It has now become common knowledge that history is always written to please the government in power. Certain leaders from the freedom struggle have been eulogized while several others ignored. This has eventually not gone down well with the masses. One such “Forgotten Hero” was Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Perhaps no other leader has created as much controversy as Netaji did before and after his death, with his death being the key to all the controversy.

The Khosla Commission reported that Netaji died at Tethoku airfield in Taipeh (Formosa), currently in Taiwan on 18 August 1945, due to the third degree burns that occurred from the flight crash. After this was reported, the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry (JMCI) raised many eyebrows when it almost conclusively held that there was no reported airplane crash on the day on which Netaji was alleged to have breathed his last.

The mass movement for declassifying files in relation to Netaji became a global event in 2015. The movement gained further momentum and the Central Government was put under humongous pressure when the Trinamool Congress Government under the aegis of Ms. Mamata Banerjee released 64 documents related to Netaji, on 18th September 2015, and challenged the Central Government to do the same. The Modi government did what none of its predecessors had dared to do and promised to release, declassify and digitalize, all files available with the government related to Netaji and also take up the matter with other nations to release documents related to Netaji and the INA. The process of declassifying the files began on January 23, 2016 to mark and honor Netaji’s birthday in probably the most apt manner possible.

However, before delving into details of the declassification, it is necessary to have a background into the controversy surrounding the leader’s sudden disappearance.  Apart from the fact that the cause of the death or the death itself is not convincingly proved, what many supporters of Netaji ask is whether it was the Indian National Congress which had a role to play in the death. Many Congress leaders were opposed to Netaji for his constant confrontation with Gandhiji under the garb of what they believed was Japanese Fascism, and this mood was succinctly expressed in Gandhiji’s comment post Netaji’s disappearance where he said – “Subhas Bose has died well. He was undoubtedly a patriot, though misguided.

Further, as many claim, including Chandra Kumar Bose, the grand-nephew of Netaji, that Jawaharlal Nehru was apprehensive that Netaji, on account of being more popular than him, would automatically become the leader of the country when he returns and thus, would undermine Nehru. The claim is seemingly backed by the recent revelations after the declassification that Nehru did indeed spy on the Bose family, specifically Amiya Nath Bose. Amiya Nath was the closest nephew of Netaji. It would be conjecture however, the reasonable deduction to draw would be that Nehru’s apprehension could have led to the spying of Amiya, which would effectively imply that Netaji’s movement would be tracked. This was clearly a violation of the highest order, of the basic human right of privacy.

There have been some other startling revelations as well from the declassification, such as:

  • The British government did not really believe that Bose was dead. Even for some months after the Japanese announced Netaji’s death, the British government continued to discuss ways of ‘dealing with him’.
  • The Indian embassy in Tokyo pointed out that the temple authorities had a feeling that the Indian government was “indifferent” to its national hero who fought for the country’s independence.
  • According to a letter written by historian Peter Simkins, Netaji’s name was not in the British government’s list of war criminals but he was considered a traitor.
  • A letter (not authenticated) was purportedly written by Nehru to the then PM of England, Clement Attlee in which he termed Netaji as a ‘War Criminal”
  • Gandhiji himself did not believe that Netaji had died in the Taihoku crash and had asked Netaji’s family to not perform the Shradh.

All these revelations clearly point out to the fact that the UPA government was in some way or the other disinclined in disclosing the truth about our great national leader. The decision to reject the JMCI was purely based on political interest and the declassification of the files only proves that accepting JMCI’s report that Netaji did not die out of a plane crash would have caused problems that the UPA government was unwilling to face.

The JMCI overturned the reports of two previous committees formed to report on Netaji’s disappearance – The Shah Nawaz Committee (1956) and the GD Khosla Committee (1970-74) which were held to be contradictory and full of loopholes even by the Calcutta High Court.

“Shri Tarakeswar Pal, the learned senior counsel appearing for the government of India, fairly submitted that there were glaring discrepancies in the evidence adduced regarding the accident as also the date and time of death, news of death, death certificate and cremation of Netaji.” [JMCI Report, Vol 1, p 53]

At the end of its 6-year long investigation, the JMCI could not come to a conclusion on the whereabouts of the leader post 1945 and concluded that he is most likely not alive in 2005 as he would be over 100 years of age at that time. The government in one line rejected the ground breaking JMCI, the first inquiry to have held that the air crash incident was not the reason of Netaji’s death. It was only after 3 months in the Parliament, when faced with scathing criticism and pressure from the opposition with regard to Shivraj Patil (the then home minister) defending the rejection of the JMCI findings, that the Government chose to act in pursuance of demystifying the mystery around Netaji’s death. The rejection of the findings was based on flawed assumptions – one of which was that the other two committees were closer to the timeline than the JMCI and their findings were bound to be more accurate than that of the JMCI – this was said even after the Calcutta High Court had held the previous two reports to be filled with loopholes and to be contradictory.

Clearly, the previous government was hell bent upon not opening the Pandora’s Box of realities and wanted to remove the albatross from its neck once and for all, even if it was at the expense of the honor of one of the nation’s most beloved freedom fighters. However, that was not to be and the much appreciable step by the NDA government would now bring to a close, a major controversy in the history of India.