The 100 files released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Netaji's birthday do not contain the smoking gun. The mystery of Subhas Bose’s fate remains clouded, as ever, in rumour, conspiracy theory and conflicting accounts.
Instead of solving the essential mystery, we have a new mini-mystery. Did Jawaharlal Nehru write a letter to British PM Clement Atlee calling Bose “a war criminal”? That has been seized triumphantly by the enemies of the Congress as proof of Nehru’s perfidy.
The Congress is crying itself hoarse that this is a desperate attempt by the BJP to poach Subhas Bose for their own purposes. Congress claims the letter is fake. Jawaharlal is spelled as Jwaharlal.
There is no signature. It has too many spelling and grammatical errors and does not carry the National Archives of India watermark. Business Standard writes the letter could have been “dismissed as a poor attempt at malicious forgery to whip up passions on the contentious issue of Subhas Chandra Bose’s death.”
Now Kanchan Gupta has tweeted out a Times of India clipping from 1945 where Nehru was asked specifically about Bose being a “war criminal”.
He said “I resent the suggestion that Subhas Bose should be dealt with as a war criminal.” And he went on to add “in my list there will be many high officials sitting in Delhi who are bigger war criminals than Subhas Bose.” Nehru made no bones about his ideological differences with Bose but said “I have never doubted his passion for freedom”.
This will not squelch the controversy because it is no longer about the facts anymore. People do not want to solve the mystery as much as they want to score particular political points. The BJP wants to show the Congress in a bad light.
The Congress cannot wiggle around the fact that it never declassified documents in all its years in power but are loath to let the BJP claim any national hero as its icon. In the middle of it is Mamata Banerjee who preempted Modi by releasing a bunch of classified documents in Kolkata and now wants a new sobriquet for Bose.
If Mahatma Gandhi is the Father of the Nation, Bose should be the Leader of the Nation. Political observers believe that’s a gambit Banerjee hopes will help her in the coming Bengal elections by stoking some Bengali pride in its great martial hero.
When Amit Shah came to rally in Kolkata a year ago BJP supporters showed up with posters demanding Netaji’s birthday be declared a national holiday which incidentally was Mamata Banerjee’s demand as well. Both parties seem to think Bose is one way to Bengal votes.
It is fascinating is that we should even think that. The man would have been 119 years old now. As someone who had no role in post Independence India, it’s fascinating his name could be used as political currency in 2016.
It is his mysterious disappearance that has ironically kept him alive and launched countless hypothetical “what-if” theories about the kind of India that would have happened if he had been a post Independence leader in this country.
What everyone knows, and few acknowledge as they fall over each other in praise of Bose, is that he would have been a very inconvenient political figure for most of them. Ramachandra Guha has written a Bose-led Socialist party would have been to the left of the Congress and “more egalitarian than the Congress and more patriotic than the Soviet-inspired Communist Party of India.”
That does not sound like a party the political leaders of the BJP now rushing to claim Bose, would have been too enthusiastic about. But his disappearance created a Subhas Bose shaped blank spot which political parties can colour and claim at will.
What is sad is that the 100 files were overshadowed by the mysterious Nehru letter which was not part of the declassified files. However by dint of timing, no doubt deliberate, many think it was something freshly declassified as well. It adds to the fog rather than dispelling it.
Human nature is fascinated by mystery and the disappearance of Subhas Bose is a humdinger of a mystery. But as with everything else it has turned into a BJP-Congress slugfest with a Trinamool occasionally piping in from the side. Bose deserves to be more than a political tool aimed at assembly elections in 2016.
By viewing his story through the prism of contemporary politics, we ignore the actual history of what happened, which is of greater relevance to India than the disappearance of Bose. For example, Prithvijit Mitra writes in the Times of India that “the INA history remains the most unexplored chapter of India’s freedom movement.”
A book commissioned by the Nehru administration on this chapter of Indian history was never published and its only known copy lies in the ministry of defence archives. Questions about whether the Japanese left the INA in the lurch in the Northeast have not been answered properly. Or the touchier issue of whether the INA attempt to wage war was “an ill-planned misadventure that cost 24,000 lives?”
The INA memorial at Moirang in Manipur where the Indian tricolor was first raised deserves to be far more prominent in Indian today than it is. On a recent trip to Manipur, I heard some state residents say the Japanese had put more effort into their war memorial in Manipur than the Indians. How many Indians even know about Moirang?
The release of documents is overdue and welcome and Trinamool MP is right when he says Bose’s memory and deeds “deserve the dignity of closure." But political parties are more interested in scoring points rather than closure. Amartya Sen got it exactly right when he said it was far more important to debate Netaji’s life and works than his death.
“The circumstances of the death are sometimes made the way for producing an element of petty-minded politics” said Sen. Bose should be bigger than that. The mystery of Subhas Bose should not be allowed to trump the actual history of Subhas Bose.
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