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Explained: Everything you need to know about the Netaji files

Of the remaining 39 files, four are ‘Top Secret’, 20 ‘Secret’, five ‘Classified’ and 10 ‘Unclassifed’.

Written by Raghvendra Rao | New Delhi | Updated: December 3, 2014 10:49:37 am
Subhas Chandra Bose, then president of the Indian National Congress, at the centre of a crowd at the Lahore railway station, British India, November 24, 1938. Source: Wikipedia) Subhas Chandra Bose, then president of the Indian National Congress, at the centre of a crowd at the Lahore railway station, British India, November 24, 1938. Source: Wikipedia)

Like the previous UPA government, the NDA government has refused to make files on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s disappearance/death public. RAGHVENDRA RAO explains the files, the requests and what’s in the public domain and what isn’t.

What are the Netaji files?

There are 41 files on Subhas Chandra Bose, created between 1953 and 2000. Two — ‘INA Treasure’ and ‘Death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: Appointment of an enquiry commission to go into the circumstances of death’ — have been declassified, and can be accessed at the National Archives of India. Of the remaining 39 files, four are ‘Top Secret’, 20 ‘Secret’, five ‘Classified’ and 10 ‘Unclassifed’.

What are the files about?

Two of the four ‘Top Secret’ files are about the transfer of Netaji’s ashes to India and the official correspondence with, and about, his widow and daughter. The other two are titled ‘Death/Disappearance of Netaji SC Bose Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry’. While most of the 20 ‘Secret’ files pertain to Bose’s disappearance, one is titled  ‘Bharat Ratna Award: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Subhas Chandra Bose, JRD Tata and Morarji Desai’, evidently a discussion on who should be conferred the highest civilian award. One of the ‘Classified’ files is on Bose’s mortal remains “kept in the Rankoji Temple in Japan on behalf of Govt. of India”. In all, 21 files pertain to disappearance or circumstances of Netaji’s death, and the appointment of inquiry committees.

A paper cutting showing the allleged death of Sidei and Netaji A paper cutting showing the allleged death of Sidei and Netaji

Why the interest in the Netaji files?

Those asking for the files to be declassified hope they will reveal the ‘truth’ behind Bose’s death. At least three judicial commissions have probed the matter, but their reports were never accepted by the Centre. The Justice Manoj Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry set up in 1999 said Netaji was indeed dead, but he did not die in a plane crash over Taiwan, and the ashes in a Japanese temple were not Netaji’s. But the government did not accept his report. As the ‘mystery’ continued, demands for the files to be made public kept coming.

A memorial to Subhas Chandra Bose in the compound of the Renkōji Temple, Tokyo. Bose's ashes are stored in the temple in a golden pagoda. A memorial to Subhas Chandra Bose in the compound of the Renkōji Temple, Tokyo. Bose’s ashes are stored in the temple in a golden pagoda.

Who asked for them this time?

An application filed by RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal on September 14, 2013 asked whether it was true that there were some files related to Bose with the union government, and sought complete copies, along with the details of the matter. The application also sought copies of requests made by people to make the files public, and the action taken by the government on the requests.

What was the government’s response?

It confirmed it “has some files”. The PMO provided a list with the file numbers and their subject matter, marked under the heads ‘Declassified’, ‘Top Secret’, ‘Secret’, ‘Classified’ and ‘Unclassifed’. But the PMO refused to provide their copies, saying “disclosure of the documents contained in these files would prejudicially affect relations with foreign countries”, and that these files were “exempt from disclosure”.

Bose meeting Japanese prime minister Hideki Tōjō in 1943 Bose meeting Japanese prime minister Hideki Tōjō in 1943

But hadn’t the BJP asked for the files to be made public?

In the build-up to the Lok Sabha elections, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who was then BJP president, demanded that the government make public the records of Bose’s death. “Visited Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s birthplace at Odia Bazar in Cuttack today… The mystery behind his death should be unveiled by the union government to let the people know the truth,” Singh posted on Facebook on Bose’s birth anniversary in January.

What happens now?

On November 27, Agrawal filed what’s called a ‘First Appeal’ with the Appellate Authority in the PMO. Essentially, this is an appeal to a higher authority, another shot at getting the files.

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