The truth about the disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose is older and hoarier than the story of India's independence. According to most historians and their books, Bose died of third-degree burns in a plane crash that happened in Taiwan on August 18, 1945. Bose was the head of Azad Hind government, one that had the recognition of Imperial Japan among almost a dozen countries. Taiwan was under Japanese control, but still it took Japanese five days to make a public announcement about the death of a close ally.
Most Indians received the death story incredulously, partly because of their love for Bose and partly because the story itself did not hold water. They thought it was a cunning stratagem to divert the attention of the Allied powers from him. Justice Mukherjee, who probed the death of Bose, concluded in his final report that Bose did not die in the crash. The reason was simple and perfectly plausible - there was no plane crash! This was established with copious evidence, including an official statement by the Taiwan government against the crash story. But still, historians did not want to correct their own theories about how Bose met his end. To their great solace and jollity, the Manmohan Singh government rejected the findings of the commission and trashed the report. Reasons? Not mentioned!
Right to Information (RTI) petitions were filed asking the reasons for the rejection of the report. The Congress government did not reveal anything. Later, with adequate pressure from the Central Information Council (CIC), the government accepted to Mission Netaji, the New Delhi-based pressure group, that it possessed several classified files about the fate of Bose - files, which could not be declassified for fear of disrupting foreign relations and affecting the law and order situation in the country. The pressure exerted by Mission Netaji prepared the way for the declassification of several files. But even today, the prime minister's office (PMO) and several other ministries are holding top secret information about Bose's death, which are indefinitely classified. The PMO wouldn't reveal even the names of some of those files!
Gradually, it came to the public knowledge that it wasn't just the central government that was holding secret information about Bose's death. The West Bengal government was keeping in its possession 64 secret files. Requests, entreaties, open letters, vigils, and protests followed, but chief minister Mamata Banerjee didn't react. In between, the Congress lost New Delhi and Narendra Modi replaced Singh. One of his party's election promises was the declassification of secret Bose files. But the government's apathy transformed the request for declassification into a demand. More people started talking about the issue, the Bose family started protesting, and the leading media houses started promoting the Bose story to front pages, home pages, and prime time debates.
Modi, who is known for his high regard for Bose, promised the nation that his government would seriously consider the matter of declassification. But his office continues to reject the RTI requests for declassification in the background. It even gave a ridiculous reply to a petition that the prime minister did not have any prerogatives to declassify the files!
Here is where the West Bengal chief minister demonstrated her superiority over the Indian prime minister. Modi has been vocal, but Mamata silent. Modi said he would consider declassification, but Mamata never seemed to bother. Even in her silence and passivity, she has been musing on the developments. Finally, she herself made it clear - that her government is one of transparency and therefore it would declassify the 64 files in its possession. When? As early as next week.
Through this announcement, Mamata proves that actions have more weight than promises. The mention of transparency is a direct taunt at the pride of the central government. A government of responsibility and will should believe in taking positive steps and respect those who brought us freedom - the same things the BJP promised more than a year ago but still hasn't acted upon. Mamata's decision will now put the pressure back on the Modi government. Hundreds of secret files in the central government vaults are waiting for their turn to see the light of the day.
Moreover, Bengal will go to Assembly polls soon. The declassification of the secret files in her possession is good to bear Mamata out of the charges of inactivity. She can also use this to gain political mileage against the BJP and claim that stridency does not always solve issues. The Bengal BJP has already lost its cool. A frantic Rahul Sinha, the state president, has already come out with accusations that Mamata is trying all these gimmicks to hide her hollow developments and woo the people. He is not senile by any chance, just that he is driven over the edge by Mamata's decision, and is putting the gimmicks he knows into practice and tries to woo his own supporters. A desperate CPI(M) too wants a share of the declassification decision. The Politburo member Mohammed Salim says the party has always been demanding declassification, but that he doesn't know why the chief minister has taken a sudden decision. I for one, would not be surprised if one of my long-time demands is attended to. Salim should know that people will dismiss his pious sentiments which only serve to reveal the hypocrisy his party is known for.
All that apart, Mamata's announcement is the first positive action to solve the longest-running mystery in Indian history. She has taken the right decision, and would have given a serious thought about the possible repercussions. It is common sense that she or her government cannot be held responsible for the details mentioned in those files as long as those files aren't created or updated during her incumbency. The history of a democratic country should not be marred by suppression of information. Mamata deserves appreciation for this bold step.
Let the truth be out. The Bose mystery has been a demon that possessed our old leaders and governments. It made them act somewhat stolidly, awkwardly, and at times shamelessly. It needs an exorcism by someone with great will and determination. Didi is ready to play her part, but is Modi ready to become a greater exorcist? Time will tell; the onus is on him. Declassification is what a responsible leader should do to respect a war hero; actions that can win temporary plaudits like garlanding a Bose bust or saluting his photograph are of much less importance.