After bickering over it for years, it turns out that it was neither the Congress nor the BJP who attempted to reduce the veil of mystery around Subhash Chandra Bose’s disappearance. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee trumped both national parties by declassifying 64 files and allowing the public to view them.
On Friday, Banerjee released 64 files that the state government possesses on Bose and released them at an event in which Bose’s family members participated. The state government handed over the files to Kolkata Police Archives and the digitized those documents will be available for viewing in the Kolkata Police Museum, and are also available on eight DVDs.
Speaking to reporters in Kolkata, Banerjee said: “Each and every page is important. Historians and researchers must study these files minutely. We must know the truth about the great, brave son of the soil.
She also urged the central government to de-classify the files in its possession: “The truth should come out. If there is nothing to hide, why is the Centre not declassifying (the files).”
An August 22, 1945, Tokyo Radio broadcast had announced the 'death' of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in an air crash in Formosa (now Taiwan) on August 18, 1945, en route to Japan. But there has always been speculation that he was alive for some years after the crash.
Here’s five things we know so far:
Indications that Netaji survived the 1945 air crash
Some of these files reportedly suggest that British and American intelligence believed that Bose was alive in 1947-48 and that he was responsible for communist uprisings in south-east Asia. They believed that Bose survived the crash and had made it to Russia or China, but provides no concrete proof.
Declassified files contain a communication from Swiss journalist Dr Lilly Abegg to Sarath Chandra Bose in December 1949 in which she says, "I heard in 1946 from Japanese sources that your brother is still living.”
One of the documents is a letter written by the Minister of Information and Broadcasting to Bose’s nephew Amiya Nath Bose in 1948, suggesting that Bose was possibly alive. Speaking to reporters on Friday, Banerjee too referred to this idea. “There are certain letters where many have said that he was alive after 1945.” Amiya was under surveillance till 1968.
Even Bose’s own family members have varying views on whether Bose died in a plane crash or not. TMC MP from Jadavpur and Bose’s great-nephew Sugata Bose believes that existing scholarship on Bose suggested that Bose did indeed die in a plane crash.
British intelligence believed the plane crash story was not true
File no 58 contains a report that mentions that the British intelligence believed that the 1945 crash was unconfirmed. The report says that the British were unsetlled at the thought of Netaji's return and the re-emergence of the INA.
Netaji's family was spied on extensively
Among these files are interceptions of personal correspondences between Netaji and his elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose, the British intelligence’s analysis of Netaji’s speeches at various public meetings and invitations given to him to attend various functions.
“There are intercepts. I have seen the documents and it is clear from them that the family of Netaji was spied upon,” Banerjee told the media in Kolkata.
Many of the letters were intercepted at Kolkata's Elgin post office and passed on to the CID office. File no 51 shows that even a letter written by Netaji's wife Emilie Schenkl in 1949 to Sarath Chandra Bose was intercepted. In fact what is most surprising is that Netaji's family was snooped on till 1971, 26 years after the supposed air crash.
Recently declassified files of the union home ministry revealed that the family of Netaji was placed under intensive surveillance from 1948 to 1968 by the central government.
The country had three Congress prime ministers during these 20 years - Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi.
INA members, Chinese nationals were being tracked
Some of the declassified files show how the government was snooping on Indian National Army (INA) members even after 1945. Files show that Chinese community and some visiting Chinese nationals were under government surveillance.
Bose's nephew Amiya Nath was tracked
Lawyer and India's ambassador to Burma in the 1970s, Amiya Nath Bose was one among Netaji's family members who was being tracked extensively. There are several notings of meetings attended by him, speeches made and his meetings with Sarath Chandra Bose. The Special Branch of police maintained a seperate file for Amiya Nath. A letter writter by Professor Robert Stigler from Vienna in 1948 to Amiya Nath mentions a 'secret discussion and agreement' made in Austria in 1938.
NDTV reports that one file says that a member of the Azad Hind Ambulance Corp member during interrogation in 1947 revealed that the Socialist Republican Party was contemplating simultaneous action in Pakistan and Indian dominions. Yet another file says that party had entrusted Netaji's nephew with the task of collecting weapons.
The 64 files with the West Bengal government run into 12,744 pages. Some of the files are as long as 300 pages. Kolkata Police digitized these files, which date from 1937-47. Public viewing will be allowed from September 21. The release of the files comes a week after Banerjee announced de-classification of the files on September 11. According to most media reports, the central government has around 135 files which it has refused to de-classify so far, citing impact on friendly relations with other countries. However, political leaders in West Bengal and Bose’s family members have said that the death or disappearance of a man 70 years ago was unlikely to cause such as effect in the present.
These include copies of correspondence between India and Soviet Union and the Russian Federation which the Ministry of External Affairs admitted it has.
India’s intelligence agency RAW also has information on Bose, but although it has denied this, a Home Ministry document shows otherwise.