Declassifying Netaji files: Congress squirms in discomfort but Modi must guard against using it as a political tool

By putting up the secret files on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in public domain and promising to unveil more every month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has performed two different tasks.

One, he has set in motion a much-needed process of transparency. As researchers and some Bose family members have pointed out, declassification is just the first but an important step in the right direction. Indians deserve to know what really happened to their national heroes.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Reuters

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Reuters

Second, he has raised a simple political question that has left Congress party squirming in discomfort. Why didn't India's Grand Old Party declassify the files if it had nothing to hide?

Ever since the documents were unveiled at the National Archives of India on Saturday, Congress's reaction has been unsure and needlessly aggressive.

It should have welcomed the government's step. Over seven decades and many commissions later, we still don't have clarity on the freedom fighter who raised an army to fight the British.

If declassification eventually leads to a confirmation of Congress's assertion that Bose indeed died in a plane crash in 1945, that should end all 'conspiracy theories' and result in a moral victory for the party.

But by opposing vehemently Modi's move, it has subjected the action of its past leaders to even more speculation.

Reflexive criticism and what it tells us

Congress's reflexive criticism is actually an indication of its frustration. For decades, it cooked history books and hoped the controversy over India's war hero will die a natural death. That hasn’t happened.

Instead, the declassification has proved that the legacy of Netaji still endures and is strong enough to ignite passionate discussion in a billion-strong nation.

Caught with a sense of panic that decades of manipulating history is now coming back to bite it, Congress high command and heavyweight ministers have suddenly started heaping fulsome praise on Bose.

On Saturday, Rahul Gandhi has described him as a man of extraordinary courage, a patriot and a charismatic leader.
His mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said: "Bose will always live in the hearts of all Indians for his patriotic fervour and dedication to the Indian Republic."

She is right. Bose has no choice but to "live in the hearts of all Indians" because the Congress has surgically obliterated his name and contribution to the national cause from school syllabus.

And not just Bose, the Congress has used the state machinery to induce a systematic memory-cleansing, wiping out the contributions of many of our freedom fighters to promote some of its choice. Nary an alarm has been raised by the media or the party's pet historians.

Manipulation of history

An RTI application has once again brought to light Congress's brazen sleight of hand.

A report in Times of India says the Central Information Commission (CIC) has blasted NCERT for chopping out content on national leaders like Bose from text books and directed it to suo motu disclose the reasons behind such decisions.

It elaborates how the CIC asked NCERT "in a terse order" to explain why content on Swami Vivekananda was reduced from 1250 to 37 words in Class XII history books and completely removed from Class VIII books.

Jaipur-based Suryapratap Singh Rajawat, who filed the RTI application and a series of public grievance notifications which led to the CIC's intervention, pointed out how Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's name is "totally missing" from Class VIII history books. Also missing are names of 36 national leaders and revolutionaries like Chandra Shekhar Azad, Ashfaqullah Khan, Batukeshwar Dutt, Ram Prasad Bismil among others.

The RTI merely confirms what many, including Netaji's only child daughter Anita Bose Pfaff have repeatedly stated, that the legacy of her father and other leaders of prominence was ignored by the Congress to promote the dynasty.

"I believe that if anything is a national shame it is the fact that my father's and the INA's contribution to India's independence has been downplayed consistently from official sources and in history books. The argument about his death is by comparison unimportant."

On why the files have not been declassified earlier, the Congress still doesn't have a coherent answer. Amid deafening silence from the high command and top netas, one leader said on condition of anonymity: “Probably there was an apprehension that it would convert into a major law and order problem, besides relations between India and other nations (mentioned in the files) might get tarnished. No one was aware about the content of the files. Those days India also had friendly ties with the erstwhile USSR.”

Since the first tranche of 100 documents were released on Saturday, there has not been a single instance of "law and order problem". The claim that relationship with other nations will be affected also appears to be baseless. We have not become privy to some earth-shattering state secret that may trigger off a war between nations.

Some strange facts and inconsistencies

The files do, however, point to certain strange facts and inconsistencies which have so far escaped public scrutiny.

Among the over 17,000 digitised papers now saved in National Archives is one letter written by Sir RF Mudie, Home Member of the Clement Attlee government's India Office, which he sent to Sir Evan Jenkins, Home Secretary and the last Governor of Punjab.

In that letter, the top British Raj official is seen weighing the pros and cons of "trying" Netaji as a "war criminal" full five days after Bose was reported to have been killed in the aircrash near the Taihoku aerodrome in Taipei on 18 August 1945.

"In many ways the easiest course would be to leave him (Netaji) where he is and not ask for his release. He might, of course, in certain circumstances be welcomed by the Russians. This course would raise fewest immediate political difficulties, but the security authorities consider that in certain circumstances his presence in Russia would be so dangerous as to rule it out altogether," wrote Mudie, according to a NDTV report.

Another file brings to light how the Indian government in 1967 refrained from setting up an Indo-Japanese joint probe team to investigate Bose's death, as requested by retired Japanese army officer General Iwaichi Fujiwara.
Fujiwara, a former liaison officer between the Indian National Army (INA) and Imperial Japanese Army in east Asia, arrived in Kolkata (then Calcutta) to hand over Netaji's sword to the Netaji Museum in the city on 19 March 1967.

Also revealed is the fact that for the past six decades, several communications have gone from Ministry of External Affairs to Britain to ascertain, whether the UK had declared Bose as a war criminal. The documents revealed that the UK never gave a specific answer to India's unending quest on Netaji.

The government though, must guard against using declassification of files as a political tool. Congress may be wriggling in anxiety for now but opening up the self-defeating secrets of history has a much larger purpose than just scoring political points over rivals. A point the Prime Minister and his party must remember.

Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to and hit the Subscribe button.

Updated Date: Jan 25, 2016 17:11:40 IST

Also See