the declassified file 'Disappearance/Death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose 915/11/C/6/96-Pol' from the Prime Minister's Office.
The Khosla commission, which concurs with the theory that Netaji died in a plane crash theory, for reasons yet unknown, did not take note of Jain's testimony.
If the testimony is true, it means Nehru did not believe Netaji had died in the Taihoku air crash but thought had escaped to Russia.
As Opindia has pointed out, the letter also finds mention in a book called “Judgement: No Aircrash, No Death (2010)” written by Lt. Manwati Arya, who was born in Burma and joined the INA’s women’s wing.
Moreover, declassified documents (Page 408) also point to a statement from Associated Press on 29 August 1945 which seems to suggest that Nehru believed Bose did not die in a crash and that he should be treated as a war criminal. But the statement could also be interpreted as the AP correspondent saying it.
Whether or not the letter is authentic, it has served to further polarize the already charged political atmosphere.