Monday, February 1, 2016

Great deal of sound and fury over Bose papers, but no real information. Is history bunk?

So, did Netaji die in that air crash or not? After the high drama over the release of the Bose papers, we still do not know. Actually the confusion has become more confounding. Those who swear by the air crash theory are as categorical as those who say he died a natural death in India in the 1980s.

Politics colours every bit of the Bose story. It is known that some files marked "Whereabouts of Subhas Chandra Bose" disappeared from the Internal Security Division's desks in the 1970s. One known as Nehru's master file on Bose was destroyed during Indira Gandhi's rule. It is no secret that Nehru's intelligence agencies kept watch on Bose's relatives. Why would they do such things unless they believed that Bose was alive and could be plotting to unseat the Government?

Several inquiry commissions looked into the Bose mystery. Some were cover-up jobs. Some brought out inconvenient details which were never followed up. For example, when a sanyasi known as Gumnami Baba died in his Faizabad retreat in the 1980s, his belongings packed in 24 trunks were kept in the Faridabad treasury. Why is there no official information about this?

Justice M.K.Mukherjee, head of one of the inquiry commissions, had seen 40 trunks with the sanyasi's belongings. These included documents about the freedom struggle, books in Bengali as well as English, and old photographs of Bose family members. Justice Mukherjee said the handwritings of the sanyasi and Bose "matched perfectly" as certified by B.Lal, director of the National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science. Off the record, he said, "I am one-hundred percent sure that [the sanyasi] was Netaji". But his official report said Netaji died in the air crash; the government's non-cooperative attitude, he said, had prevented him from gathering evidence. Morarji Desai, as Prime Minister, once said that Bose was not dead, "he has taken sanyas". But he would say nothing more. All governments played politics over Bose.

In the current round of the game, a new angle has been added -- that it was the Indian National Army that brought about the end of the empire by encouraging mutiny in the regular armed forces of India and thereby scaring the colonial rulers out of their wits; this fact is underplayed in order to give credit to the Gandhi-Nehru-Patel group, and therefore history must be rewritten to give Bose due credit.

No one ever denied the importance of the INA in the freedom struggle. Its heroism did cut into the morale of the regular forces. But that became a factor in British decision-making because Clement Attlee was the Prime Minister there. He was a social worker before he joined the Labour Party. If Winston Churchill, the unwavering imperialist, were the Prime Minister, the INA survivors and regular troops who showed any interest in them would have been summarily dealt with.

India won independence with the sacrifice of millions of people and the leadership of many groups. Gandhian ideas contributed as much as Netaji's military approach. We should be grateful that the formation of government was on the basis of the Gandhi-Nehru-Patel group's ideas. Netaji's concept was that free India should have a dictatorship for at least 20 years.

The rewrite-history school must also consider how warm Gandhi-Nehru were to the INA and how Patel would take a different line only in the matter of discipline in the armed forces. Gandhi, an opponent of Bose in the Congress movement, was now unstinting in his praise of Bose's courage and patriotism. Nehru put on his lawyer's robes to defend the INA heroes on trial in the Red Fort. Patel shared their admiration for INA soldiers, but disapproved of the famous 1946 naval mutiny in which young Indian sailors rose in revolt against their British superiors in as many as 78 ships.

The Sardar's view was that mutiny was indiscipline and should in no circumstances be encouraged. He was so uncompromising that he took objection to Bombay's Free Press Journal giving detailed daily coverage to the naval mutiny, electrifying readers. Free Press owner S.Sadanand even gave jobs to two ring leaders of the mutiny. Sardar Patel punished Sadanand, a lifelong freedom fighter, by refusing to give him government clearances to start what would have been an Indian-owned international news agency to counter western inroads through Reuters and AP. Should we now rewrite history to show Sardar Patel as a supporter of British forces in India? Or should we repeat with Henry Ford that history is bunk?