The United Progressive Alliance government was not keen to release the documentation related to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose as it was worried that relations with Russia would be affected.
This was revealed to The Sunday Guardian in an exclusive interview by Wajahat Habibullah, the first Chief Information Commissioner of the country. Netaji is officially believed to have been killed in a plane crash on 18 August 1945. However, many, including his family members, refuse to buy the story. Although two commissions formed by Congress governments accepted the “plane crash” theory, the third commission, which functioned under the NDA, refuted it outright.
“As CIC, I gave several decisions on this matter in which I had asked that the documents that were available should be disclosed. There were several excuses that were made. The matter was with the Home Ministry. There are supposed to be some files in the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) and the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs), and possibly IB (Intelligence Bureau), which have not been disclosed. I had not ruled regarding the IB, only about the others. Two excuses were made. One was that it would harm relations with Russia. The plea was taken (regarding) foreign states and the argument was (focused on) Russia,” Habibullah said. He confirmed that the government specifically mentioned Russia as the country with whom relations would be most severely damaged if the files were to be disclosed. “The second excuse was law and order problem. Neither excuse was found valid by me. In any case, the Soviet Union had ceased to exist. Hence, I ordered for disclosure and I think the Home Ministry disclosed some (of the files),” he added.
Habibullah also made the startling claim that in his opinion, the files said to be in possession of the PMO were unlikely to ever surface again. While he did not rule out a “conspiracy” in this matter, he speculated that they might have been “lost” due to the poor record keeping system in place in the PMO and other government offices. “This will not be happening for the first time. I came across several cases during my tenure as CIC when files (with government offices) could not be traced. Maybe some of the files with the PMO might exist, but the bulk of it is unlikely to,” he added.
The matter is still being heard in the Central Information Commission and the next hearing is scheduled for 26August. The PMO, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the MEA are respondents in the matter and have been asked to furnish all the relevant documents related to the declassification of the Netaji papers.
This gives credence to the theory that Netaji had faked his death and the “plane accident” was part of the ruse, following which he went to Manchuria which was then occupied by Russia. He was taken in custody by Soviet forces and passed away a few years later, with some believing that Joseph Stalin had him killed.
The mystery regarding Netaji’s fate has always fascinated historians and lay persons alike. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh had earlier said that the nation would be informed correctly regarding the matter if a BJP government came to power in the 2014 general elections. However, this has not yet come to pass. Recently, it was disclosed by an Indian weekly that the Nehru government was snooping on the remaining family members of Netaji in Kolkata, giving rise to allegations that Nehru was worried about his possible return and guaranteed welcome, which could have led to his (Netaji) taking charge of the newly independent nation. The Congress party has refuted these suggestions.
Habibullah stated that while holding the post of CIC, he had said that Government of India should devise a committee involving senior officials from the MHA, MEA and the Ministry of Defence. “They should go through the files of such nature and decide which ones can be declassified. We have very liberal rules which say files should be declassified after 20 years, compared to 30 years in the US, but it is not being acted upon,” he said. He added that he had given the order for setting up a committee with regard to papers containing details of discussions between Swaran Singh, former Foreign Minister and Z.A. Bhutto, Foreign Minister of Pakistan at the time. The talks between the two were held in the backdrop of the India-China war of 1962. Bhutto later became Pakistan’s PM.