While the circumstances of Netaji’s death may forever remain a mystery, the nation does have a right to know what has been holding back the previous and even the current government from coming clean with whatever facts are at their disposal.
Eyebrows were raised when soon after the ceremonial release of the Netaji files by the Prime Minister, which was a lifetime’s photo-op moment for the extended Bose clan – Chandra Bose, grand nephew of Subhas Bose – attired in a Gandhi cap and Netaji’s signature round rimmed spectacles – formally joined the BJP in the presence of the party President Amit Shah. But as the young Bose is a political non-entity, it did not snowball into any major controversy.
The problem with Netaji Subhas Bose’ family is that they come across as trying to desperately cling on to his legacy more as a family inheritance rather than a national cause. This is distinct from the hurt pride of Bengalis at large, who feel short-changed at their sub-national hero missing his rightful place in India’s post-independence history due to a sad quirk of fate. But, the family seems to suffer from a loss of entitlement about their preeminent political status that the Nehru dynasty solely usurped by virtue of Netaji’s disappearance.
It must be said the Bose family wears Netaji on their sleeves much more than Mahatma Gandhi’s grandchildren or even the wider Nehru clan. In Kolkata (or be it Mumbai, Hamburg or Boston), the Boses are known to stick their noses up a bit in the air –in a not so subtle display of lineage.
The Boses were a political family even more than the Nehrus. Subhas’ elder brother Sarat was a towering figure in his own rights – a Barrister who later gave up his legal practice to join the Independence movement.
He too had a fallout with the Congress over the partition of Bengal and later briefly headed Forward Bloc – the party founded by Subhas Bose- before forming his own Socialist Republic Party. He also played a major role in providing relief to the families of the Indian National Army soldiers.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the subsequent generations inherited some of the political genes of their father and grand-uncle. But, instead of trying to forge a worthwhile political career of their own, they have been clinging on to the memory strings of Subhas Bose even as some of them pursue successful careers in various professions.
One branch of Sarat Bose’ family found it prudent to capitulate to the Congress party line of the “plane crash” theory and by default became the official custodians of Netaji’s history (with some ‘sarkari’ patronage, one would assume) – while dabbling part-time in politics. Some believe the family thought so as Sisir Bose, Netaji’s nephew who was an accomplice in Netaji’s “great escape” from house arrest, was under state surveillance for the longest time.
Meanwhile, another wing carried on a lonely crusade – as it were –for disclosure of the Netaji files questioning the far too simplistic air-crash story and fanning conspiracy theories that have been doing the rounds for the last 60 years. This is the great Elgin Road and Woodburn Park divide.
Truth and facts become a casualty as opinions, emotions and politics take over. One section of the family – who have long found their peace in the Renkoji Temple ashes – question the futility of digging into alternative tracts of evidence.
Historians who have embraced the air-crash theory are going out of their way to debunk stories of peer rivalry between Nehru and Subhas. So are journalists and op-ed columnists who have been co-opted.
Others who might have some clue – like Nayantara Sahgal, whose mother,Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit- Nehru’s sister, was the Ambassador to Russia and is believed to have been privy to some classified information – have chosen to maintain a pragmatic silence. Then there are the rest who have been ploughing on tirelessly with “non air-crash death” arguments.
Credit must go to Anuj Dhar – even if one doesn’t subscribe to some of his postulations – for doing phenomenal work in researching the data in public domain to create public opinion, which has forced the government’s hand to declassify a majority of files that several inquiry commissions had failed to do so far.
It is quite understandable that Congress will try to obfuscate facts because they are culpable, if not for tipping off Atlee’s government about Bose’s presence in Russia, as has been alleged, then for their lack of explanation on the prolonged surveillance over the family and for refusing to ‘declassify’ even relatively innocuous files. However, the present government – after its lofty pre-election promises – is also not helping much with its ‘strip-tease’ act of disclosures in phases, which tends to hide more than it reveals.
After so many years, at least what has been put to rest is any contention or conjecture that Netaji is still alive. While the circumstances of his death may forever remain a mystery, the nation does have a right to know what has been holding back the previous and even the current government from coming clean with whatever facts are at their disposal. If there is, indeed, a “foreign relations” angle, the government should be upfront about it. It is possible that some of the files do have sensitive information that does not lead up to anything conclusive.
But, if it is to shield any political figure or family then Narendra Modi has a lot to answer for and hiding the whole truth would be a betrayal of public trust. It is difficult to understand why as a nation we are coy about accepting the truth about our leaders and heroes.
It is this reluctance that will hold us back from being a first-rate democracy, which can accept the good, bad, and ugly about it with maturity. Let’s hope the Netaji files will give the government the confidence to be more open and pave the way for more revelations in future – such as the circumstances of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s mysterious death.
If only for this, we must be indebted to the Boses of Elgin Road, Kolkata.