Grade Crossing

#NehruSnooped: How Modi can do Netaji some justice

It has taken 68 long years to even think about making a concrete move to clear the air on the mystery over Subhas Chandra Bose's disappearance.

 |  Grade Crossing  |  4-minute read |   16-05-2015
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It is paradoxical that "justice" is a term that does not often get to manifest its real meaning in practice, at least in India. You may easily correlate that statement to the recent Salman Khan case, Jayalalithaa case, or the Satyam case. But the Netaji mystery has been an exemplar of this self-contradiction for several decades. The demands to do justice to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his legacy are as old as the mystery surrounding his disappearance. Successive Indian governments have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to these demands. While the activities of the advocates of ahimsa were exalted to the hilt in academic chronicles and reference text books, the contributions of Netaji and his brand were often charred, boxed up, and put on ice in perpetuity.

With India Today breaking the news about the non-constitutional snooping on Netaji's family, the mystery came back to mainstream media consideration after a prolonged interlude. The advent of Internet has made it bigger than ever before, as it created trending hashtags on social media, hours of live debate on national television, and scads of articles presenting arguments and counter-arguments.

Unprecedented it may be called, the news gathered the attention of our prime minister. He found time to meet Netaji's relative during his German visit and assured that he would personally look into the secret files about the fate of Netaji. Modi also expressed his desire to meet up with the Bose family back in India and discuss the mystery. Soon after the meeting, a committee to review the Official Secrets Act (OSA) was formed under the cabinet secretary, with officials from various ministries and intelligence departments as members.

During his Kolkata visit this month, Modi found time again to meet the Bose family and discuss the declassification of the secret files. He reassured that he is for declassification. A prime minister's promise of reviewing the secret files for the purpose of declassification is perhaps a first in the Netaji mystery. For a matter that should have been settled in the first year of our freedom, it is quite unfortunate that it took the 15th prime minister and 68 long years to make such a promise in putting to rest the controversies about Netaji's death. Cliched I know, but it happens only in India.

In his second meeting with the Netaji family, Modi showed signs of a favourable response when he agreed to their idea that not just the family members, but researchers and activists who have been investigating this matter should be included in the discussions. This may sound business as usual and nothing extraordinary to the uninitiated, but for those who follow the matter closely, the prime minister's gumption to take this forward is a real godsend. Reviewing the secrecy codes may not guarantee declassification, but it is perhaps the first right step a prime minister can initiate in a series of actions that is needed to get to the bottom of the mystery. The previous governments have been reluctant to open up the secret archives to even the government appointed inquiry commissions!

But all auguries are not good! Last year, the then BJP president Rajnath Singh had made a promise in Cuttack that if the BJP came to power, it would put an end to the Netaji mystery. He is the present incumbent of the home ministry, who enjoys access privileges to hundreds of secret papers about Netaji's fate. As if he were suffering from benign senescent forgetfulness, Singh decided to shut up like a clam after swearing in and his ministry, at light's speed, inherited the trait of spurning Right to Information (RTI) requests from its predecessor Congress government.

How did some of the past prime ministers react to the Netaji mystery? When he was pushed to the wall, India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru promised an end to the mystery. He set up an inquiry committee, but asked it to sit in India and prepare a report of something that happened in a a country 4,000kms away. Daughter Indira Gandhi followed suit a few years later and her lead inquiry man had to publicly apologise for the wrong things he committed during the investigation. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh didn't help much either. All eyes are on Modi now. Netaji showed extraordinary tenacity and courage in his attempt to liberate India from British yolk. Now it warrants Modi to show even more tenacity and courage to liberate Netaji's pride from the secrey lock. If he does that, he will surely be known to us and to those who come after us, as the modifier of modern India's history. But for all that to happen, the promise should be turned into strong action.

I wrote in the beginning that "justice" is a paradoxical word. Perhaps it is not. We all know that "justice" in India is often "just ice". It melts and is gone by the time you get it. Hope Modi will concatenate those words and honour the memory of India's political messiah.


Sreejith Panickar Sreejith Panickar @panickars

The writer is a columnist, researcher and social activist. He is the founder-member of Mission Netaji.

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