A classified record from the Ministry of External Affairs lays bare the Indian government’s less than honest approach towards finding out the truth about Subhash Chandra Bose’ presence in Soviet Russia after his assumed death.
Classified as “Secret”, the second highest level of security grading for a government document after “Top Secret”, the record is from 1996 when Pranab Mukherjee, now President, was the External Affairs Minister. Mukhrjee’s noting appears on the record along with that of the then Foreign Secretary Salman Haidar.
A bare reading of the two-page record shows that the controversy surrounding the freedom fighter’s fate isn’t limited to a bygone era and that it is not just about Jawaharlal Nehru, who has been painted with a black brush by many Netaji fans. In essence, the document, a note created in 1996 in the Europe East Division of the ministry by Joint Secretary (later Ambassador) RL Narayan, deals with the charges that Bose was in Soviet Russia. Contrary to official version that Bose was killed in an air crash in 1945, a widely held view has been that he was in the Soviet Russia after that. The report of the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry, summarily dismissed by the UPA government in 2006, had stated that the story of Bose’s death was planted by the Japanese even as the Indian leader prepared to escape to Soviet Russia where he hoped to get an asylum. After the fall of the Soviet empire in 1991, Asiatic Society scholars visiting Moscow came across information that convinced them that records about Bose were available in the security and intelligence related archives in that country. The researchers led by Dr Purabi Roy of Kolkata’s Jadavpur University later alleged that the Government was not keen to help them access the archives for the information concerned. Now this secret note — made available to this writer in full by author Anuj Dhar who has used parts of it in his book No Secrets– reveals that the ministry was in favour of seeking information from Russia but could not do so due to “political disinterest”. Significantly, this is the first time that this classified document is appearing in the public domain. Even Dhar did not reproduce it in its entirety in his recently published book No Secrets for reasons best known to him. “Pranab Mukherjee did a wee little for finding out the truth about Netaji in spite of his protestations that he is his admirer,” alleges Dhar. The very first paragraph of the record states that “from time to time various articles have appeared in the Soviet/Russian press insinuating, though without any actual proof, that Netaji in fact stayed/was incarcerated in the Soviet Union”. In other words, the ministry admitted that the theory of Bose’s survival after his death had takers in Russia also, not just in India. The note further reads: “Since the matter is of considerable public interest, we had taken up the matter with the Russian authorities through our Embassy in Moscow. In January, 1992, we had received a disclaimer from the Russian Foreign Ministry to the effect that ‘according to that data in the Central and Republican Archives, no information whatsoever is available on the stay of the former President of the Indian National Congress, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, in the former Soviet Union in 1945 and thereafter’.” Dhar snaps that there were enough reasons for India to raise the issue prior to 1992 when “statesmen and world leaders were at the helm of affairs in New Delhi”. He cites the issue of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who, like Bose, disappeared in 1945. “Wallenberg is not in the Soviet Union and is unknown to us” – the Soviets told the Swedes for a decade before admitting that he had been taken a prisoner by the Red Army. “India never used even a jot of its diplomatic clout with the Soviets to find out whether or not Netaji was with them,” Dhar adds. All the same, Narayan countered the Russian disclaimer in his note. He stated that the Russians ending up finding without evidence of Bose’s stay in the USSR was not based on the ultra secret and inaccessible KGB archives, which according to Purabi Roy and others contained records about Bose. “Papers relating to the Stalinist period (KGB archives) are kept separately and have so far not been accessed by foreign and even Russian scholars, with the exception perhaps of very limited and selected scholars like the late historian Volkogonov, who has published biographies of Lenin and Stalin on this basis,” Narayan noted. The JS observed that the best thing one could do in the circumstance was to “request the Russian authorities to conduct a search into these archives and let us know if there is any evidence of Netaji’s stay in the Soviet Union”. He ended the note recommending that the Indian Ambassador in Moscow (which would have been Ronen Sen) should “make a suitable demarche to the Russian authorities”. Below Narayan’s note appears the comment of EAM (External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee) directing FS (Foreign Secretary Salman Haidar) to talk with Narayan “urgently”. Dhar claims that subsequent to this talk, no demarche was issued. “Thousands of documents such as this one have been kept secret on the pretext of national security or relation with foreign states; whereas the true reason for the secrecy is to keep the people of India in dark about Netaji’s fate,” he says.