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'Reports of Netaji's death should leave no doubt in anyone's mind'

By Indrani Roy
April 28, 2015 09:02 IST
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Netaji with Nehru

‘There is no evidence that it was Nehru who ordered this surveillance (on Netaji’s kin). It was a very low-level Bengal-based operation.’

‘Netaji’s grandnephew Sugata Bose has written in his book that the existing evidence that Subhas Bose died in that plane crash is overwhelming. No historian looking at that evidence can come to a different conclusion.’

‘Contrary to popular belief, there were very little differences among the three (Netaji, Nehru and Gandhi). Netaji was of the opinion that some amount of violence was necessary to bring independence for India.’

Historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee says the controversy over the alleged spying on the kin of Netaji is a damp squib.

I am reluctant to talk about the recent controversy surrounding two declassified files on Netaji (Subhas Chandra Bose) which state that the leader’s nephews were spied upon,” eminent historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee, below, left, told Indrani Roy/Rediff.com during an interview last weekend.

The files, now with the National Archives, revealed that Netaji’s nephews Sisir Kumar Bose and Amiya Nath Bose, his brother Sarat Chandra Bose's sons, were under intrusive surveillance for 20 years between 1948 and 1968. Jawaharlal Nehru was prime minister for 16 of these 20 years.

ALSO READ: Netaji's grandnephew: 'Hard to reconcile Nehru with spying against our family'

When a report in India Today magazine stated that all family letters were copied and some were shared with M L Hooja (who headed the Intelligence Bureau in 1968) and Rameshwar Nath Kao (he founded India’s external intelligence agency -- Research and Analysis Wing), it created a massive hue and cry across the world.

However, according to Mukherjee, “It’s a non-issue that is getting too much of attention.”

For, he opined that surveillance is an indispensable part of any political system and it makes little sense to grant it any importance whatsoever.

Mukherjee is the vice chancellor of Ashoka University at Sonepat. He has taught history at the University of Calcutta, Princeton University, University of Manchester, University of California and has edited The Penguin Gandhi Reader (Delhi, 1993) and is the author of the book Art of Bengal: A Vision Defined, 1955-75 (Kolkata, 2003).

Fingers are being pointed at Jawaharlal Nehru and his Cabinet for this ‘intrusive surveillance’ on Netaji. Your opinion…

There is no evidence that it was Nehru who ordered this surveillance. It was a very low-level Bengal-based operation.

You have often mentioned that we should not indulge in the controversy emerging out of this issue. Why?

What people are forgetting is that the files on Netaji were not declassified now. They were opened way back in 2010. They were available in the National Archives.

Somebody read them recently and thought it was a ‘big scoop’ that can be sold to the media. Sadly, it is no scoop but a damp squib.

In an article in a popular English daily, you wrote that Nehru had no apparent reason to feel threatened by either Sisir Kumar Bose or Amiya Nath Bose…

Yes, absolutely. Sisir Kumar Bose or Amiya Nath Bose were inconsequential political figures at that time. It was totally unnecessary for Nehru to keep a watch over them.

Compared to them, Netaji’s brother Sarat Chandra Bose was a much more important political figure at that time.

Rudrangshu MukherjeeWhy was the surveillance ordered, then? Was it a result of political rivalry between former West Bengal Chief Minister Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy and the Bose brothers?

I don’t think so. In the post-Independence period, Indian intelligence was probably working on a list that the British intelligence had left behind.

And as we all know, during the British regime, both Amiya and Sisir Bose were both on the blacklist of the British. It was just a typical bureaucratic procedure that was being followed.

Don’t you think it’s disgraceful to read and copy someone’s private letters?

Of course, it is! But we should also keep in mind that it’s a norm for all regimes to pry into the private lives of individuals. Surveillance is a part of the modern regimes of power, including democracy that upholds freedom.

I am only stating a fact here and am not justifying the way the Netaji kin were shadowed.

In present times, security concerns have provided a new excuse for any State to exercise surveillance. Every modern State now ‘needs’ to routinely keep its citizens under watch.

If we look at history, surveillance has always been an integral part of any administration.

Is it true that some bureaucrats in post-Independence India were under the impression that Netaji had survived the August 18, 1945, plane crash?

There is no evidence of any bureaucrat saying that in 1945-46.

Moreover, Netaji’s grandnephew Sugata Bose has written in his book on the leader that the existing evidence that Subhas Bose died in that plane crash is overwhelming. No historian looking at that evidence can come to a different conclusion.

If a different evidence comes to light, we will consider it as and when. I have read the reports of Netaji’s death myself. They are available in the National Archives and those reports should leave no iota of doubt in anyone’s mind.

A recent media report quoted the former bodyguard of Netaji as saying that the revolutionary leader did not die in that plane crash but was killed. Another former associate even said a meeting had taken place between Netaji and Sisir Kumar Bose in Tokyo in 1946, a year after the crash…

These are all fanciful stories and we should not pay any attention to them. Did Sisir Kumar Bose visit Tokyo in 1946? How old was he then? These are the questions that we need to ask ourselves.

Why is the logic missing when we are discussing such imaginary stories of Netaji having survived the Taiwan plan crash?

Do you think all these ‘news’ of Netaji surviving that plane crash are created by the media and some people and organisations?

Yes, of course! The media intentionally kept the controversy and ‘rumours’ of Netaji’s death alive as such reports sell a lot.

Television channels wasted no time to broadcast these ‘stories’ as they led to high television rating points.

What about the reports furnished by the Mukherjee commission (the third committee that probed Netaji's death from 1999 to 2005)? Justice M K Mukherjee even went public with his statement that a certain hermit of Faizabad was Netaji himself…

The Mukherjee committee failed to come up with any convincing evidence that the hermit of Faizabad was Netaji.

The commission also failed to negate the evidence that were produced by the Shahnawaz committee (the first committee to probe Netaji’s death).

The Mukherjee committee could not nullify the versions of Habibur Rahman, Netaji's only Indian companion on that fateful flight.

Tell me something, what reason would Rahman have to lie about Netaji’s end? He was the leader’s closed aide!

Are you of the opinion that too much focus was placed on the ideological and political differences that existed among (Jawaharlal) Nehru, Netaji and Mahatma Gandhi? And this in turn fuelled rumours about Netaji’s life and ‘death’?

Yes. Contrary to popular belief, there were very little differences among the three.

Netaji was of the opinion that some amount of violence was necessary to bring independence for India.

He did not believe in complete ahimsa (non-violence) as propagated by Mahatma Gandhi.

But what were his brigades called in the Indian National Army -- Gandhi Brigade, Azad Brigade, Nehru Brigade after Mahatma Gandhi, Chandra Shekhar Azad and Jawaharlal Nehru respectively. Does this show hostility?

Also, Netaji’s first speech from Singapore was addressed to Gandhi where he named him the Father of the Nation for the first time. Does this indicate rivalry?

An impression of ‘pseudo enmity’ was shaped by the media and unfortunately by some of Netaji’s followers. The latter should have served the leader’s legacy better.

However, they chose to create storms in a teaspoon over a non-issue. They did it to gain attention and also to create a myth around Netaji. It was totally unnecessary.

Netaji was worshipped as a great leader by his own rights.

What about the conspiracy theory that a few leaders in India wanted Netaji to be killed?

Nobody in India wanted Subhas Chandra Bose to be killed. If such a statement disappoints some analysts, I am sorry. Winston Churchill's government, however, had ordered his assassination in 1941. But that is global politics as it was evolving during the World War II.

Why is it often said that Nehru never wanted Netaji to come back to India?

These, as I stated earlier, are concocted stories that Netaji’s followers thrived on. There is no evidence that backs this kind of an impression. Nehru’s writings are open for public. Anybody can read them.

In one of my books I have written that except for their differences of opinion about fascism, Nehru and Netaji were close comrades and shared a warm personal relationship.

But what about the Communists? They were pretty angry with Netaji, right?

To speak of anger, every political force was angry with Subhas Chandra Bose as he had allied with the fascists (Nazi Germany and Japan against the backdrop of World War II).

Even his grandnephew (Sugata Bose) wrote in his book: ‘Subhas Bose was prepared to sup with the Devil if the payoff was independence for his country’. But that does not substantiate the so-called ‘conspiracy theory’.

Since political forces in India were concerned about Netaji’s ‘friendship with the fascists’, do you think his return to India would have posed a threat to the country?

I don’t think so. For, in his address to Gandhi, Netaji had said, ‘The moment our forces get to enter India, we will lay down arms at your feet and be at your service.’ So what threat are we talking about?

The problem with us, Indians, is that we don’t read our history. We are a nation that takes pride in its ignorance. We are prone to blind hero-worship. We don’t bother to read what Gandhi, Nehru or Netaji wrote about each other. Instead, we prefer to stick to some ‘imaginary stories’ about our leaders.

Do you think all files pertaining to Netaji should be declassified?

All files should be declassified whether they pertain to Subhas Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru or Vallabhbhai Patel. There is an Archives Rule in India which has unfortunately been ignored systematically over the years.

As a student of history, I don’t think why someone doing a research on Nehru would need to seek Sonia Gandhi’s permission to access some files which she has kept in her custody. Nehru passed away in 1964. All his files should be made public. For, Nehru does not belong to any family, he belongs to India.

Similarly, I feel all files pertaining to Netaji, wherever they are, should be declassified.

I don’t understand why the governments have failed to declassify old files.

Their excuse that opening up these files will destabilise the balance of power between India and other countries is a lame and a flimsy one.

Sugata (Bose) rightly pointed out that if we can still be friendly with the United Kingdom, knowing that Churchill's government ordered the assassination of Netaji in 1941, why should we be worried about opening up these files now?

Image: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose with Jawaharlal Nehru

Also read:
Netaji's grandnephew: 'Hard to reconcile Nehru with spying'

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