#NehruSnooped: Truth behind Netaji files
What is clear is that the misappropriation of these historic treasures blatantly ignored by the former prime minister.
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Important historical documents in India are not easy to come by. We are a country where even declassified material of any significance is ignored or forgotten, while inconsequential official letters are routinely marked "Confidential".
At the same time, policemen can arrest journalists (as they did with Iftikhar Gilani) under the Official Secrets Act for possessing material easily available on the internet. Most papers I have tried to look for a decade ago at the National Archives are listed in the indices of their registers, but are unavailable on the shelves. No one could tell me where they were. So, anything of historical importance that comes into one's hands is a windfall; if it concerns one's own family, it is a bonus.
There are papers containing information about the handling of treasures of the Indian National Army (INA) which were in the possession of Subhas Chandra Bose. I have a series of letters written by my father KK Chettur, between May and October 1951, to the ministry of external affairs (MEA), during his tenure as head of the Indian Liaison Mission and later ambassador in Japan from 1950-52. These were regularly brought to the notice of the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who was also the minister for external affairs. What is interesting about this correspondence is how corruption was condoned at the highest level, even in those early years after independence. A closer look at them points to more sinister conclusions.
An emotional moment for me has been to discover that my father was one of free India's first whistle-blowers. In May 1951, he smelt a rat when requested through a secret telegram by the MEA to obtain SCAP permissions for SA Iyer, who was supposedly visiting Japan for a holiday as one Mr Ramamurti's guest. My father began by asking CS Chaturvedi, secretary, Commonwealth Relations, why the mission should officially facilitate a man on a holiday when serious allegations had been raised against him officially in his predecessor "Rama Rau's secret DO of December 4, 1947". The allegations were about misappropriation of funds and jewels belonging to the Indian Independence League. He said, "I hope you are not seeking Iyer's assistance with regard to the disposal of Netaji's ashes now lying in a Tokyo temple, as it would be most undesirable that he should, in view of the suspicion surrounding him, be associated in any manner with the taking over of these relics."
Soon after, my father wrote that Iyer told him he had actually arrived in Tokyo for a "secret mission" of verifying Netaji's ashes and recovering the gold and jewellery, as given in a letter from Chaturvedi, which, for reasons of secrecy, he was not carrying with him. In this connection, Iyer also recounted his "various interviews with PM". He claimed he had been asked to verify Netaji's ashes at Renkoji Temple and account for the treasures to be returned to India. My father curtly wrote to Chaturvedi, "You will no doubt be able to verify his statements. All that I can say is I cannot quite see why you should have kept me in the dark with regard to this matter, considering Iyer's scandalous past." He almost chided the MEA, writing: "The fact that Ramamurti and Iyer were alleged to have had something to do with the mysterious disappearance of the gold and jewellery collected by Netaji should, I think, have deterred us from encouraging him in his visit to this country or in giving his visit an official backing." Chaturvedi consulted the PM and replied on June 7, flatly denying any knowledge of this. For him, Iyer's tale sounded like "a six-penny novel".
My father's curiosity was aroused by then. On June 11, he wrote to Chaturvedi: "I have the most scandalous reports of the Iyer-Ramamurti link and I have no reason whatsoever to doubt their authenticity, but in view of the lack of interest evinced by government in this matter in the past, I have refrained from pursuing it." However, he began a series of communications with the MEA in which, over the relevant period, he separated fact from fiction. He found blatant inconsistencies in the stories of Iyer and Ramamurti and duly informed the MEA, and thereby the PM. He even offered to conduct an inquiry about the "INA treasures" but this was not pursued seriously by the Nehru government.
In a letter dated October 20, my father wrote: "It appears that Netaji had with him in Saigon substantial quantity of gold ornaments and precious stones, but that he was allowed to carry only two suitcases on the ill-fated flight. These two suitcases must have carried much more than has now been handed over to us, and even if allowances are made for the loss of the part of the treasures when the plane crashed, it seems obvious that what was retrieved was substantially very much more than has now been in our possession."
What is still more important is that the bulk of the treasures were left in Saigon and it is significant from information which is available that on January 26, 1945, Netaji's collection weighed more than himself. In this context you will notice that Iyer came to Tokyo subsequently from Saigon and that his statement at that time was that "the gold was intact as I have brought it from Saigon… Cash is the balance after changing Piastras into Yens and meeting my expenses during my stay in Japan since August 22, 1945." He continues, "There is a party here who has seen the boxes in Iyer's room and who was also to buy off the contents of these few boxes. What happened to these boxes is a mystery as all that we have got from Iyer is 300gm of gold and about 260 rupees worth of cash. You will no doubt draw your own conclusion from all this, but to me it would appear as if Iyer, apprehensive of the early conclusion of the Peace Treaty, came to Tokyo to divide the loot and to salve his and Murthy's conscience by handing over a small quantity to the government in the hope that by doing so he would also succeed in drawing a red herring across the trail."
RD Sathe who took over from Chaturvedi, added his conclusion to corroborate what my father had said. "Suspicion regarding the improper disposal of treasure is thickened by the comparative affluence in 1946 of Ramamurthy when all other Indian nationals in Tokyo were suffering the greatest hardships." The note signed by Sathe on November 1, 1951, was initiated by "JN" on November 5, 1951, with no further comment. Sathe wrote, "PM has seen this note. This may be placed in the relevant file."
The files are still secret, the fate of the treasures is unknown, except for some meaningless pieces in the National Museum. What is clear is that the misappropriation of these historic treasures was not just ignored by the same JN, but also that he deliberately turned a blind eye to detailed reports about Iyer's corruption, and subsequently appointed him as an advisor in his office. Rewarding this man with close proximity - and thereby protection - points to a bigger conspiracy to bury anything connected with Netaji.