Unable to explain convincingly why Bose’s family and INA’s men were snooped at, Congress is defaming the national hero.
The revelation that the Jawaharlal Nehru government spied on some members of the Bose family as well as former members of the Indian National Army for over two decades has led to a plethora of stories and panel discussions in the print and electronic media during the past fortnight. This sustained publication of stories containing new and not-so-new information, which started with the findings of Mission Netaji, has resulted in a palpable increase in public outrage. Expectedly, it has rattled the Congress and no less the Nehru fan club in the media and academia.
Both the Congress and BJP were caught unawares. They had not expected the revelations to scale up so much so fast. Both parties got down immediately into a slugfest. The Congress accused the BJP of selective leaks, while the BJP accused the Congress of systematically suppressing information on our freedom fighters other than Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi.
It is important not to lose focus of the central question: Why were successive governments, starting with Nehru’s, snooping on the family members of a man they claimed had died in 1945? It is also important to keep in mind that for the Congress, Subhas Chandra Bose has been a thorn in the flesh since 1939. They have neither been able to co-opt him nor have they been able to disassociate the party from him due to his astounding levels of popularity, despite not having any official patronage from any party since independence.
The reactions of the Congress has been that of denial; they are marked by a lack of honesty in owning up the fact that it is the party which has repeatedly frustrated all attempts not only to find out about the fate of Bose, but efforts to declassify Netaji-related documents. The role of NDA government during the inquiry being conducted by Justice Mukherjee was not any brighter.
– 10 April: Congress issues a press release accusing that “a systematic and sinister propaganda of selective leaks and half-truths has been unleashed by current BJP government to malign national icons”. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi demanded that “the PM and home minister Rajnath Singh must explain why only file notings of two declassified documents have been released while withholding the correspondence portion of these files. Does that portion contain some inconvenient truth the prime minister’s office has chosen to withhold?” The party demanded that all Bose-related documents be declassified.
Clearly the Congress didn’t have any idea that these files were declassified not by the BJP government, but by the second UPA government.
– 12 April: Congress leader Pramod Tiwari calls it “routine fact finding”. He says, “This was not snooping… must have been some reason to find out some information. Allegation is false. It was routine and facts finding. .” Sharad Pawar of NCP suggested that the government of the day loved the relatives of the Bose family too much and hence “kept an eye” on them for their safety. Party spokesperson Tom Vadakkan calls the documents fraud during a debate on Times Now.
– 13 April: Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma accuses that the Modi government “motivated news plants based on selective and mischievous leaks… with the sole aim of diverting the attention of people from miserable performance, betrayal of mandate and failed promises.” He is at a loss of words to explain why the then Prime Minister Nehru asked the then foreign secretary to report on the movements of Amiya Nath Bose in Tokyo and why it should not be construed as snooping or espionage. Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha repeats the party line on Times Now that the documents are “selective leaks made by the Bharatiya Janata Party because of their anti-Nehruvian mindset.” Congress MP V Hanumantha Rao calls the controversy an attempt of the NDA Government to divert the people’s attention from the issue of Land Acquisition Bill.
– 14 April: Congress leader Digviyaya Singh says that revelations were a “well-planned conspiracy” and that the Intelligence Bureau was in fact making inquiries about a Sadhu in West Bengal about whom somebody had claimed that he was Netaji. “These documents have no relevance to Bose,” he says.
– 15 April: Congress spokesperson Sharmistha Mukherjee appears clueless about destruction of Netaji files but that does not stop her from blaming the NDA government for remaining silent for so long and for not declassifying the documents.
– 16 April: Accusing the NDA government of doing “cheap politics”, Congress spokesperson PC Chacko dares the Prime Minister to declassify all the files.
– 17 April: Congress MP Deepender Singh Hooda says that Netaji files should be declassified and tabled in Parliament.
If the efforts in denial or justification of the snooping on various grounds were not paying off, the next best course would be to extricate Nehru out of the situation.
Ironically two persons who have fronted this effort are from the Bose family — Sugata Bose and his mother Krishna Bose. While the majority of the family — especially the children of Amiya Nath Bose — were going ballistic demanding a probe on the snooping and declassification of secret files, Sugata was keen to point out that “I find it hard to square Nehru’s personal attitude and what the intelligence agencies were doing”, and “the files released so far have no indication that Nehru himself ordered the intrusive surveillance in Calcutta.” In other words, the documents that have been released in the public domain are not enough. Nehru might have been completely innocent and ignorant about what his intelligence agencies were doing during his entire tenure as the prime minister!
Very soon, a new trend started showing up in commentaries being published in newspapers and news portals — that of highlighting Bose’s connections with the Axis Power and demonstrating that Nehru was a superior person than Bose. It was as if vilification of Bose would somehow justify the spying. The adjunct to this approach was the playing down of snooping. Suddenly snooping became a long-known and acceptable feature amongst the Nehruvian intelligentsia!
Historian Benjamin Zachariah, while calling the ongoing debate a “cooked up” outrage, dismissed it by pointing out that it “was standard practice for the Indian police to continue their surveillance of persons of interest after Independence” and that people such as Ram Manohar Lohia, Muzaffar Ahmad, Saumyendranath Tagore were snooped upon, too. He, however, forgot to mention that neither Amiya Bose nor Sisir Bose were politicians of that stature. Zachariah brought in a whole new angle to the discourse by claiming that files on Bose were destroyed at the orders of some unknown persons to protect him and his family from public scrutiny, implying that destruction of Bose files actually were beneficial to his reputation! Thereafter, he plunged into the standard criticism of Bose about his fascist “collaboration” and quickly associates him with Hindutva, saying “perhaps Bose is a suitable hero for Hindutva conditions”. The point of his argument, in brief, was that snooping is standard practice and there is no need to get hassled because Bose was after all not such a nice person. Just how bad, we are yet to learn!
A Bengali columnist went into a self-flagellation mode on how Bengalis are parochial and how the inferiority and persecution complexes of the Bengalis were responsible for championing past idols. He saw great hope in the fact that a mass rally in Calcutta supporting declassification of files saw thin attendance. Another columnist postulated that what the “latest revelation has done is take this perennial Bengali daydream [about Bose not dying in 1945] and give it a national fillip. What they left unsaid is that it is just fine to remain fixated with a certain Karl Marx (who died 132 years ago) or a certain Lenin (who died 91 years ago). The problem starts when people do the same with a certain Subhas Bose!
Former Congress Minister Manish Tewari too joined the Bose-belittling game. Bose lost out to the Congress, before he fled the country, Tewari told his readers. Therefore, it is a stretch of imagination that either Mahatma Gandhi or Pandit Nehru would feel threatened by him. So why was Nehru spying on Amiya Nath Bose?
Notably, here Tewari, unlike other Congress leaders, did not pass the buck to the home ministers. His hypothesis is that since Japan was trying to shake off its war guilt, Nehru saw an opportunity to bring that country “within his ambit” and was apprehensive that Amiya was attempting to stoke memories of the past when Japan itself was not trying to forget it. He, of course, did not forget to repeat his party’s demand for declassification of all files. Now that he has proven that all is fine, we can go back to sleep!
Another columnist decried the controversy over the new revelations. This is, he wrote, “what conspiracy theorists and spin doctors needed to push their agenda — that Netaji was a greater patriot than Pandit Nehru.” The columnist thereafter rattled off one distortion after another to demonstrate how bad Bose was. He was so bad, and yet “Pandit Nehru paid a tribute to his former colleague.” What about the two-decades of snooping? Silence.
Importantly, if there is one reason which has made Bose a sort of pariah amongst politicians and intellectuals alike, despite his vision, his charisma, his tremendous achievement and his never-diminishing popularity, it is his association with the Axis bloc — especially with Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. In the rush to prove his guilt by association, the standard critiques have in the most unthinking manner chosen to ignore the finer aspects. Bose’s ideology has been clubbed with Fascism, Nazism and Communism despite his repeated clarifications stressing his differences with them. The fact that he was not involved in the domestic affairs of Italy or Germany is not taken into account.
In international affairs, the interest of one’s own country matters over all else. At a time when the British Empire was drawing India into the War without showing any signs of leaving the country and when the Soviet Union, the first country he had approached, refused to help him, there was little choice left for help.
Bose’s idea was clear — to raise an army that would invade the British establishment while the revolutionaries inside the countries would rise in rebellion. This was his chosen method over the alternative of rotting in prison and then negotiating endlessly for British favours. His alliance was not with Hitler or Mussolini or Hideki Tojo, but with powers who promised help. If Joseph Stalin had agreed to help, he could have become Bose’s ally. If instead of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo there were other leaders perceived as lesser evil, he would have certainly allied with them in a similar situation. Rather than being judged by the figures who happened to be rulers of the Axis bloc, Bose should therefore be judged by his actions, which were nothing but noble and inspiring. He showed the practical way of running a government and an army by overcoming the traditional caste and religious barriers with which India is still struggling after 68 years of independence. He gave hope to the large Indian communities in Europe and Asia. And in his disappearance he sparked a rebellion that compelled the British to quit faster than they had negotiated. Here lies his greatness over those leaders who, with age, had become tired and were driven by the desire to somehow climb the throne.
But right now the foremost issues are of transparency and accountability of governments. Two aspects come out clearly from the Congress and its apologists’ reactions. First, barely anybody, especially professional historians, understands the complexities of the disappearance mystery of Subhas Bose. Without that understanding, it is impossible to grasp the implications of the snooping that continued for, who knows, how many years. It is doubtful how many historians have taken the trouble of going through reams of pages transferred to the National Archives due to the efforts of the Mission Netaji. Although almost everyone is now keen to jump on to the bandwagon of declassification seekers, it is also doubtful what sort of effort they have mounted on the government to see that happen.
Second, the reactions reveal how deeply entrenched the Nehruvian mentality amongst the intelligentsia is. Criticising Nehru is acceptable, even fashionable, to an extent. But digging deeper is akin to throwing a stone at a beehive. For good or for bad, the stone has been thrown.
If there is any common ground that this controversy has generated, it is declassification of all documents. It is a demand that the Modi Government cannot ignore anymore. As Patrick French observed, “Whatever historical embarrassments may reside in the Netaji papers, they need to be made available in full now, along with many millions of other state records.”
Mr Modi, please declassify Netaji files.