Would Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s ghost be able to help TMC, BJP?

In the ultimate analysis, polemics over national icons, at the best, may yield intangible electoral dividends. Gimmicks and symbolism are no substitute for good governance. Even as politics over the legacy of Sardar Patel and Baba Saheb Ambedkar continue, the latest posthumous victim is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

 Contrary to media reports, the BJP is not stumped by West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee stealing a march over Prime Minister Narendra Modi by declassifying 64 files relating to Netaji lying in the archives of the state police. The BJP is rather pleased because the TMC chief has made its job easy. What was in the realm of conjecture and leaks so far has officially been established.

After announcing her decision to disclose the archival material last week, Banerjee dared the Centre to disclose the remaining 130-odd files in its possession. Rhetoric apart, la Netaji affair appears to be a joint political venture by the BJP and the TMC for mutual benefit. Parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu, last week, said it was a good move. “The West Bengal government has made public certain confidential files related to Netaji. It is good”, he said adding that the Centre will study the implications of declassifying the remaining files.

Of the 64 files, some pertain to surveillance of Netaji’s relatives at the behest of then PM Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, scandalous deed, according to Netaji’s kin and supporters. By declassifying the files, Mamata hopes to further dent the electoral space of the Congress and the CPM – her two main political rivals in the state. The Marxists, who ruled the state for 34 uninterrupted years, are equally guilty of “suppressing” Netaji files. The TMC chief may also be able to drive a wedge between the CPM and the Forward Bloc, a constituent of the Left Front. In the wake of his differences with Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru in 1939, Netaji floated the All India Forward Bloc with a Congress splinter group.

For BJP, Netaji is not merely an election issue, but part of a wider agenda of demystifying the Nehru-Gandhi lineage and as part of this design, the party has been using the freedom movement mascots for Congress bashing. The RSS and Modi, who have been scouting for Hindutva icons to undermine Nehru, are trying to posthumously appropriate Netaji along with Ambedkar, Sardar Patel and Lal Bahadur Shastri.

Addressing a tribal gathering in Chhattisgarh on the eve of Lok Sabha elections, Modi, wearing a Netaji cap, spoke at length on the bravery, sacrifices and the contribution of INA chief towards freedom movement. Recalling Netaji’s appointment as Indian National Congress president in 1938 at the Surat conclave, Modi, said such an “epochal” episode was “made to forget” by a “pariwar”. He, of course, did not take the Nehru-Gandhi family by name. “But we will not allow it to be forgotten….we will keep the history alive.”  The BJP and Modi government are doing exactly the same.

The Centre may or may not declassify the files in its custody. It has various options – it can reject the demand for disclosure taking refuge in “diplomatic implications” or it can declassify some select files at an appropriate time to keep the heat on the Congress.

In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, PM designate Modi had gone on record saying that if voted to power, his government will declassify the files—a promise he reneged after becoming the Prime Minister— fearing that the move may jeopardise relations with Japan, Russia and Britain and not being in the national interest.

Last November, the PMO, in response to an RTI query, had categorically refused to declassify the files saying inter alia that “disclosure of documents contained in these files would prejudicially affect relations with foreign countries….”

BJP spokesperson Sidharth Nath Singh, last week, clarified why the division of labour between the Bengal chief minister and Modi government is a good arrangement.

“The basic difference is that the files held by the state (West Bengal) mostly relate to snooping done by Congress governments on Netaji’s family members in Kolkata whereas the Centre has to deal with four foreign countries,” Nath said.

The Centre has since formulated a high-level committee to review the Official Secrets Act and decide whether or not to declassify the files. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had also last year demanded declassification of the documents claiming that Bose did not die in the 1945 plane crash but was killed in Siberia at the instance of Soviet premier Joseph Stalin. Swamy claimed that Nehru was aware of Bose’s captivity but did precious little to bail him out fearing that Netaji may emerge a political challenger to him.

Those debunking Swamy’s theory believe that disclosures may not only compromise foreign relations but would also have revealed some unsavoury aspects of Netaji’s conduct like his meeting with Hitler and his alleged plans to start an Indian wing of the notorious “SS”, an elite group that protected the Fuhrer and his offer of support to war criminal and Japanese PM Hideiko Tojo.

That explains the reason why even non-Congress prime ministers such as Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, V.P. Singh, Chandrashekar, Deve Gowda, I. K. Gujaral and Atal Behari Vajpayee and former West Bengal chief ministers Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya did not think of declassifying  the files.

If the disclosures would adversely affect international relations why, in the first place, did Modi make the promise of declassifying the files during his Lok Sabha election campaigns?

Last week, during his Mann ki Baat radio broadcast, the Prime Minister announced his invitation to 50-odd relatives of Netaji to meet him at his official residence next month, but was mum on releasing the files. It appears Netaji’s ghost will continue to haunt the Congress for some more time to come.

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