When Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s family members, researchers and others on Wednesday, he would be weighed down on the one hand by the promise the BJP had made before the last general elections, and national interest considerations preventing the release of the secret Netaji files thus far. Let us be frank about it. This particular meeting comes as a result of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s momentous decision to make public several of the classified files concerning Netaji available with the State. In one swoop, not only did Banerjee infuse a never-before thrust to the demand for declassification of files, she also put the Prime Minister in an unenviable position. That’s because, the pre-poll promise and occasional positive gestures notwithstanding, the BJP government, as of this writing, hasn’t given any sign to show that its policy on the Bose case is much different from that of the previous Congress government.
In response to the long-standing concerted campaign initiated by the pressure group, Mission Netaji, of which this writer is a part, Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, was gracious enough to personally meet the Bose family members in April 2013. In 2014, then BJP president Rajnath Singh was to make a solemn promise in Cuttack, Netaji’s birthplace, that when his party was in power, the issue of Bose’s controversial death would be resolved. However, after coming to power, the BJP did not walk the talk — though at personal levels, hints continue to be dropped that the files would be opened at the “right time”.
In his first meeting with the Bose family after taking over as Prime Minister in May last year, Modi made many encouraging remarks in private, but issued no public statement. One hopes that the time for the Prime Minister to signal that he means business is now. Like innumerable Indians, the Bose family and Mission Netaji members who will get to meet him at 7, RCR, are riding on a wave of great expectations. For Mission Netaji, nothing short of an official announcement from the Prime Minister to the effect that he is going to declassify files will fit the bill. In fact, we have a wish-list.
These five demands, if fulfilled in their entirety, shall rid us of the never-ending controversies about Bose. One, the government must announce the acceptance of the main findings of the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry. The commission had concluded that the news of Bose’s death in 1945 following an air crash was faked to give a cover to his escape towards Soviet Russia. The commission’s report was arbitrarily dismissed by the UPA-led government in 2006.
We expect the nationalist BJP to undo that politics-inspired, undemocratic decision of the Manmohan government. Two, the Prime Minister must direct that all classified Netaji-related records of all vintage held by the government — especially those seen only by the Prime Minister, and those in the possession of the intelligence agencies — should be released without any delay. The very fact that the government of free India should be hiding away from the people of India such records or files about the man Gandhiji said was the “Prince among Patriots” constitutes a gross insult to his memory. Three, since most of the files to be declassified were seen by Justice Mukherjee in the course of his inquiry, his report already contains the crux of the matter.
Now what the government needs to do is to follow up declassification by setting up a multi-disciplinary special investigation team (SIT) under court supervision to complete the task left unfinished by the Mukherjee Commission. Justice Mukherjee should be the first witness to be examined by this SIT.
We would expect the government to issue clear, highest-level instructions to all departments of the Union government, especially intelligence chiefs, to cooperate with the SIT. The SIT should be given full authority to summon anyone it feels relevant and requisition all documents required for a complete investigation. It should also be empowered to penalise any agency, department, or individual for non-compliance.
The Prime Minister should also move to issue a directive exempting former as well as current officials from their oath of secrecy with regard to Netaji. Without full cooperation from the Intelligence Bureau and R&AW, this vexed matter is unlikely to get resolved. Four, having made a clean breast of all the information about Netaji that it is sitting on, the government of ours would do well to formally request other countries, especially the Russian Federation at the head of the government level, to share all information they have concerning Netaji to aid the investigation by the SIT. Lastly, we expect the Prime Minister to make an announcement in favour of all of the above submissions after the 7, RCR meeting.
Of course, the outcome will hinge on the approach of the Bose family, which is leading the talk, and how much space is given to Mission Netaji members to negotiate. Most of the family members have little clue about the warp and woof of the complexities of the declassification matter. What is at stake is not just the truth about Bose’s fate, but also the credentials of the BJP as a “nationalist party”.
The writer is the author of India’s Biggest Cover-up and forthcoming book, What Happened to Netaji?