Declassifying Netaji’s Archives: Government Transparency Or Just A Clever Move?

Posted on November 8, 2015 in Politics

By Annesha Ghosh:

On September 18, the West Bengal government declassified all the 64 files in the custody of the state government. The released documents include 8 DVDs of over 1200 pages, many of which have handwritten notes on the margins. These files, which were scrutinized by the Justice M K Mukherjee commission, contain personal correspondences between Netaji and his elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose, the British intelligence’s analysis of Netaji’s speeches at various public meetings and invitations he received to attend various functions.

Image source: Twitter
Mamata Banerjee declassifying files on Bose. Image source: Twitter

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee explained the rationale behind this move saying, “We want to maintain transparency and accountability. We don’t feel there is anything related to internal security. Netaji was a national icon. Everybody wants to know what happened to Netaji.

Despite her claims of transparency, the ulterior motive is far too obvious for one to overlook. Given the extraordinary grip Netaji continues to hold on the public imagination, the move on the part of the state government comes as a masterstroke. Even after 70 years of his purported death in a plane crash in Taipei, the memory of Bose as an unequaled nationalist continues to evoke strong passions, especially in Bengal. In a way, by declassifying these files she has particularly attempted to earn the good will of people from that part of the country which constitutes her political backyard.

Clearly, the Chief Minister of West Bengal can be seen making attempts at cashing in on the ‘Netaji’ factor to shape a favourable public discourse ahead of the 2016 elections. This will not only help play on the sentiment of Bengali pride but in a way will allow her to align herself in Bose’s tradition of challenging the establishment. Aren’t we already familiar with her 34-year-old-Left rule conquests and spoils of breakaway battle with the grand old party of India?

In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had had promised to release each of the 135 classified documents on Netaji that have been lying with the central government. Prior to that, the Congress regimes weren’t ever keen on going ahead with the disclosure because, as Ardhendu Bose, nephew of Subhash Chandra Bose stated, “they probably did not want to declassify something that would hurt Nehru’s legacy.” In fact, writer Anuj Dhar claimed in his book ‘No Secrets’ that “at least four secret files that were in existence in the Internal Security Division (ISD) of the Ministry of Home Affairs during the Atal Bihari days” were made to “disappear“.

Perhaps, decisions as unprecedented and incomprehensible as this are only possible in politics for Mamata Banerjee had constantly snubbed attempts by the Bose family to meet her over the declassification issue over the past few years.

What made the TMC government suddenly change tack remains anybody’s guess. More so, given that the decision came after the Prime Minister had held several meetings with members of the Bose family between April- May this year.

With the disclosure of the 64 Top Secret files on Netaji having created quite the buzz the West Bengal government would have hoped for, the Chief Minister has effectively launched a tripartite offensive.

Netaji Subhas Bose with Mahatma Gandhi at an Indian National Congress meet. Image source: Wikipedia
Netaji Subhas Bose with Mahatma Gandhi at an Indian National Congress meet. Image source: Wikipedia

One cannot rule out the possibility of a split in the four-party-CPI (M) led Left-front in Bengal in the very near future. It should not come as a surprise if the All India Forward Block, an organization that was founded by Netaji, now finds itself favourably inclined towards the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its supremo. Her prior unsuccessful attempts at getting nationalist forces like the Forward Block out of the Left by milking Communist insults of Netaji (who was labelled as a ‘fascist stooge’ and Japan’s lapdog) may now finally bear fruition.

Though the Forward Block has for long only been a largely-ignored constituent of the Left, its shift towards the TMC in a charged electoral atmosphere, can possibly add the final nail to the Left’s coffin which has, anyway, been down in the dumps following its dismal performances in state and parliamentary elections in 2011 and 2014 respectively.

The Congress, which never allowed Mamata Banerjee gain stature while the TMC was part of the UPA, now finds itself embarrassed by the skeletons tumbling out of its closet vis-à-vis the revelations on successive Congress governments in the Centre and the state having snooped on Bose’s kin.

Will This Declassification Have Any Bearing On The Interpretation Of History In The Realm Of Academia?

With a view to getting a sense on the possible imprint the declassification of these 64 files could make on historical scholarship, apart from the undeniable socio-political implications, 4 students from across different universities in Kolkata shared their thoughts:

Nilanjan Paul, B.A History, Presidency University

As a student of history, I appreciate the decision of declassification of the Netaji files. Facts are the basis of history. Moreover, Bengali sentiments, coupled with popular imagination have made Netaji an urban legend. The revelation of facts will help in the mythical history revolving around him and ensure better research. However, I haven’t seen the files and according to my little research, there is nothing new in the files which might have “impact”. More files are needed to be declassified. But keeping in mind all the political agendas revolving around the issue, I wonder how these facts will be used. In the words of E.H Carr, History is nothing but historian’s interpretation of facts.

Upasana Ghosh, B.A, Jadavpur University

The opening of the Netaji files is a positive step as Netaji is a hero close to every Bengali’s heart. The fact that an old mystery can be thoroughly researched is a historian’s dream. But it should be remembered is that a government’s primary role is to govern. While its interest on academics is encouraging, it shouldn’t obsess on any particular issue.

Akhil Sengupta (name changed), M.A, University of Calcutta

The West Bengal government’s decision to initiate the process of declassification of documents can majorly impact the approach to research on India’s freedom struggle vis-a-vis post-1945. The documents can be expected to dispel many misconceptions about Subhash Chandra Bose for good. It will be relatively easy for academics to structure their research around Netaji as they will have an improved cache of verified information to foreground their study in. The documents may also give us a better sense of Bose’s apparently Fascist inclinations, such as his Faustian Treaty with Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. Furthermore, the declassification of all of the 263-odd files on Netaji can help expose an unpleasant side to the Nehru Congress government, which has, so far, found little or no consistent mention in History books.”

Swati Singh, M.A, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU)

In my opinion, every student of History deserves to approach the subject from the point of view of fact and not fiction. Therefore, I welcome Mamata Banerjee’s decision to make these classified documents public. As a student of this discipline, I understand the possible risks the content of any declassified file on Netaji can throw up, especially with regards to India’s foreign policies and international relations. But that should not deter the central government from declassifying the files that lie in its custody. It’s no use studying the history of the Indian freedom movement if a significant portion of it continues to remain bereft of truth.”

Although the ‘Netaji’ mystery remains far from being resolved and it may be early days to predict possible alterations that may finally make their way onto pages of History books, there remains little doubt over Mamata Banerjee’s opportune act having set the tone for Bengal’s assembly polls next year. With her masterstroke, she has irrevocably earned the bragging rights for having brought the discourse around the fiery freedom fighter right back into the centre of national politics. More importantly, Mamata Banerjee has surely scored a well-timed goal, playing on the offensive to get ahead of all of her three opponents in Bengal at one go.

Youth Ki Awaaz is an open platform where anybody can publish. This post does not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions.