Disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose has been the biggest mystery of modern India running for almost seven decades and involving multiple international link ups, national political interests and mysticism. GOI Monitor talks to journalist-turned researcher Anuj Dhar who recently came up with his second book on Bose which tries to clear several doubts
Q. First of all, congratulations for having written such a well-researched book on the mystery. How do you gauge the sentiments on this issue in today's India when most of the people closely linked to Bose and championing the cause of a fair probe have passed away?
Thank you for the kind words. Justice, transparency and accountability are not tied to any particular period. While the generations before us definitely had a direct connect to Bose, ours is well placed to understand this complex issue. Much more information is available now than ever. I sense scattered but sufficient interest among public over the issue of Bose’s fate. All it needs is a little channelisation.
While the generations before us definitely had a direct connect to Bose, ours is well placed to understand this complex issue. Much more information is available now than ever. I sense scattered but sufficient interest among public over the issue of Bose’s fate
Q. Your findings prove that there was no air crash, Bose went to Russia and was probably in India in the guise of a holy man, Bhagwanji, till his death in 1985. Why do you think Nehru and subsequently the whole Congress brass decided to be adamant on the air crash theory?
Panditji for some reasons took a stance in 1946 that Bose had indeed died in Taiwan and this became the official stand of the party and the government. What worries me is the fact that when information to contrary came on record, it was not shared with the people of India. I guess they reached a point of no return long ago and had to stick to the official narrative. Today, for both the government and the Congress to overturn this narrative would lead to complications — from their point of view. That’s why they will continue to dodge the issue till such time it’s forced on them.
Panditji for some reasons took a stance in 1946 that Bose had indeed died in Taiwan and this became the official stand of the party and the government. When information to contrary came on record, it was not shared with the people of India. I guess they reached a point of no return long ago and had to stick to the official narrative.
Q. Those in the close circle of Bhagwanji were the ones seeking a fair probe into the air crash theory. If the holy man really was Bose, what could be the objective of getting the theory debunked but not coming out in open?
This man, whoever he was, was of the view that his emergence would complicate situation to the detriment of the people. That’s why he said, “my coming out is not in India’s national interest.” At the same time he wanted the people to know that “he” had not died. Therefore he told his followers to repudiate the air crash theory and not go beyond that.
Q. You have used RTI to access several documents related to this case. Since RTI describes “information” as any material including samples and models, were you able to inspect or procure the last possessions of Bhagwanji, which point towards him being Bose?
The possessions of Bhagwanji were seen by me when the Mukherjee Commission visited district treasury in 2001. In 1986 all the belongings were brought here after a High Court ruling. It was not possible for the local administration to allow me to inspect these, without a ruling by the court. Anyhow, the commission took away 700 odd objects out of 2,000 plus and they are now at the National Archives in New Delhi. A few months from now they should be put on a display.
Q. There is still confusion on the war criminal status to Netaji with many claiming that this was one of the reasons he decided not to reveal his identity. What is your take on this?
The problem with me is that I cannot make any claim without any proof of some sort. In my book I have written that I have not been able to find any evidence which might demonstrate that Netaji’s name was on the list of war criminals maintained by the Allied powers. Those lists are now in public domain and Netaji’s name is not there. There is one suspicious circumstance that remains unexplained. Our govt ratified a UN treaty concerning war criminals in 1972 and it annoyed this Bhagwanji no end.
Q. There is a definite Russian angle to the controversy. Do you think the country is denying possession of any information lest it affects relations with India?
Yes, there is a definite Russian angle. In fact the Bhagwanji angle doesn’t rule it out as this mysterious holy man talked of his time in a Gulag camp. My understanding as a researcher is that the Russian government has information concerning Bose but the onus is on our government to make Russians part with it. I am sure the day our government approaches the Russians with the assurance that no issue of past would be allowed to spoil our robust relations with them, they will come out with the truth. But how can our government ask the Russians to share this information when it's not willing to release its own secret files?
My understanding as a researcher is that the Russian government has information concerning Bose but the onus is on our government to make Russians part with it. But how can our government ask the Russians to share this information when it's not willing to release its own secret files?
Q. When second appeal filed by you for disclosure of information on Netaji was heard by the CIC, the Ministry of Home Affairs claimed that the information may hamper national security and impact relations with a friendly nation. How do you see this argument?
I wonder how in the world the government could come up with that sort of excuse when its official stand has been that Netaji died in 1945. It's obvious that things are not what they seem.
Q. The CIC had also ordered that the Ministry should re-examine the case and send certain records to the National Archives as required under the Public Records Act, 1993. How well is this order being followed? Have you come across any new documents at the National Archives?
The Home Ministry has sent some records concerning Mukhrejee Commission, including the belongings of Bhagwanji, to the archives. This is good for a start but to the best of my knowledge, none of the secret files has been declassified and sent to the archives so far.
Q. Do you think that setting up of so many inquiries, instituted mostly to lend credence to the official air crash theory, has fuelled indifference on the issue? Most people don't know that these inquiries were biased and hence argue that having another inquiry won't help.
I put it like this: my government knew from day one that Bose did not die in Taiwan but suppressed the information. And when the public wanted to know, some inquiries were set up. The first three led by SA Ayer, Shah Nawaz Khan and GD Khosla were sham. Over a period of time fatigue set in and people also became confused. Hence that sort of feeling is natural. I think now we don’t need any inquiry of the sort we have had so far. What we need right now is declassification (disclosure) of each and every record about Netaji.
Q. How helpful would that be at this stage when many of the secret documents may have been destroyed or gone missing?
There are still many files left. The Prime Minister's Office informed me under the RTI that it has 33 files. The Intelligence Bureau has over 70 files, I know. Likewise, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs and at least two state governments have classified files. So far as the issue of files having gone missing is concerned, that’s proof of cover-up. Secret files are not destroyed. If they have been, that again proves that something is being concealed from the people.
Q. What about the opposition parties? Have they evinced any interest in your work?
I have been meeting lot of people, including politicians. On the whole, people are interested everywhere. But so far as parties as a whole are concerned, they have kept away from it as of now. I hope things will change in near future.
Q. Since your research was spread over a decade, did you also get help from any unexpected quarters like former intelligence officers? How do you gauge the sentiments running in such quarters towards Bose?
As I said, generally people like Netaji and are interested to know what happened to him. The sense I get is that the government officials are not hostile at all. They are either disinterested or interested like us. They say the matter is in the realm of politics and it’s upto the politicians to take steps to resolve it. The intelligence organisations by the very nature of their work are not concerned about history. They look to future and think about securing India. For them Netaji mystery is about a bygone era and politics. All of them will carry out orders of the executive.
Q. In this book, various prominent personalities including current President of India Pranab Mukherjee have been accused of not handling the issue appropriately. Are you apprehensive that because of this the authorities may indulge in mudslinging against you? At one point in the book, you have also mentioned how your approaching the Taiwanese government on plane crash theory may have ruffled feathers in the establishment.
I am sure that the day my nuisance value reaches a certain point, some people would want to retaliate. They would do so using proxies. You would hear prominent historians etc running down the entire mystery with focus on some silly aspects of it. I am prepared for it.
Q. How do you sum up the response to 'India's Biggest Cover-Up'? What is the next course of action you are planning: Protests, public sessions, seminars, films?
I am a person with very modest means. My aim is to persuade our government to release the files for a start. For this I am lobbying with everyone, including politicians, parliamentarians and media. I am sure once the momentum builds up, our government will have to respond. We are not living in Nehruvian era. I see a lot of good happening in social media, as this is within my reach. For public sessions I seek the support of interested organisations and individuals.
Q. How can those reading this interview contribute to the cause?
They should forward the link to their friends and leave a message on their Facebook page to the effect that they would like to see each and every record about Netaji made public by our government so that we can have a closure. They can also get in touch with me on Facebook and Twitter or mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.