Millennium Post

Time to declassify all Bose files

Will the Modi government release the classified Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose files and put an end to the incessant speculation that is going on? It is welcome news that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured Netaji’s family that he will personally examine the case for the declassification of the secret files. The PM’s reassurance in Berlin this week has given a new ray of hope to those who have for long pushed for a declassification of the Bose documents. It is also good news for those who have been demanding easy access to the documents.

It is a pity that the mystery of Netaji’s death has remained unsolved even after seventy years. Perhaps it is high time that the government ends the long standing anxiety of Bose’s family. There have been many theories and commissions of inquiry; however there has been no definitive conclusion about when, where and how he died. One theory suggests that he died in a plane crash on August 18, 1945 in Taiwan. The other one speculates that he died in Siberia. The third one revolves around the intriguing death of a holy man in 1985 in UP, which suggested that he was none other than Bose.

Netaji’s family as well as the Mukherji Commission report in 2006 does not agree with the plane crash theory. The Centre has always refused to declassify the documents pertaining to Netaji. Ironically, even Justice Mukherji was not given all the documents required to come to an accurate conclusion. There are 41 files in the Prime Minister’s Office of which 20 are related to Netaji’s death. The Ministry of Home Affairs is sitting on top of 100,000 documents while the Ministry of External Affairs has 29 files. Of this, only 10,000 pages have been declassified from the Home Ministry and sent to the National archives.

Ironically, while the Bharatiya Janata Party had been demanding the declassification of these documents before the 2014 polls, the Modi government has refused to release them on the ground they would adversely impact India’s ties with friendly foreign countries. This was the stand taken by the previous ruling dispensation as well.

Obviously, the Netaji controversy has arisen on account of new information being leaked. This new information suggests that Jawaharlal Nehru had ordered surveillance of Netaji’s family for 20 years until 1968. The outraged Bose family feels that the government should declassify all the files relating to Bose, which alone could help solve the mystery and put an end to this never ending controversy.
While there can be no logical rationale for withholding the classified documents from the public eye; the demand for transparency is increasingly being heard in public and political circles. The reason is simple. India leads the world in information technology. Following the information revolution internet users are flooded with all kinds of information – some wanted and mostly unwanted. Therefore in such a scenario withholding information because there is a slim chance that it might affect India’s relations with friendly governments is indeed absurd.

Secondly, many democracies in the world have declassified even documents marked “for your eyes only” and “top secret”. The recently released Kissinger documents are one such. The United States authorities did not feel that Nixon’s calling Indira Gandhi a “witch and a bitch” might derail Indo-US relations. The United States follows an interesting system where all files are routinely declassified after 25 years except in nine rare circumstances. The reasons for continuing to withhold is less after 50 years and after 75 years each one of the file needs a special permission. In Britain, all classified files must be reviewed after 30 years to determine whether they had to be kept confidential.

However, in India despite the Right to information Act, there is no system to declassify these within a stipulated time frame as the government can withhold any file or noting it wants under the archaic Official Secret Act which is a law given to us by the British.

Thirdly, it is the opaque mindset of the bureaucracy, which stops the free flow of information. For the babus everything is secret and they are reluctant to part with information even if it is harmless. If you want to get some sensitive papers like the Nehru papers, you have to apply to the Teen Murti Library first and from there the request will travel to Culture ministry where the minister will decide on a case by case basis whether permission should be given to the researchers or not. This is probably why it is so difficult to do research in India.

It is no surprise then that, many researchers travel to England for documents related to pre and post independence correspondence, which one can easily get from the British archives. This sad state of affairs must change sooner than later in this information age. What we need is a transparent policy and automatic declassification after a fixed time period. This will require significant political will.

The Bose controversy has taken a political tinge with the Congress defending its decision not to declassify the secret files. The Congress suspects that the latest controversy is a ploy of the BJP to malign Nehru. The BJP in turn is taunting the Congress for snooping against the Bose family for 20 years. All this dirty politics leave a bad taste. The BJP wanted to confer Bharat Ratna on Netaji last year but his family members refused it saying that first the classified documents should be released.
 The mystery of what happened to Netaji will persist until the Indian Government opens up the secret files and allows files in Russia and Britain to be opened as well. The government has the responsibility to respond to the public demand or else history will be distorted by the myriad conspiracy theorists of this country.

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