Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Maligning our national icons

Pankaj Sharma

13 April 2015, New Delhi, 

Such acts are extremely uncharitable to the legacies they have left behind

The conspiracy mill has been working overtime; the latest we hear from it is that the governments headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Gulzarilal Nanda and Indira Gandhi were involved in carrying out covert snooping and spying operations on the family members of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The selectively leaked files of the Intelligence Bureau claim that the agency had been keeping a close eye on the two Bose family homes in Calcutta: 1 Woodburn Park and 38/2 Elgin Road, from 1948 to 1968. Apart from intercepting and copying letters written by Bose’s family members, agency sleuths shadowed them on their domestic and foreign travels. Surveillance was also reportedly conducted on Bose’s nephew and sibling Sisir Kumar Bose and Amiya Nath Bose.

India had four reigning prime ministers during the 20 year period which is mentioned in IB files. The intelligence Bureau directly reports to the Home Minister and seven political stalwarts looked after this onerous responsibility from ‘48 to ‘68. They were Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Chakravarty Rajopalachari, Kailash Nath Katju, Govind Vallabh Pant, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Gulzarilal Nanda and Yashwant Rao Chavan. Shastri and Nanda held the positions of Home Minister and Prime Minister at different times during this period. Even if we believe the stories that Bose did not die in a plane crash; and no plane was crashed on 18 August 1945 in Taiwan; and Netaji was present at the time of Nehru’s funeral in May 1964; can the nation believe that the nine of greatest nationalist leaders were so ‘afraid’ of losing their chairs of power to Bose that they ensured that he did not return to his motherland and kept on spying on his family? The Bhartiya Janta party-led union government, however, wants us to believe that leaders such as Nehru, Patel, Shastri and others who fought for India’s freedom, reshaped the destiny of this country, rewrote its history and made it a great nation; in reality were power hungry unscrupulous men.

Those who are part of this selective, systematic and sinister propaganda of selective leaks and half truths to malign our national icons must realise that the first batch of files was declassified during the tenure of the Congress-led UPA government in 2012 and sent to the National Archives. In a sharp contrast to this, the BJP-led government had refused to make classified files public. In January 2014, when the Lok Sabha election campaign was at its peak, the then BJP president Rajnath Singh, during a visit to Cuttack - the birthplace of Netaji - on the occasion of his 117th birth anniversary, had demanded that the UPA government make public the records related to the freedom fighter. Singh is ironically now the Home Minister himself.

The Prime Minister’s Office had accepted in a recent Right To Information (RTI) reply that there were 41 files related to Bose, of which two had been declassified, but refused to disclose them taking a position that “Disclosure of documents contained in these files would prejudice and affect relations with foreign countries. As such, these files are exempted from disclosure under Section 8(1) (a) read with Section 8(2) of the Right to Information Act”. Rajnath Singh had claimed during the election campaign that there was a larger public interest in the disclosure of the documents, but the PMO under Narendra Modi seems not to be in agreement with this stance, as is evident from the reply which considered the larger public interest disclosure clause - section 8(2) - of the RTI Act but chose to withhold the documents. The section 8(2) says, “Notwithstanding anything in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 nor any of the exemptions permissible in accordance with sub-section (1), a public authority may allow access to information, if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests.” The PMO gave a list of 41 files; of which two related to the Indian National Army treasure and appointment of a inquiry commission to go into circumstances of death have been declassified. These have been sent to the National Archives. The office, in its response, admitted that there are 10 files which are unclassified but still invoked exemption clause of section 8(1) to withhold them from disclosure. Four ‘Top Secret’ files which are held by the PMO include: miscellaneous correspondence with the widow and daughter of Netaji, transfer of his ashes to India and two files on the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry looking into his death/disappearance.

The files sent to National Archives by the UPA government contained the material placed before the Justice Khosla Commission and Justice MK Mukherjee Commission that were set up to inquire into the circumstances of Netaji’s death. The two intelligence files which have raised the recent controversy were sent from the West Bengal government’s intelligence branch to the Intelligence Bureau. The documents were stacked away in over 20 trunks at the home ministry; before sending them to National Archives under the Public Records Act in October 2012. But it was only in November 2014 that the Archives completed the task of arranging the files and giving access to research scholars. Besides the papers relating to the two inquiry commissions, the Archive also has four other files related to the Azad Hind government. But a big chunk of the files still remains locked away at the ministries of home, external affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office on grounds that it could affect India’s relations with some countries. On 17 December 2014, the government told Parliament that the ministry of external affairs was holding on to 29 files and the PMO still had 60 files related to Netaji.

The controversy has raised several questions which need answers. Why is the Modi government not telling the nation that most of the reports documenting the surveillance are related to the state government’s intelligence wing and not the central intelligence agencies? Why only ‘notings on file’ have been released while withholding the ‘correspondence portion’ of these files? There is no record in National Archives of any media correspondent as having visited and perused declassified files. Then, who in the government is making the selective leaks and for what ulterior purpose?

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