It is a nice gesture from the prime minister to have invited the extended family of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose to his residence on October 14, 2015. Members of Netaji’s family had reached out to Narendra Modi even before he became PM. At their meetings with Mr Modi, the members have stressed the need for declassifying files related to Netaji, which are still kept under lock and key in the PMO and other ministries. On all occasions, Mr Modi was reported to have assured them that he will do something about it. In fact, after his return from Germany in April this year, where he met Surya Kumar Bose, the Government notified the formation of a high level committee to review the Official Secrets Act, which was generally construed as a step towards the declassification of Netaji files. However, in the six months that have gone by, nobody has heard a whisper on the committee’s work.
The PM met a number of Bose family members again in May, who raised the issue of declassification. Other than his assurances to the family, the PM has generally remained quiet on the topic. Neither a public announcement on declassification, nor any show of intent to resolve Netaji’s disappearance mystery. On the contrary, the Prime Minister’s Office has steadfastly refused to release a single page of the secret files in the public domain. Request after request under the Right to Information Act have been turned down by the PMO since Mr Modi has taken office.
All this is ironical as Mr Modi’s party had risen up in strident criticism of the previous Congress government when they had refused to release the same files. The excuses for not releasing the files also remained the same – apprehension of law and order problems in the country and possible damage to India’s foreign relations.
|Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. [Photo credit: Netaji.org]|
While this disconnect between perception and reality went on becoming starker with passage of time, the Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee released 64 classified files in the public domain along with minutes of the meetings held by Bengal’s council of ministers between 1938 and 1947. There was no statement of intent. Only action. In keeping with the PMO’s tradition, Mr Modi’s ministers frowned upon Ms Banerjee’s initiative. Within two days, however, Mr Modi confirmed during his radio broadcast that he would be meeting over fifty members of the family in October. He positioned the meeting as a courtesy visit – a matter of pride for the family that they would be stepping into the PM’s residence together, and for him as he would be the first PM to welcome them.
Why should it matter to the country whether the PM meets the extended Bose family and has chai pe charcha with them, if that charcha is nothing but a private exchange of pleasantries and small talk? Just meeting the family is not showing any honour to Netaji – he is much above these tokenisms. And it is also pertinent to keep in mind the fact that he always considered the entire country to be his family. If, therefore, the PM wants to show his respect towards Netaji, it would take much more than just meeting the family. It would require to declassify all documents related to Netaji, in the first place, and then bring a closure to the mystery around Netaji’s disappearance. Next, the government should accord the rightful place to Netaji and his Indian National Army in India’s struggle for freedom.
It appears from press reports that the family is going to raise the demand for declassification, along with other issues such as a review of the Justice Mukherjee Commission’s report (which told the UPA government in 2006 that the story of Netaji’s death in 1945 was a hoax and was consequently rejected by the government) and obtaining documents from other countries. The nation hopes that the public demands on the resolution of the central issue – that of what happened to Netaji – is not tempered with as a result of the subsequent discussions between the family and the prime minister. The PM should be urged to accept the report of the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry, which was demanded of Dr Manmohan Singh in 2006. Unless the right demands are raised, there is always a possibility of the government agreeing to a partial declassification, which will not address the central issue.
In an appreciable gesture, the family has stated that it will include other researchers in the delegation to meet the PM, of whom some are members of Mission Netaji, a pressure group which has spearheaded the declassification movement since 2006, leading to the declassification of thousands of pages in 2012. Incidentally, Mission Netaji too has articulated its demands from the PM through an online petition, which till now has been signed by more than 12,000 Indians across the world.
The key demands include acceptance of Justice Mukherjee’s report, declassification of all Netaji-related documents (including central and state intelligence files, and those files which fall under the category of “for the PM’s eyes only”), a special investigation team with special powers to summon all relevant people and documents and with the powers to penalise non-compliance, and a demand for releasing all relevant documents by other countries such as Russia, China, Japan, UK and USA, to be raised at the highest official level.
The rejection of Justice Mukherjee’s demands was based on politics, not the merits of the investigation. Mr Modi should announce the acceptance of the report for the sake of truth and justice – it is another matter that such a measure will also bring him political gains. While the files that have been kept secret at the PMO and other ministries must be made public, it should be kept in mind that these were seen by Justice Mukherjee. The real stuff has to be in the files held by the central and state intelligence agencies. These files must be traced to the last piece of paper wherever they may be located. This has to be done along with obtaining archival documents from other countries, especially, Russia, China and UK. Mr Modi will have to take it upon himself to ask these countries for the documents instead of delegating it to his bureaucrats. There is something here to learn from how Swedish heads of state have handled the case of Raoul Wallenberg.
Mr Modi should proceed with the intent to bring a closure to the issue. It is only sensible to take up the investigation from where Justice Mukherjee left it, rather than trying to rediscover the wheel. He should bring on board all the expertise that is required to crack the mystery – former top bureaucrats, intelligence bosses, archivists, and the stakeholders like Mission Netaji to take it to a logical conclusion.
It is imperative that the PM accedes to these demands and announces his plan of action clearly instead of mouthing pious intentions, ending up with the standard “we will seriously consider” assurance. Mission Netaji, in its petition says that it believes Mr Modi is probably the only politician who can show the courage to take the bull by its horns. It is up to Mr Modi to prove it right or wrong. The nation will be watching the PM, and the family if they mean business. A gigantic fraud that has been perpetrated for seven decades needs to be undone now. It is certainly not going to be easy. Therefore, a half-hearted move by either will neither suffice, nor will be acceptable to the people of the country.
Mr Prime Minister, give us back our heritage, our legacy, by telling us what happened to the irrepressible martyr who led his countrymen to their freedom. We await your consideration.