There has never been any doubt in anyone’s mind that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was one of the most revered leaders of our freedom struggle and his place in history is second to none. Bose, who is regarded by many as the sole reason for the British decision to quit India, led by example and inspired lakhs of people to fight the tyrannical rule, leading to India’s liberation in August 1947. However, his role was always sought to be minimised and the Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army), which he founded, has never been accorded the status it deserved primarily because the Congress had its own narrative of the freedom struggle.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s decision to declassify the 64 Netaji files running into 12,744 pages in the custody of her government has opened a new chapter about our Independence movement and the contribution of the valiant soldiers of the INA led by their leader Subhas Chandra Bose. The disclosures would, on one hand, provide a fresh perspective to the historians to have a look at the unfolding of events, while on the other the revelations could force the Central government to also declassify files that are still in its custody to put the record straight.
There are indications that some of the documents pertaining to Netaji were destroyed during the UPA regime. However, it is perceived that the remaining files would be sufficient to nail any misconception spread about this selfless son of India, who was hounded by imperialist powers perhaps in connivance with a handful in India and a few in the erstwhile Soviet Union. Therefore, it would be equally necessary to obtain whatever information is available about Bose in the archives of the KGB, MI-5 and 6 as also the Americans, Chinese and Japanese. It is equally important to comprehend history as it unfolded as it is to give the unsung heroes of the INA their definite due with both gratitude and pride.
There is ample evidence available to suggest that Netaji did not die in the plane crash on 18 August 1945 and was subsequently captured by the Soviets and initially brought to Moscow. In all probability, there is truth in the claim made by some of his relatives that former President S. Radhakrishnan had met Netaji in the Soviet capital when he was India’s ambassador in the late 1940s. If one has to believe conspiracy theories, Dr Radhakrishnan, an eminent scholar, maintained total silence on his alleged meeting and was therefore rewarded by the then government first with vice presidentship followed by presidentship, despite having nothing to do with the Congress or the freedom struggle in any significant way. The unravelling of the Netaji mystery could bring out the facts and perhaps even absolve Dr Radhakrishnan if the claims turn out to be untrue.
Netaji’s grand nephew Chandra Bose has been making a very pertinent point on prime time channels that Subhas Chandra Bose was the sole reason for the British to give up India and thus he was the liberator who freed us from colonial bondage. He has quoted British historians and even Lord Clement Attlee to substantiate his claim and has stated that the British panicked after the INA trials and the mutinies in the Indian armed forces, which led to a sense of fear amongst their top leadership.
This thesis, if correct, dispels the belief that India achieved its freedom through non-violent means. Yes indeed, the non-violence movement played a relevant role during our freedom struggle, but there were always revolutionaries who did not agree with the method. Bhagat Singh and his associates, for instance, had their own philosophy and went to the gallows to oppose alien rule. Subhas Chandra Bose too parted ways with the Congress when he discovered that non-violence was a way that would not move the British and freedom had to be earned by sacrifices instead of holding satyagrahas. It was in this context that he gave the clarion call to fellow Indians, “Give me blood and I will give you freedom”, which inspired the youth and united them into the formidable INA.
There has been a hypothesis, which has been the basis of research by scholars who have held the view that the Indian freedom struggle, as represented by the Congress, was always controlled by the British. Though unsubstantiated by facts and sufficient data, this opinion refers to the 1857 freedom revolt by the armed forces crushed by the British and the subsequent events which included the founding of the Congress in 1885 by a British, Allan Octavian Hume. The strong propaganda of non-violence in early part of the 20th century, backed by the projection of top leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, all trained in their professions by the English as the topmost freedom fighters, was aimed at influencing public opinion in the subcontinent.
Therefore, the declassification of the Netaji files at various places would help historians to understand events better and most important allow truth to come out. This would determine whether it was merely a transfer of power in 1947 or true Independence. Between us.