Dr Vivek Prahladan has written about the mysterious disturbance of Subhash Chandra Bose, the death of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and about India’s reluctance to join the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group in the late 1970s in his book The Nation Declassified: India and the Cold War World. Prahladan, who did his PhD in contemporary/modern history from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University and has been a visiting researcher, King’s College, London, and is currently a Visiting Researcher at the Graduate School of Media and Governance, Keio University, spoke to The Sunday Guardian. Excerpts:
Q. What is the basic premise of The Nation Declassified?
A. The Nation Declassified is the largest incorporation of declassified documentation (approximately 10,000 pages) which narrates a nation’s passage of survival. It reveals the secret history of how India’s Prime Ministers, their closest advisers, diplomats, intelligence agencies and military led the nation through the transformation in world order in the Cold War era. Uncovering thousands of pages of top secret declassified documentation from the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of External Affairs, Atomic Energy Commission, Joint Intelligence Committee, Cabinet Secretariat R&AW reports, private papers of key individuals, former Chief of Naval Staff, former PMO official, Joseph Nye Jr and many others, give an intimate portrait of India’s Prime Ministers, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the advisers they relied on.
Q. How were the documents accessed? Have they not been used before by authors?
A. The documents have been collected from public institutions according to the Public Records Act. The interviews with key decision makers were taken by me in the past year-and-a-half.
Q: What was the most interesting part that you unravelled while researching on Subhash Chandra Bose?
A: In 1956, UK Consul General Formosa had carried out Indian request on witnesses and cremation register at Taipei and Japanese Ambassador Taipei provided “Doctor’s Report”, “Police Report” could not be traced, according to MEA file from 1956, “in spite of all efforts”. But they did find the “Certified Copy of the Original Document” of the “Cremation Report” from the Taipei Municipal Office. The Cremation Report clearly mentions the name “Subhash Chandra Bose” and tallies with the death certificate. The death certificate mentions the name of “Ichiro Okura”. This appears to be the same report released by www.bosefiles.info. However, the manner in which the website has curated the documentation is open to discussion. It does not cite statements that make it ever so slightly problematic to reach their preferred conclusion. For instance, in the 1956 MEA file we find a letter from C.K. Yen (Chairman, Taiwan Provincial Government) to British Consul General in Taiwan A. Franklin mentioning that “his (Bose’s) death took place before the Chinese Government took over the hospital. There is no record available of his actual death”. Taiwanese Government informed that it was “impossible” to trace all records prior to the takeover by China. These documents are the rare ones that everyone in India, Japan, Taiwan, London have been looking for.
Another file from MEA mentions a letter from T.N. Kaul (MEA official) stating that “as far as I know Netaji was never declared a war criminal”. A hand written note under-signed by S. Gopal (an MEA official) states that “I have consulted the Law and Defense Ministries. All records relating to Subhash Bose were destroyed in 1947”. We do not know whether this was done prior to 15 August 1947 or after it.
Q: You have also dwelt on the controversial death of PM Lal Bahadur Shastri in your book. How do you see the mystery of the death of Shastri?
A: S.C. Bose and L.B. Shastri, both these iconic lives ended out of their homeland. Bose is reported to have died in an “alleged” plane crash in humid subtropical Formosa (now Taiwan) on 18 August 1945. Shastri died in Tashkent on 11 January 1966. A letter that Ambassador D.P. Dhar (Indian Envoy to Moscow) wrote to the then Foreign Secretary T.N. Kaul (dated 30 July 1970) based on his informal conversation with Fomin ( the then Soviet Minister) stated that Fomin had told him that Soviet doctors unanimously agreed that heart attack was the cause of death. Secondly, Soviet doctors were summoned and arrived after the death of the PM. Third, specific instructions were given to Soviet doctors not to touch the body in any manner. There was no firm view on the reason for discoloration but the likely reason was considered to be that “the body had not been preserved”. This letter was also copied to P.N. Haskar.