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What role did IB play in the Netaji mystery?

July 12, 2012 08:35 IST

What role did the Intelligence Bureau have to play in the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose mystery? Anuj Dhar, the author of the just published book India's Biggest Cover-up, says that the agency doctored a British-era document to support the Nehru government's stance on the freedom fighter's reported death, reports Vicky Nanjappa.

Dhar tells that this 'doctored' document has since been repeatedly used to shore up support in favour of the official view, lastly in a 2011 book by Netaji's grandnephew Sugata Bose, whose parents were in the Congress party.

Dhar utilises a set of secret and declassified records, including those obtained under the Right to Information Act, to make a case against the IB.

Click here to read the documents

In 1955, B N Mullik, then IB director and the father figure of the Indian intelligence community, dispatched a dossier to the Shah Nawaz committee, established in 1956 to investigate Bose's death. This committee had been set up under public pressure by an unwilling Jawaharlal Nehru to go into the question of Bose's reported death following an air crash in Taiwan.

The IB dossier for Shah Nawaz Khan, a Congress MP and former Indian National Army officer, contained a selection of reports by various investigating officers. The first report was from Phillip Finney, an assistant director with the IB who had been sent to South East Asia alongwith other officers to ascertain the facts.

The copy of Finney's report dated November 1945 supplied by the IB to the committee appeared to confirm the Japanese announcement of their ally's death in August 1945, just at a time when the British were preparing to arrest him.

Dhar obtained this report in 2007 after he and his friends scored a partial victory against the ministry of home affairs in a long-drawn RTI battle. Both the Shah Nawaz committee and Khosla commission used Finney's report to claim that the inquiries by the British officers had concluded that the Japanese announcement of Bose's death was correct.

The same line was carried on by Prof Sugata Bose in his much talked about book His Majesty's Opponent in which he asserted that Finney had "reached definite conclusion" about his granduncle's death. Prof Bose is the son of late Dr Sisir Kumar Bose, a Congress party MLA, and a friend of President-designate Pranab Mukherjee.

A scrutiny of the document by Dhar however revealed that Finney's report in the IB dossier (accessed under RTI in 2007) had been censored to expunge its last three and the most crucial paragraphs.

Dhar located a complete copy of the same report in a declassified ministry of defence file at the National Archives in New Delhi. A plain reading of the portion removed from the report given to Shah Nawaz committee showed that Finney was actually not sure of Bose's death.

"That's why he and other officers continued to inquire into the matter for many more months afterwards," says Dhar, who has quoted from several post-November 1945 reports in his book.

"Whoever tampered with this record did so with the intention of conforming to the government view about Netaji's death," he alleges.

Taking his charge of "cover-up" further, Dhar claims in the book that "serving and retired intelligence officials appearing before Shah Nawaz and Khosla bolstered the impression created by Finney's doctored report with their misleading statements".

He accuses Mullik of lying on oath when he was summoned before Khosla Commission as a witness in 1970. Mullik practically headed the entire Indian intelligence apparatus from 1948 to 1968. Today, the heads of IB and Research & Analysis Wing (the foreign intelligence agency created out of IB in 1968) change in every two years or so. Commenting on the record of his deposition before the commission that he accessed using RTI, Dhar writes that it gives one an "impression as if Mullik had been living in a cave all the while the Bose mystery was raging in India".

Interestingly, during his cross-examination Mullik was repeatedly asked whether or not the IB had snooped on Shaulmari baba, a hermit alternatively described as Netaji in disguise and a "plant" by the Intelligence Bureau.

Every time he was put the question, Mullik replied that the government never asked the IB to track Shaulmari baba and nor the agency did that on its own as the issue "did not concern national security". 

"Anything concerning the security of India would bring the Intelligence Bureau into picture," Mullik had said on record.

But in his book Dhar has reproduced formerly "top secret" records establishing that as Mullick personally supplied information to Prime Minister Nehru on Shaulmari baba.

The book also appends still classified IB records showing the agency's unusual interest in Shaulmari baba -- who was certainly not Bose according to Dhar -- many years after the controversy about his real identity had petered out.

"Didn't the Intelligence Bureau have anything better to do? Why bother about all those absurdities when Subhas Bose was officially dead?" Dhar asks.

Vicky Nanjappa