Politics

Why Did the Government Spy on Netaji’s Kin for More Than Two Decades?

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Prime Minister Nehru himself seems to have ordered constant surveillance of two nephews of Netaji. The only reason could be Nehru’s anxiety over Subhas Chandra Bose’s ‘death’.

If one thought snooping on distinguished citizens, who posed no security risks to the state, intercepting their mails, keeping a tab on their movements and activities defined Richard Nixon’s presidency in America, think again. India hasn’t exactly been run on the principles espoused by Mahatma Gandhi.

From late 1940s to 1960s—the heydays of democrats, ahem, like Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr B.C. Roy, chief minister of West Bengal from 1948 to 1962, Subhas Chandra Bose’s two nephews, both of whom had contributed to the freedom struggle, were subjected to continuance surveillance in what was India’s most liberal city back then—Calcutta. It is obvious that the main area of interest was Netaji, ‘dead‘ since 1945.

Documents sent to the National Archives in New Delhi by fluke by the Home Ministry following the RTI crusade of Mission Netaji, a group comprising this writer and friends, detail how Amiya Nath Bose and his younger brother Sisir Bose were snooped on for more than two decades by sleuths of the state intelligence branch, evidently at the behest of the Intelligence Bureau in New Delhi.

While Sisir Bose was a well-known paediatrician, Amiya Bose was a barrister and later Member of Parliament and then High Commissioner. Their father was Netaji’s elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose. Amiya continued to be on the radar of the Intelligence Branch even after he became an MP. Sisir eventually became the only nephew of Netaji’s to join the Indian National Congress. The brothers did not remain on good terms.

The brothers passed away years ago never knowing that a file each (or perhaps more) was opened in their names in the office of Director, Intelligence Branch, West Bengal (most likely also Director, Intelligence Bureau, New Delhi) and updated at regular intervals.

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The reports appended in the Bengal files are so meticulous, so neat and clean, and professionally worked out that they would very well fall in the class of documents originating from the MI5 and the CIA for that period. This would mean that when the bhadraloks in Bengal were regaled by the exploits of fictitious detective Byomkesh Bakshi out to crack petty crimes, real life Intelligence Branch officers were performing feats that would have given the CIA agents a run for their money.

For a start, just savour the language and sophisticated appearance of the report dated 17 May 1948. S.P. Sinha, Esq, Dy Commissioner of Police, Security Control to HN Sircar, DIG, IB, CID: “Would you please let me know if there is anything adverse on record in your office regarding the undermentioned person who has applied for passport facilities to UK, France, Switzerland, Turkey for the purpose of…”

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The copy of the response that “there is no objection” has been duly forwarded to R.N. Kao, Esq, Assistant Director, Intelligence Bureau. Does that name ring a bell? That’s the legendary spook Rameshwar Nath Kao, R&AW’s founder chief. His name figures in another “Very Secret” record of an interception of Amiya’s letter to Sisir in November 1949.

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Also in picture is Kao’s colleague in IB—M.M.L. Hooja, who became the Director Intelligence Bureau in the late 1960s. Evidently the shining lights of IB had been kept in the loop over such a seemingly innocuous matter.

Appended in the Intelligence Branch files are numerous handwritten records of telephone messages regarding the movements of Amiya.

“Amiya Nath Bose (SRP) arrived Howrah R/S … on Puri Express at about 7.35.”
“Amiya Nath Bose left Sealdah Station…”
“Shri Amiya Nath Bose left Dum Dum airport by 1 AC line No 1 today”
“Shri Amiya Nath Bose arrived here to-day from Bagdodara…”
“Shri Amiya Bose MP (FB) left Howrah R/S for Delhi to night (25.7.68) at 19.45 hrs by 1 UP Howrah Delhi Kalka Mail….”

The copy of a security control officer’s Report dated 6.10.57 that you see below is a typed one:

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“The abovementioned pax left for Tokyo this evening at 21.25 hours…,” The document reads, as the reader can see.

A report dated 23 October 57 notes that Amiya “has probably gone to Tokyo to collect materials for Netaji Research Bureau started at Netaji Bhawan”.

And those who think that India did not have a national intelligence grid in the good old days should take a look at this:

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Special Branch CID, Madras, writing to Deputy Director, Intelligence Bureau on 22 April 1958:

“It is reliably learnt that Sisir K. Bose, Secretary, Netaji Research Bureau, Netaji Bhawan, 38/2, Elgin Road, Calcutta, informed Sakthi Mohan, Editor, ‘Kannagi’, Madurai on 4.4.58 as follows….”

The report has been copied to Deputy Director, Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, Madras; Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Branch, Calcutta and Dist Supt. Of Police, Madurai Urban.

So thorough was the interception that letters from Subhas Bose’s wife Emilie Schenkl to Sisir and brothers’ acquaintance in Japan, Europe and America—like historian and Netaji biographer Leonard Gordon—were opened, copied and kept. Call it the Intelligence Bureau’s version of Netaji Collected Works!

But some of the contents weren’t to the likings of the spies. Writing to his aunt Emilie on 14 July 1955, Sisir made a bitter remark: “If you were in India today, you will get the feeling that in India’s struggle two men mattered—Gandhi and Nehru. The rest were just extras.”

And what Amiya wrote to an acquaintance in Germany on 7 December 1958 would have caused heartburns. “Gandhi was not a saint,” wrote Amiya to writer Carl Vincent Krugmann. “He was an astute politician.”

“Gandhi’s theory of non-violence has practically no influence in India today. If India is attacked, she will be defended by her Army…Gandhi’s movement of ‘non-violent non-cooperation’ did not bring independence to India. The movement he started in August 1942 was smashed by the British Government in a few months…the immediate cause of British withdrawal was the INA trial held in Red Fort.”

A top secret report prepared towards the end of the 1960s opened in a manner reminiscent of the Raj era: “The subject [Sisir] took part in the reception which was accorded to Major General Chaterji of INA on his arrival…he delivered speeches praising Major General Chaterji for his selfless services to the country as a prominent leader of the INA and also demanded his release. He used to visit the office of the INA Relief Committee at Bowbazar.”

The report further records that in November 1965, Sisir visited Taipei and “met Mr Sih Shon-Heng, Director of European Dept, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and had discussions with him on a ‘very important subject’.”

Of course Netaji figures heavily in the correspondence. What else would his family discuss? But what was the interest of the authorities in knowing what they did? An intercepted letter of Sisir revealed that he had written the following to Tatsue Hayashida in Tokyo on 17 August 19 65:

“The Netaji Enquiry Committee (of 1956 that was set up by Nehru under public pressure) made a great mistake by not visiting Formosa and holding an investigation on the spot. This weakness of the investigation is obvious…”

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The remark has been underlined in the document, signifying its importance. Indeed it was; for it was only in 2003 that this writer was able to get a formal reply from the Government of Taiwan (Formosa) that there was no evidence of Netaji’s reported death in their country.

Also underlined is Sisir’s act of informing Hayashida (who was working on Netaji’s biography) that as per a report “the present Government in Formosa have documents in their possession showing that an air crash of the same description occurred in October 1944 but no such air crash took place in August 1945 (in which Bose had allegedly died)”.

According to a top secret note prepared in 1968, the state committee of the Forward Bloc (the party Netaji had established) was miffed with Amiya because the “subject (Amiya) has been carrying on concerted propaganda…that the party has virtually become the stooge of the communists.”

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On 12.6.68, Amiya and Sisir attended, so goes another report, “the meeting of the all Indian Jan Sangh leaders…on the proposed formation of a third front in West Bengal composed of non-Congress and anti-Communist forces”.

So, why were the authorities so interested in knowing what the brothers did or were up to with regard to Subhas Bose?

Intelligence agencies do not perform tasks of ghostbusters. They are not interested in dead people but those living, as their tasks pertain to tackling present and future threats. In keeping an eye on the Bose brothers, who did not possess any significant political clout, the sleuths were actually keeping a tab on anything and everything related to Subhas Chandra  Bose. Why would they do that unless they disbelieved the story of his death?

This writer has good reasons to believe that at the root of this unacceptable intrusion into the privacy of Bose brothers lay Prime Minister Nehru’s anxiety about Subhas Bose’s ‘death’. Nehru had himself issued instructions to spy on Amiya during his visit to Japan in 1957. It was quite an unusual step for the democratic Prime Minister who, according to a claim made by his intelligence chief B.N. Mullik, was reluctant to put even suspected foreign diplomats in New Delhi under surveillance.

The contents of the Intelligence Branch files explain, in part, why the government of Mamata Banerjee, who owes her political career to Nehru’s grandson, is cagey about giving basic information about secret files concerning Netaji held by her government.

In April this year, two years after I filed an RTI application with the Bengal government seeking a list of secret files concerning Netaji being maintained by the state, I was told that the information “may be available from the Secret Cell” of the Home Department.

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