As we approach Republic Day, one will take time out as always to celebrate India’s freedom fighters. However, amongst those luminary figures is a man whose immense contribution to India’s Independence stands out: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Suffice to say, past governments have not been fair to the great hero for a long time. Knowledge about the latter half of Bose’s life has been a mystery to not only India but a number of other nations. Finally, the NDA government put its foot down and released digital copies of 100 secret files related to Bose on his 119th birthday at the National Archives of India. It was a step long overdue. Many historians believe that if other nations release their secret files on Bose, it could help us solve the mystery surrounding Bose’s death or disappearance, depending on which side one believes. The NAI also plans to release digital copies of 25 declassified files on Bose in the public domain every month.
The first set of files released had some crucial evidence regarding the freedom journey Bose had undertaken. However, there wasn’t any further evidence suggesting that Bose had managed to survive the plane crash that took place on August 18, 1945, at Taihoku, in present-day Taiwan. A cabinet note on February 5, 1995, accepted the popular theory of Bose’s death and advised the Government of India to go and retrieve his ashes from Japan. However, the Government later went with the Intelligence Bureau view stating that “If the ashes are brought back to India, the people of West Bengal are likely to construe it as an imposition on them of the official version of Netaji’s death.” This theory of his death was a version narrated by his associates in the Indian National Army that the Pandit Nehru Government happily accepted it. However, these speculations couldn’t overshadow the rumours of Bose’s possible survival and escape, after the plane crash.
With the elections approaching in West Bengal, the looming figure of Bose continues to make its presence felt. Bose is a hero to many in West Bengal. He is a subject of great sentimental value to its people. Political commentators have argued that the releasing of these files could put the BJP in the good books of many voters in the state. On this front, however, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has the upper hand, as always. Mamata was the first to release declassified files with the state administration on the freedom fighter late last year, long before the Modi government executed their share of the release.
The documents made public by the Modi Government include 36 files from the Prime Minister’s office, 18 files from the Ministry of Home affairs and 46 files from the Ministry of external affairs. Most of these files cover a period between 1956 and 2003. Most of these files are also accessible on www.netajipapers.gov.in. Suffice to say, in declassifying these files, both the Centre and the West Bengal government have worked for the greater good of the people.