The official stand of the government and the findings of at least two commissions may be that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose died in the Taipei plane crash in 1945, but a book commissioned by the government, which has remained with the Ministry of Defence’s historical division since 1953, gives the impression that he escaped alive from the crash.
Despite the political rush to declassify Netaji files – the Centre has so far declassified 175 files and the West Bengal government 64 — the MoD has thwarted all means including RTI applications and court orders to reveal the contents of the book, A History of the Indian National Army 1942-45, written by historian Praful Chandra Gupta at the behest of the central government. The last time an attempt was made to get the views of various ministries on its publication was in 2011. In a note signed by Gautam Bambawale, joint secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, on June 22, 2011, the ministry said publication is unlikely to impinge on or affect Indian’s relations with any country more than 60 years later, so there is no objection to the draft volume on that count.
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“What is likely to be more controversial are the pages (186-191) pertaining to the death of Netaji Bose on a plane crash in Japan. Unfortunately, the current volume does not bring any finality to this subject and only adds to the view that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose may have escaped alive from the plane crash. On this issue, the current volume will not help end the controversy on the subject,” Bambawale wrote, ending that MEA has no objection from the political angle to the publication of the book. Before 2011 MEA had last seen the draft in 1953 – when the ministry was held by then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Bose’s bete noire in public perception. The book in effect supports the findings of the Mukherjee Commission that the government rejected about a decade ago.
Since the crash, two commissions of inquiry, the Shahnawaz Commission and the Khosla Commission, have ruled Netaji died in Taipei. But the Mukherjee Commission, whose report was tabled in Parliament in 2006, said that while he may be dead now, the plane crash is not how he died.
The MEA’s opinion in 2011 was sought in connection with a case in which MoD had given an assurance to Delhi High Court that it would publish the volume before end July 2011. That did not happen. In March 2012, a Delhi High Court order dismissed an appeal of the MoD against an order of the CIC to give a copy of the book under RTI to Gurgaon resident Chandrachur Ghosh. Ghosh had filed an RTI application in 2009. MoD argued that it is contemplating publication of the book and hence it would not be possible to give it to a private individual. The court upheld the CIC’s view that the information sought does not qualify for RTI exemption under Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act.
“The present petition is, therefore, dismissed. However, since the petitioner (MoD) has stated that it intends to publish the said manuscript, the copy of the original may not be provided to the respondent, provided the said original manuscript (without editing or updation) is published by the petitioner within four months from today. In case it is not so published, the petitioner shall provide a copy of the original manuscript of the work of Dr P C Gupta within two weeks thereafter,” reads the Delhi High Court order of March 19, 2012. The MoD chose to appeal to a two-judge bench of the high court, where it is still pending.
“The case is sub judice and therefore the book is not likely to be published till the verdict is given. The possibility of the ministry publishing this book in near future looks difficult,” said a defence ministry official.