Despite the heavy morning fog and chill in Delhi, I headed towards the National Archives in the morning of January 25. Like many Indians I was tempted to have a glimpse of the files declassified by the Central government on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. I did not expect big surprises. Nor did I expect it would beat my belief that Netaji died in an air crash in Taipei.
Leafing through the files I confirmed that he died in the air crash. There was no evidence which could establish that Netaji did not die in the air crash. Yes, I am part of his family, but sensible people, I think, would believe the same theory I nurtured over the years.
The recently declassified files by the West Bengal government did not tell anything other than the crash theory. I am, therefore, doubly sure that the Delhi files will not throw any light on the issue other than creating euphoria.
Despite saying that, I believe the Indian government should bring back the ashes kept in the Renkoji temple in Japan. Prime ministers had earlier tried to bring it back and do the DNA test, but there was resistance from the political and non-political establishments, including some members of Netaji's family. That fear of resistance did not let the Central government bring the remains back.
I want to look beyond the sensation these files are creating these days. I believe the real life of Netaji is much more important than what lies within these files. To be honest, his life surprises me much more than his death mystery.
Netaji was a true nationalist. He was a great secularist and a believer of freedom of right and expression. I would go an extra mile to say India did not have as big a nationalist leader as Netaji. Today, when India is grappling with intolerance and communal tensions, and the government fails to arrest social and communal disharmony, embracing Netaji’s ideology could be the need of the hour. The Central government would have done well had it portrayed the ideology of Netaji more than harping on what happened long back—whether he died in an air crash or was executed elsewhere in the world. Does it have any significance today? Will he come back? The entire world has changed since then.
With this change, there has been a generational shift in our country as well. More than trying to sell the anti-crash theory to our young generation, is our government doing anything else? I think our young stars need more. They need to know the true ideology Netaji stood for. I was shocked when a section of people tried to sell the idea that Netaji once returned to India as a silent baba. This is shocking for anyone who has studied history and the life of Netaji. Can a secular Netaji become a baba? Can a pragmatic nationalist with a modern attitude towards society become a self-styled god? This is an insult to Netaji and his struggle for freedom.
Despite supporting the crash theory, I will say that India did not treat Netaji well. How could such a big icon and nationalist, who died in Indian freedom struggle, be termed as a war criminal? I am happy that things are changing now. Such falsehood would go away only if India propagates Netaji’s ideology rather than spending time on releasing files and fanning controversy.
Sugata Bose, Netaji's grandnephew, is a Harvard historian and Trinamool Congress MP.
As told to Rabi Banerjee.