Automatic Declassification is the New Modi Mantra

Published: 10th May 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th May 2015 10:59 AM   |  A+A-

NEW DELHI:Narendra Modi is just not the first post-1947 born Prime Minister of India. His is the first government which did not have to wrestle queries from the surviving INA veterans, like S A Ayer, commissions probing the abiding mystery of Subhas Chandra Bose, and just plain Bose-mystics, like N G Gorey, and evade answers that remain locked in the classified government files spread across India.

nethaji.jpgSo, the Modi Government is doing what all previous dispensation had been weary of—it is setting up norms that would lead to automatic declassification of documents after every 30 years, on the lines of the UK declassification rules. The Bose files included. In fact, the exercise to draft a bill that would amend the Officials Secret’s Act is being undertaken, is precisely because of the unsolved Bose mystery.

A six-member expert committee comprising established researchers, senior bureaucrats and archivists is being set up to delve into the issue—on what can be declassified and what is to be maintained as “shadow files’’, even beyond the required years. A meeting of the new committee is likely to be held after the Budget session is out of the way—between June end and July.

The committee is not just expected to draft new rules for declassification of government documents stored in the PMO, the various ministries as also the intelligence agencies, but also in the strong-rooms spread across the states.

“There’s no single rule, norm governing these documents or their method of declassification. The state governments have different set of law, making the whole system opaque and reference work within the government impossible task,” says a former top sleuth.

Take for instance, then West Bengal Chief Minister Bidhan Chandra Roy’s letter to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru advising him to leave the issue of Bose’s ashes alone, of giving up the idea of bringing it back to India. This was accessed by the Mukherjee Commission, when then PMO under Atal Behari Vajpayee opened up the Bose vaults. However, Nehru’s letter to which Roy was responding could not be found as West Bengal Government refused to open up the files, citing a different set of rules.

Now that is what may change. The committee will set ‘La règle du jeu’ (rules of the game). The Secretaries of the Home, Law and DoPT have already met once, however, sources said that it was felt that experts need to be roped in to create a dossier on the classified files that can be declassified to avoid political or diplomatic furore.

This could also be the Modi Government’s matching step or answer to the RTI Act. “While RTI has been passed, the issue of the Official Secrets Act has not be revisited, then how is the government functioning made transparent? Both of it has to be brought into sync,” the sources added.

Even the US, the UK and Russia, which have declassification law, have certain parameters to keep certain files under “shadow’’ category.  The file relating to CPI delegation—Ajay Ghosh, Rajeswar Rao, Basavapunniya, S A Dange’s meeting with J Stalin in 1950, Kremlin, where they discussed the CPI line on “Quit India movement’’ and “Subhas Chandra Bose’’—was declassified.

The pages containing Stalin’s upbraiding of CPI leaders for losing the pulse of the people by not supporting the Quit India movement in 1942 and his tongue-in-cheek comment that “thankfully the Red Army did not have to wait for a CPI resolution to defeat the fascist forces (Hitler)” were found and documented by Russologist Purabi Roy. But not the exchange on Bose; those pages were missing—“shadow filed”—even after the massive declassification drive in the post-Soviet Russia.

It becomes clear that the Left leaders had an inkling of Bose’s presence in Soviet Russia beyond the 1945 Taihoku plane crash, just as it may have been known to the then Indian Government, including Nehru. But, details of the Communist dialogue on Bose remains suppressed (except for a private exposition Dange gave to his daughter of the meeting, no official document is in the public domain yet).

“It is also to streamline the gaps in information, not just in the Bose episode but other later day or concurrent developments, that the issue of systematic declassification of files on the assassinations of political leaders, heads of government, foreign policy turns, and the Emergency days, is being considered,” the source added.

Curious as it may appear, not a single government since the time of Nehru could avoid visiting the Bose matter, contributing to increased volumes of ‘secret’ correspondence on the suspicious end. All that may now end, provided West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Odisha help in filling the gaps by amending the state laws alongside the Centres.

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