Saturday, April 25, 2015

Nehru Vs Bose – Clash of the Icons

What happened to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose? How did he die, and when? The answers to these two questions have been shrouded in a dark cloak of mystery for close to seven decades now. The only piece of information that was released for public consumption was that Netaji died in a plane crash on 18th August 1945. This particular explanation has been dismissed by many, including one of the members of the committee (Shah Nawaz Committee, 1956) which submitted the report, as farcical. Two more commissions of inquiry happened at subsequent times under different governments but the actual truth of Netaji’s disappearance and death remained elusive to the laity. Yet, the truth exists, although it lies hidden from public view in the confidence of the Indian State. And the currently raging row about the Nehru government’s snooping on Bose’s kin, that too for two decades after Netaji’s death, is making it increasingly harder for the government to conceal the truth any further, on whatever pretext (ostensible or real).

Although the suddenness and the strangeness with which Subhas Bose met his end shocked and troubled the nation for long, the country had moved on. Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of Independent India and went on to rule the nation for sixteen long years. His name is now firmly entrenched in the history books as one of India’s foremost national icons, whose name is uttered in deference to the halo of virtue and patriotism that shrouds every national figure of India’s fight for Independence. Yet, the very inviolability of that aura has been put to scrutiny in an unlikely era so far removed from Nehru’s own, and due to the opening of another chapter in the continual saga of intrigue that surrounds the death of one of the greatest figures of India’s Freedom struggle. The recent de-classification and uploading into the national archives of a section of the Bose files raises pertinent yet uncomfortable questions about the role of the then Nehru government in keeping the activities of Bose’s family and relations under secret surveillance for as many as sixteen years and by the Indira government for another four years after Bose’s reported demise in a plane crash.

The revelations in the declassified document have not just reignited emotions pent up in many over the unsolved mystery of Netaji’s disappearance, but have also brought back in focus the fact that Indian History has been less than just to a man who was perhaps equally, if not more instrumental in liberating India from the British than even Mahatma Gandhi. It is a well known fact, acknowledged by historians internationally, that the British would not have left India in such a hurry had it not been for the danger posed to it by the Indian National Army, of which Subhas Bose was the founder. Clement Attlee, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain, admitted in 1947 that they (the British) were left with no other choice but to leave the country in the face of the deep divisions created within the Royal Army due to open affiliations of certain sections of the army for Bose’s INA. Yet, Indian History is silent on most of Netaji’s exploits. The INA finds no place of pride in its pages. The thousands of Indians who sacrificed their lives for the country as members of the INA are but pariahs in the anthology of Indian Independence. Now, as the actual details of Bose’s disappearance begin to trickle out of the vault of secrecy, albeit in driblets, History will be questioned anew, and might well be shaken to correct itself.

As far as historical records go, Nehru and Bose harbored no apparent animosity towards each other, and it would be presumptuous to believe that Nehru had any reason to view Netaji as a political rival or a potential usurper, as the many inferences from the current disclosures would have us believe. Yet, his pushing for the “plane crash” theory against all odds and the secret surveillance of Bose’s close relations by Indian intelligence agencies for sixteen years, assuming Nehru was privy to it, which it is hard to believe he wasn’t, reeks of something more than the eye could see. The recent disclosures have brought all those questions to the fore again, raised newer ones, and hardened the determination of all those affected in this case to fight for revelation of the truth with renewed vigor. The premise upon which successive governments have taken shelter in to justify the secrecy - to prevent straining of diplomatic relations with a friendly nation – is now beginning to sound more and more unconvincing. Instead, it has given rise to a suspicion that the effect of the revelations would be more domestic than international. Here again, Nehru comes back into focus. Is it that the disclosures will lend substance to perception, and darken Pandit Nehru’s so far unblemished image in a lesser light? Was this the real reason why Netaji’s last days were consigned to the realm of oblivion, and his memories sought to be erased from public memory?

Questions, all of these, to which there have been very few answers, if any. The million-dollar question, if there ever was one, is whether the long-sought declassification of the Bose story will finally happen. There have been many upsurges of emotion, many instances of hopes rekindled on this issue in the past without any fruitful consequence. After several commissions of inquiry failed to clear up the mystery, rather obfuscated it further, will the threads of reality finally unravel? With Netaji’s surviving kin looking more determined than ever, and PM Modi assenting to discuss the issue in all seriousness, hope shines bright at the end of the tunnel, and India may yet get to know the truth about one of its greatest (if not THE greatest) sons, without the accoutrements of secrecy.

Trapped in The Web

With the turn of the century, I graduated from inland letter cards to email; from landlines to mobiles; and from social visits to socia...