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Netaji files reveal snooping on Subhas Chandra Bose’s family, doubts over death

The files also comprise various newspaper reports — mostly in English and Bengali — on the political activities of the family.

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal | Kolkata |
Updated: September 19, 2015 10:27:04 am
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Sixty-four files containing classified information on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, declassified by the West Bengal government Friday, not only raise questions over his death in a plane crash in 1945 in Taipei, but also reveal the extent of surveillance his family was put under.

Spread across the files are various references to Netaji “being alive”. For instance, in 1949, the state intelligence intercepted a letter written by Swiss journalist Dr Lilly Abegg to Netaji’s brother Sarat Chandra Bose. In it, Abegg said, “I heard in 1946 from Japanese sources that your brother is still living.”

Abegg, who was a correspondent in Japan and China and, at the time of writing the letter, worked for the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, also wrote, “On account of the good relation between Indian and my country, it is not possible to tell everything in a too open and undiplomatic manner. Further, as I have not been in India, it is impossible for me to take sides with one side only and against the government.” In a previous correspondence, dated November 1, 1949,

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Abegg had written to Sarat and said, “United Press reported that he (Netaji) was in Peking.”

On August 20, 1965, Netaji’s nephew Sisir Kumar Bose wrote to Tatsuo Hayashida, Netaji’s Japanese biographer, and asked if he had met Netaji in the hospital after the plane crash, or seen the cremation with his own eyes. Explaining his doubt, he wrote that Dr Satya Narayan Sinha, a member of parliament and former IFS officer, had said that the erstwhile Formosa government had documents that created doubts regarding Netaji’s death.

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“Dr Sinha visited Formosa in November-December last year and made enquiries regarding the air crash. A number of Chinese nationals were produced before him by the present government there and who made statements to him which are at complete variance with statements made by Japanese friends before the Netaji Enquiry Committee. Dr Sinha has written further that 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. It is reported that the Formosa Government will publish these documents if requested to do so by the Government of India,” read the letter.

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This 1965 intercept was part of a weekly secret survey of the Netaji Research Bureau by the West Bengal government’s state intelligence officers. At the heart of this covert operation was the regular interception of letters at the Elgin Road Post Office. In particular, two addresses had been been identified for surveillance — the residence of Netaji and his family at 1, Woodburn Park, and their ancestral home, which later became Netaji Bhawan, at 38/2 Elgin Road. The surveillance was authorised by “section 26(1) of the Indian Post Office Act, 1898” and the post-master was told to “direct the interception of all… postal articles which may be discovered in the course of transmission” to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Branch, CID Calcutta.

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Also in the files are details of a covert operation that continued for years, which included tracking of letters exchanged between members of the Bose family and various individuals. Anyone close to the family would also be put through a thorough background check — including scrutiny of their political leanings, education and relation to the Bose family — the files revealed.

The files also comprise various newspaper reports — mostly in English and Bengali — on the political activities of the family.

Over the years, the surveillance also tracked the growth of communism and left-wing politics in the state through the lens of the Bose family’s involvement. For instance, a report on May 10, 1949 notes that Soumyendra Nath Tagore, described as “closely associating with Sri Sarat Chandra Bose”, had arrived in Calcutta. “He is regularly holding closed-door meetings at his residence with these leaders and is forming an agitation against the present government. He is trying to make an alliance with all the leftist parties on this issue and is of late supporting the CPI line of action in resorting to sabotage and other violent activities for overthrowing the present regime,” the report stated. Such notes were filed daily at the time, under a section pertaining to “Socialism and Communism” and “subversive activities”.

Members of Netaji’s family reacted sharply to the declassified documents and demanded a probe into the reasons behind the snooping. His grand-nephew Chandra Bose said, “Why did they spy on my father Amiya Nath Bose? They deployed 14 men from the intelligence branch to spy on him. Why should the Indian government spy on the families of an Indian revolutionary? I demand that Narendra Modi institute a probe,” he said, adding that further clarity could be achieved by the declassification of files lying with the Union government.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said it was “unfortunate” that the truth around Netaji continued to remain obscure. “We made a beginning. The people should know the truth. Let the central government also declassify files,” she said.

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