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Why All Netaji Files Must Be Declassified

With the West Bengal government declassifying 64 files related to the death of the unique icon of India’s freedom struggle Subhas Chandra Bose, pressures are mounting on the government of India to release Netaji-related files. The West Bengal files, which were archived as “secret” in intelligence and police departments, are now being displayed at the Kolkata Police Museum on computers which store scanned copies of the 12,744 pages of the 64 secret files. This is the first time the public will have access to the secret files that carry information about Netaji. The Kolkata Police Museum receives a footfall of not more than 25 visitors on weekdays and around 40 on holidays. But with the declassified files about Netaji on display the museum is expected to receive a large number of visitors, mainly because many things about his life, including how he died, still remain a mystery to people.

The files would obviously make rich material for history and political science researchers and make new facts known to people that will revise views on aspects of his life as well as the life of the political leaders of the Indian National Congress who interacted with him. The files must also throw new light on the actions and attitudes of the British colonial government that impacted his revolutionary activities and life. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee deserves appreciation for taking the decision of declassifying the Netaji files. People, who hold Netaji in high esteem for his bravery, have long had aired their view that they had a right to know about his life and politics and revolutionary activities. However, the common members of the public not having the time and expertise, they would look up to academic researchers and journalists to wade through the files and bring out the facts revealed in them.

However, one thing that needs to be said is: the greatest mystery regarding him, the mystery of his “disappearance” on August 18, 1945, is highly unlikely to be fully and finally solved. There have been several theories about how he died, but none of them provided a clinching proof. One theory said he died in the fighter plane crash in Formosa (now Taiwan). The other was that he survived the crash and escaped to Siberia. Yet another theory was that there was never a plane crash; it was a hoax to send wrong clues to the enemy so he could flee to a secure hiding place. However, these theories do not interest Netaji’s daughter Anita Pfaff who is convinced that he died in the plane crash and his ashes were interred at the Renkoji temple in Tokyo. Anita’s delving into the mystery of her father’s death led her to her belief that he died when the Mitsubishi Ki-21 Japanese heavy bomber he boarded at Saigon with his close aide Col. Habibur Rahman on August 17, 1945, purportedly to shift base to the erstwhile Soviet Union and continue his fight for India’s independence, crashed in Japanese-occupied Formosa.

Netaji’s grand nephew and Harvard University professor Sugata Bose researched on the mystery of his death and found overwhelming evidence supporting Anita’s belief that the iconic leader of India’s freedom died in the plane crash. Sugata Bose, who published his research in a book titled, ‘His Majesty’s Opponent’, claimed that the testimony of six of the seven survivors of the crash as also that of doctors and paramedics who treated Netaji at the Taipei Military Hospital conclusively proved that he perished in the crash. Two commissions of inquiry set up by the government of India, one led by retired major general Shah Nawaz Khan (1956) and another by retired chief justice of Punjab High Court G D Khosla (1970) also arrived at the conclusion that Netaji died in the crash. However, a third probe commission, headed by retired Supreme Court judge M K Mukherjee (2006) concluded that he had not died in the crash, but there was no definite and precise picture presented by it about how he died.

Going by the above, the demand of certain sections that the government of India set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under a Supreme Court judge to investigate the Netaji disappearance is not justified. Prime Minister Modi might be urged by members of Netaji’s family to set up a SIT when they meet him. However, of greater importance is declassification and release in the public domain of all classified and secret files pertaining to Netaji in the custody of the government of India. His family members claim that Right to Information disclosures to date have revealed that the Prime Minister’s Office alone holds 39 secret files relating to Netaji. The government of India’s view so far has been that the release of Netaji-related records might cause ‘a law and order problem in the country’, and prejudicially affect ‘relations with a foreign country’. These are nothing but usual government pretexts to hold back information from public domain. We hope Modi orders declassification after meeting members of Netaji’s family.

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