Mystery of the Shastri papers

The Netaji mystery is over. Most of the files pertaining to his death or disappearance are now in the public domain. Damp squibs! No nefarious Nehru hand; no secret epistle to Attlee (a recent WhatsApp forgery); no capture by the Soviets; no incognito life as a sadhu in Faizabad.

As three probe teams had found long ago but failed to convince the conspiracy theorists, Subhas Bose had died in a plane crash in Formosa, now Taiwan, while fleeing the victorious Allied armies. He was probably headed for Russia, so as to escape capture by the British who had declared him a war criminal. The only mystery that remains is: what happened to the treasure that he was carrying on board?

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

The BJP had been alleging that the Congress regimes had kept the Netaji papers secret because they contained evidence to show that Nehru either had a hand in his disappearance or knew that he was alive after the crash. Now the papers, declassified by the Narendra Modi regime at the Centre and the Trinamool regime in Kolkata, have nothing of the kind to show.

It is the turn of the Shastri papers now. Lal Bahadur Shastri, if you recall, was found dead in bed, hours after signing an accord with Pakistan president Ayub Khan in Tashkent, where the Soviets had called the two for brokering a peace deal after the 1965 war. They said he had had a heart attack, but the family said he had been hale and hearty, and that he might have been poisoned.

Conspiracy theorists suspected the hand of his successor Indira Gandhi, who, they said, had Russian friends. (Actually she made friends with Russia only after she became PM, and after she found the Americans too demanding when she asked for wheat.) A parliamentary probe headed by Raj Narain, her bitter critic who would later unseat her, found nothing of the kind. Strangely, the Narain probe papers, too, are now missing.

Later, a former CIA spy Robert Crowley told journalist Gregory Douglas that the CIA, which wanted to stop India’s atom bomb programme, had killed Shastri, as also the bomb-maker Homi Bhabha a few days later in an air crash in the Alps. Bullshit! If the CIA wanted to stop the bomb, they should have killed Indira Gandhi. Shastri was against the bomb (he had expressly prohibited Bhabha who, peeved, announced on radio that he could make it), and Indira was for the bomb. Secondly, Bhabha had changed his flight plan at the last minute because of a colleague’s death. It is impossible even for the CIA to sabotage an impromptu trip.

Hopefully, we will know the truth about Shastri soon. The central information commissioner has ordered that the Shastri papers be shown to the prime minister and the home minister who may decide whether those may be shown to us.

Secret files and devices are like unpeeled onions. They look enigmatic, but when you peel them, you get nothing but tears. Remember what happened to the mysterious time capsule containing free India’s achievements that Indira Gandhi had buried in the Red Fort in 1973? It was meant to be taken out after 1,000 years, but the opposition, alleging that it contained material deifying the Nehru family, exhumed it after they came to power defeating her in 1977—only to find a few honest records of the national movement and the first 25 years of freedom, and such toys as a mini model of the Vijayanta tank.

The funny part was that she had spent Rs 8,000 to bury the capsule, whereas the Janata government spent Rs 58,000 to exhume it. Modi, too, has got a similar time capsule buried in the Sabarmati Ashram, and the Congress has vowed to exhume it, if voted to power.

That leaves only one more onion—the Henderson Brooks report on the war with China which the BJP, before they came to power, had promised to show us.