The National Democratic Alliance government on Friday tried to wash its hands off a declaration that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was dead by putting the onus on the previous United Progressive Alliance government, but added it would be willing to examine any "new fact" if and when it came up.
The government's clarification on the founder of the Indian National Army came after a sharp reaction from political parties, including the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, as well as the state's Bharatiya Janata Party unit.
The controversy was triggered by a reply from the ministry of home affairs to an RTI filed by a Kolkata resident.
"The government has come to conclusion that Netaji died in the plane crash on August 18, 1945," the ministry said on May 31, referring to the findings of the Shah Nawaz Committee, the Justice GD Khosla Commission and the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Enquiry on the subject.
A home ministry spokesperson today clarified that the issue was not closed.
"There was a conclusion in 2006 that Netaji was dead. The RTI reply was based on that conclusion. However, the issue is not closed. Any new fact, if it comes up, will be examined by the government on merit and an appropriate decision will be taken," the spokesperson said.
The RTI reply on Bose's death was based on a May 2006 cabinet decision, he said. The Congress-led UPA was in power at the Centre then.
He said a supplementary reply to the RTI applicant was being sent, clarifying the government's position.
The spokesperson said the government in 2006 had taken this position after the Mukherjee Commission (1999) concluded that Netaji was no longer alive considering the fact that he was born in 1897.
The UPA government in 2006 accepted the Mukherjee Commission's conclusion that the former Congress president was presumed dead.
The spokesperson said the then government had rejected the findings of the Shah Nawaz Committee (1956) and the Khosla Commission (1970-74) -- that Bose was not killed in the plane crash in Taipei in 1945, and that the ashes kept in Tokyo's Renkoji Temple were not his.
In the RTI reply, the NDA government also sought to dispel reports that Bose lived in disguise as 'Gumnami Baba'-- the belief of a large section of Bose's legion of admirers, many of whom held that he was alive, but in hiding.
Immediately after the RTI reply was made public, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee demanded a clarification from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"I am shocked to see this unilateral decision of the Central Government without evidence," she said.
Chandra Bose, BJP's West Bengal unit leader and Bose's grandnephew, demanded that a special investigation team be set up to unravel the mystery of his disappearance.
"I demand the Central government immediately take action against the officer who gave such an irresponsible reply. How can the government come to a conclusion regarding Netaji's death without concrete evidence," he asked.
The All India Forward Bloc accused the Centre of "misleading" the country by claiming he had died in an air crash in 1945. Bose had set up the Forward Bloc of the Indian National Congress in 1939.
The Congress also accused the NDA government of making "concerted efforts" to rewrite history. Saying that it had stoked a fresh controversy over Bose's death, it demanded an apology from it.