Subhash Chandra Bose, born on January 23, <g data-gr-id="35">1897</g> at Cuttack in Orissa, was to become a revolutionary and visionary leader of international stature. He was one of the few leaders who had comprehensively envisioned a free India and his approach to issues like education, defence, international relations, industrial planning, etc. were truly ahead of his time. From his formative years, he had a strongly left leaning and believed in a quasi-benevolent authoritative brand of socialism. It is now a given that internecine turf wars erupt over India’s fractured pre and post partition history whenever a new ruling dispensation comes into power at Raisina hill. Now that the right wing ideologues are in power. It is clear and apparent that the most important project that the moderate right must undertake is to appropriate political stalwarts who were either at odds or variance with Jawaharlal Nehru. Is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose actually a controversial figure?
According to historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee, the author of Nehru and Bose: Parallel Lives, the rivalry between Bose and Nehru is rather overstated. Mukherjee states unequivocally that those were the politics and controversies of that time, nothing to do with that of today. Then what about, for example, the differences that arose between Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji at the 1939 Tripuri Congress session that ultimately lead to Netaji’s resignation from the party? Or Netaji’s admiration for the fascist regime of Mussolini and his belief in “authoritarian rule to achieve radical change”? What about Jawaharlal Nehru becoming critical of Bose for the latter approaching fascist regimes like Germany and Japan? These are complex questions over which debate continues to rage in History departments in Universities across the country.
Irrespective of the intellectual discourse, the above points regarding Netaji’s politics bounced back in perspective after declassified documents revealing the snooping on Bose’s family from 1948 to 1968 made it to the headlines in April this year. And many commentators stoked the controversy by questioning the differences between the Nehru-Gandhi duo and Netaji, indicating a possible motive for the snooping. These seem petulant squabbles over little to no historical data. Today what we need is a proper historical assessment of the personality and the complete declassification of all secret files. It is in this regard that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s move to share the files about Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in the state government’s custody is indeed welcome. These files will be put in the public domain according to Banerjee. Subhas Chandra Bose lived in West Bengal, engaged in politics from West Bengal, launched his struggles from there, yet we do not know what happened to him after he left. It is still a mystery. Modern Indian historians would be welcoming the fact that these files would now be readied and kept in the Police Archives for all to see. Much of the enigma surrounding Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose germinates from the fact that the officially accepted version of his death is still disputed. The NDA government’s refusal to declassify all files related to Netaji’s death last year on the ground that the move would “prejudicially affect relations with foreign countries” added to the effect. Moreover, reports stating that many in the Bose family did not believe in the theory about Netaji’s death in a 1945 plane crash raised serious questions about the incident. With more than 150 “secret” government files containing crucial information regarding Netaji’s death locked up, nothing can possibly be said with certainty about his reported death. The move by the West Bengal government is a welcome one in this regard.