Indian author hopeful of Russia demystifying the Netaji saga

As Anuj Dhar’s latest book “No Secrets” finds its ways into markets, RIR catches up with the author and asks him to thrown light on the “Russian angle” to the mystery behind Subhas Chandra Bose’s disappearance.
The Snow Maiden
Anuj Dhar. Source: Anuj Dhar / wikipedia.org

The former Soviet Union figures prominently in the saga of iconic Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose, fondly remembered as ‘Netaji’. Time was when the controversy surrounding the fate of Bose was dismissed as a conspiracy theory—part of a larger ploy to undermine the standing and legacy of his one time friend and later political rival Jawaharlal Nehru.

Two individuals more than anyone else have contributed to a new realization that the Bose mystery was moored in hard facts that Indians were oblivious to. The first of these persons is Justice MK Mukherjee, former Supreme Court judge who was tasked with finding out the truth about Bose’s fate by the Government of India in 1999. His 2005 report upheld the heretical view that Bose disappeared while on his way to the USSR. The other person is former journalist Anuj Dhar, who has now taken to writing books full time and whose books and activism, both in real and virtual world, have done more for reviving the case than anything else in past.

As Dhar’s latest book “No Secrets” finds its ways into markets, RIR catches up with the author and asks him to thrown light on the “Russian angle” to the mystery.

Many of us grew up hearing that Bose was possibly in former USSR after his reported death. You have dwelt deep into the issue. How good are the chances that he was there indeed?

To me it seems it seems a certainty. All available evidence on record is clear that when the war drew to an end, Netaji, weighed his options and zeroed in on Soviet Russia as the only place that could give him sanctuary post Second World War. In 1941 too he had managed to escape from India to Germany with the Soviet help. He received a transit visa and was in Moscow for a couple of days. At the close of the war he reached out to Soviet ambassador in Tokyo, Yakov Malik, for help.  And then, there were rumours that he had actually secretly visited USSR in December 1944.

How much of this is backed by historical documentation?

Almost everything. Declassified intelligence records, still secret documents and statements on record make it quite clear. For instance, Russian researcher Victor Touradjev accessed secret, so-called “KGB” records in the early 1990s. One of which was the letter Bose had written to Malik stating that he was desirous of finding a way through which USSR could help Indian freedom struggle. Touradjev wrote about his findings, some of which were misplaced, in a journal and that led to quite a commotion within the Indian establishment. Indian intelligence agency R&AW looked into the matter and Touradjev was approached by the Indian embassy in Moscow with a view to finding more and dissuade him from writing further.

Are you suggesting that the issue is not set in the 1940s and 50s but is a rather recent one?

It is an ongoing one. I requested the Indian Ministry of External Affairs to give me copies of correspondence India had had with USSR and Russian Federation over the Bose mystery. The ministry refused. It cited clauses in Right to Information Act which forbade release of information received in confidence from a foreign nation. On the whole, the Russian Federation was open to sharing some information, provided our Embassy in Moscow took the lead, but it seems to me that our Government, as always, was not keen.

As always?

Right from the very start, going back to British days there were good reasons to believe that the story of Bose’s death in an air crash in August 1945 was floated by his Japanese friends as a cover for his escape to the USSR. By 1946 the intelligence community was getting reports that senior Soviet diplomats were speaking about Bose’s presence in Russia. A report declassified in 1997 said: “There is little reason for such persons to bring Bose into fabricated stories.” But there despite being many such hints on record and extremely good relations that India enjoyed with USSR, not once did New Delhi bother to raise the matter with Moscow. Of course, it has been alleged that off the record India did that and came to know that Bose was in USSR indeed.

Can you cite some document in favour of this contention that India did not take up the issue adequately. It appears that you have made use of many still secret records in your previous book “India’s biggest cover-up” and also “No Secrets”

In January 1996, a Joint Secretary in charge of MEA Division on Russia made an assessment of the situation arising in the wake of Indian and Russian scholars that in security and intelligence related archives in Moscow there were records about Bose’s life after his “death” in August 1945. This Joint Secretary, who had earlier served in the Indian mission in Moscow, noted that previous official Russian responses to the queries about Bose’s fate were not satisfactory. He wrote that a recent denial was not based on "Stalinist period (KGB archives)", likely to hold relevant records. His suggestion to the government of India was to request the Russian Federation to make a search for records in these archives. He recommended that a demarche should be issued to the Russian authorities about this. However, his recommendation was not acted upon—I’d say overruled— by then Foreign Minister of ours, who is now President of India. It is rather shocking because Pranab Mukherjee claims that he is an admirer of Bose and yet records show that he, rather than making vigorous attempts to find out the truth about his fate, helped cover up the entire matter for whatever reasons.

In 2013 how do you view this matter and what do you think should be done to settle it?

As I see it the ball is firmly in New Delhi’s court. The Russian view on the matter will hinge on the stand taken by Indian government. So long the government here, for political reasons, continues to stick to the outdated air crash theory of Bose’s death, the Russian government would not do anything that would affect its excellent relations with India. The issue has no sensitivity in Moscow but it is still a bombshell in New Delhi. The question of Russian government releasing information about Bose doesn’t even arise when Indian government is sitting on a pile of its own making. The way to settle the matter, to bring about closure to it, would start with complete declassification of all Indian files and subsequent request by New Delhi at the highest level to Moscow to do the needful. In view of everything I have learned so far, I am sure that the Russian government will release the facts once it sees the signs that Indians are ready to take the truth.

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