The controversies about the disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose hesitate to die down even after 70 years. The truth about the fate of Bose has been swaddled in top secret files and concealed from the general public for a very long time. But the emergence of the Right to Information Act put a spoke in the wheel of this conscious effort.
The number of secret files held by each ministry and government department is now known, although the truth remains enfolded. To an RTI request this writer filed late last year, the Prime Minister's Office went a step beyond its typical negative response and gave a risible information that the declassification of the said files was beyond the prerogatives of the prime minister himself! A little while before this, the government had in fact, declassified a few files and moved them to the National Archives in New Delhi. These files show that Netaji's nephews Amiya Nath Bose and Sisir Kumar Bose were secretly spied on by the government. It is alarming to know that the Bose brothers were surveillance subjects for two decades in democratic India which attaches huge importance to an individual's privacy.
The snooping tales are similar to the first-hand reports prepared by sedulous stalkers. The Intelligence Bureau even leaked some of its findings to its British counterpart, making On Her Majesty's Secret Service more than just the name of a spy fiction. The government had no scruples about spying on the Bose brothers who were peace-loving and law-abiding citizens. The views shared by some historians that Jawaharlal Nehru did not have any personal interest in the snooping cannot be taken at face value. Until 1968, the Intelligence Bureau handled both our internal and external intelligence. Naturally, the external spymasters reported to Nehru, who was also our external affairs minister until his death.
Nehru's disquiet over the Netaji matter is clear from the letter he wrote to the foreign secretary about Amiya Nath's Japan visit. But it would be fatuous to think that his anxiety was in national interest. More revelations have emerged, which may be run up to get the full picture. Amiya Nath's son Surya Kumar Bose claims an unsolicited R&AW agent used to attend his speeches in Germany. Ardhendu Bose, son of Netaji's younger brother Sailesh Chandra Bose suspects that their Mumbai residence was always under watch. Invasion of privacy is a matter of dispute even in the most advanced societies. Aside staunch political stooges, any individual will consider these acts as extreme steps aimed at curbing personal freedom.
The declassified files only show that the Bose brothers were under surveillance between 1948 and 1968. That does not mean the snooping ended all of a sudden in 1968. Naturally, to close out a 20-year long inquiry, the Intelligence Bureau must have reached a clear conclusion. Or else, further observations were made in different files which still lie classified. That Amiya Nath died in 1996 and Sisir in 2000 make it impossible to discard this possibility. The significance of the year 1968 is that the Intelligence Bureau stopped working on external intelligence and the R&AW took over the operations.
One cannot gloss over the fact that the Bose brothers neither faced nor posed any security threats. Therefore, the argument that the snooping may have been an attempt to ensure their safety does not hold up either. If we concede that it is valid, privacy will no longer be the basic right of an individual.
What does the common man learn from the snoopgate? Not long ago, the controversies fomented by Edward Snowden's revelation that human rights activists were bugged by the National Security Agency had caused a ripple of insecurity in the United States. It is significant to take note of the observations of two world leaders in this regard - German chancellor Angela Merkel's comment that spying among friends is unacceptable, and the Russian President Vladimir Putin's disclosure that his country watches individuals only after obtaining a court order.
The Indian government is bound to publish what it was trying to spy out from the Bose brothers, by breaching the laws, basic courtesies, and conventions. If the findings do not hold anything consequential against them, the authorities should apologise, not just to the Netaji family, but to the whole nation for this spiteful act. If the files about the snooping can be declassified, why can't the observations see the light of the day?
The most important times in the life of a national hero who was ready to even shake hands with the devil for his country's freedom, should not be swathed in mystery. It does not befit the pride of a nation to let people choose their own conclusions about how its greatest leader came to a sticky end. For this very reason, it is a matter of special significance that the classified pages of state secrecy about Netaji should be handed over to the people, the real owners of it. However, some of the files have already been subjected to wanton destruction and successive governments have baulked at the demand for declassification. Over the years, Netaji's name has become synonymous with classified information. So much so that, if William Shakespeare was around, he would have lamented "Secrecy, thy name is Subhas".