Government of India's secret files about Netaji Subhas Chanda Bose
A guide to state secrecy surrounding
Subhas Chandra Bose
By Anuj Dhar
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose secured our freedom but in the last 6 decades our Government seems to have confined
him to hidden vaults, where thousands of secret records about him have piled up. It will shock you to know how many
ministries and departments in New Delhi are holding secret records relating to Netaji. Not only there are classified
files with the Prime Minister's Office, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Defence,
Cabinet Secretariat and Intelligence Bureau, but also—for some inexplicable reasons—with National Museum,
Ministry of Urban Development, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and
Department of Food & Public Distribution.
Can you think of any pre-Independence national icon of ours about whom so much of classified material has been
retained up to now? This 23rd January seems just the time to tell our Government that its obsession about keeping
everything secret about one of the greatest Indians ever must end. Transparency will only do good to our democracy.
The need to know
Irrespective of the views one holds about Subhas Bose, his struggle, and his fate, to ask for declassification of each
and every record about him would be a sensible thing to do now. In particular, the issue concerning his fate warrants
that our Government must go public with all the information it has. In an affidavit filed by the PMO and MHA in
Calcutta High Court in 2008, it was reaffirmed that Netaji had died in Taiwan in 1945, the report of Mukherjee
Commission was wrong and the earlier ones given by Pandit Nehru's friend GD Khosla and Congress party MP Shah
Nawaz Khan contained gospel.
From the start, this stand of our Government has been supported to the hilt by most front-ranking historians and
intellectuals, who are obviously not interested in declassification when it concerns Netaji. According to a report
published in the Indian Express at the time of the formation of the Mukherjee Commission, Jawaharlal Nehru
University's Dr Harbans Mukhia said. "Why don't we accept that the man is dead and that he died more than 50 years
back." "Sheer waste of time and money" historian Salil Ghosh opined. Delhi University historian Dr Sumit Sarkar said
that the subject was "so boring and unimportant" that he did "not even feel like reacting to it". Recently, another
eminent historian Prof Sugata Bose, son of Netaji's nephew and Congress party MLA late Dr Sisir Bose, reinforced
the official line and wrote that those who thought otherwise were "cranks and opportunists".
This being the state of affairs seen from the eyes of the men who know too much, it should be a very easy for the
Government of ours to declassify all secret records. "Sunlight is the best disinfectant," famously said the US Supreme
Court in support of openness and transparency. The release of official information is the best way to stifle conspiracy
theories and the charges of governmental wrongdoings.
Government’s stand on declassification
Never mind what the intellectuals say, our Government doesn't want to release secret Netaji records for reasons of
national security. In 2007, an RTI proceeding involving the Union Home Ministry revealed that the ministry alone had
something like 70,000 pages of classified material concerning Netaji’s fate. Many of these documents were classified
as "Top Secret" and, to quote the words of the ministry, "the public disclosure of which may lead to a serious law and
order problem in the country, especially in West Bengal".
Pls see: http://www.rti.india.gov.in/cic_decisions/Decision_05072007_01.pdf
It is not just the controversy surrounding Netaji's fate that remains shrouded in mystery, even matters concerning his
life and times have been concealed from us. In 2009, RTI request for a copy of the history of the INA complied at the
behest of the Ministry of Defence way back in 1950 was turned down. Even a favourable directive from the Central
Information Commission could not persuade the MoD to release the report and it took a stay in the Delhi High Court.
Now the person who moved the request is paying from his pocket to see that the record goes public, and the MoD is
drawing from public exchequer to keep it hidden from people.
How many secret files about Netaji are there?
A proper assessment of the exact number and type of secret files about Netaji has so far not been made by anyone
and may not be possible even, considering that any government has ways to hide information it doesn't want to make
public for whatever reason. But information gleaned from RTI responses, government records etc shows that the
PMO has 33 files, most of which deal with the issue of Netaji's fate. Four of these are deemed so sensitive that even
disclosing their titles would harm India's relations with certain friendly foreign nation/s. Seven of these files are
classified as "Top Secret", which is startling. Any
record containing classified information is given
one of the three security markings to
commensurate with the damage its unauthorised
disclosure will cause to India's interests. When it
is determined that the damage could be
"exceptionally grave", the file is stamped "Top
Secret". What can possibly be “Top Secret”
about Subhas Chandra Bose in this age and
The Ministry of External Affairs, which is holding
at least a dozen secret files concerning Netaji,
refused to part with information relating to its
correspondence with the Russian government
over his alleged presence in the erstwhile USSR
after he was reported dead by the Japanese. The
request made under the RTI sought "copies of
the complete correspondence the MEA has had
with the Governments of the USSR and the
Russian Federation over the disappearance of
Netaji" and supply information "whether the MEA
sought information from the Russians by issuing
mere note verbales, or some serious efforts were
ever made from a higher level". The MEA's
roundabout response [See image] only confirmed
that they had not. It refused to provide copies "as
it involves the relations with foreign State".
The Intelligence Bureau has 77 files on or
relating to Subhas Bose. Some of these files are:
Regarding exploitation of Netaji's name
by political leaders and others
Policy of Central Government regarding re-employment of INA personnel in public service (created in 1947)
INA papers released in 1961 by a former Joint Director, like note on life and activities of Bose, public
statements on his death
Whether Netaji is still alive or not (1970)
There is reason to believe that the IB is holding more files. It defies logic why is the Intelligence Bureau, whose duty
is to hunt down India's enemies, is still holding secret files about the man Gandhiji called the "Prince among patriots"?
As for R&AW, our external intelligence agency, it denied under RTI that there was anything relating to Netaji with it.
But a sworn affidavit filed before the Mukherjee Commission by then Home Secretary details a record originating from
R&AW, which is answerable to only the Prime Minister.
The known-unknown Netaji files
There are essentially two types of secret files that a government typically keeps. One, those whose existence is
accepted before courts of law, commissions etc and, two, those whose every existence is denied. The files of the
latter sort are sometimes handed over to intelligence agencies for safekeeping because they can work beyond the
periphery of law. If our Government is holding more files on Netaji than it has admitted so far, only the public pressure
will persuade it to part with them. In a democracy, the real owners of secret files are not government officials or
politicians but the people. This is the year 2013 not 1913.
The Netaji records, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, can be divided into three categories. First, there are "known
knowns"; there are records we know we know. For example there are records in public domain like the following one
from the National Archives. This falls in the category of "known known". This document is the last known report
produced by the Combined Section that
was investigating the death of Bose. The
report, prepared 8 months after the
reported Taipei crash, refers to various
intelligence reports received from Indian
and Russian sources to the effect that
Netaji was in the USSR in 1946.
We also know there are "known
unknowns" sort of records. That is to say,
Government says do not exist, but exit
they very much. This can be illustrated by
the following damning account:
In 1956 the Ministry of External Affairs
approached the British High Commission
in Delhi to make an inquiry about Netaji's
reported death in Taiwan. The British
reverted with the finding that there was no
real proof of it. While filing affidavits, making statements and submissions before the Mukherjee Commission (19992005), neither the Ministry of External Affairs nor any other ministry referred to the Taiwanese/British findings as they
furnished all relevant information, including details about files missing or destroyed. It was as though the Taiwan 1956
inquiry report never existed.
Unfortunately for the Government of India it does. Declassified by Her Majesty's Government, the original papers can
now be accessed by anyone at the
National Archives, Kew. The last
page in the British file clearly
mentions handing over of not one
but five copies of the Taiwanese
report to the Ministry of External
Affairs. [See image] This is a classic
case of a known-unknown record
and an unimpeachable evidence of
And, most importantly, there are
also "unknown unknowns"—the
ones we don't know we don't know.
These are records about which we
have no idea, unlike the case of
1956 British inquiry file. A
government that can conceal one document can very well hide any number of them. .
Have Netaji files been destroyed?
By its own admission, our Government has destroyed records concerning Netaji's fate, the INA treasure and related
subjects. For instance, information culled from the records of two commissions as well as the PMO records accessed
using the RTI shows that in around 1956 a file was opened in Prime Minister's Secretariat, as the PMO was called in
those days, on the subject "Circumstances leading to the death of Shri Subhas Chandra Bose". This file—No
12(226)/56-PM—was destroyed in 1972 along with several other irrelevant files, even though the Manual of Official
Procedure in force at that time stipulated that the files of historical importance, especially those relating to issues
agitating the public mind, would be kept in office for 25 years and then sent to the National Archives.
According to unverifiable
claims, this file was the
master file of all Netaji files,
personally maintained by
Prime Minister Nehru. Dr
Subramanian Swamy as a
Cabinet minister had the
opportunity to see the
relevant papers. He stated
a few years back in après
release that this "Nehru's
file" had been destroyed on
the orders of PN Haksar,
Gandhi's Private Secretary.
contained something very problematic for a man like Haksar to himself get rid of it flouting all rules.
The destruction of Netaji-related records is not limited to the highest office in the land as the following sample of
destroyed records demonstrates:
1. Director, Intelligence Bureau letter No 31/DG/56-II dated 4.1.1959.
2. No 22(381)60-66-PM, about the proposal to bring Netaji's alleged ashes to India, 1960.
3. No 24/27/71, Pol II contained vital correspondence between the Ministry of Home Affairs and Khosla Commission.
4. Several documents of file No 23(156)/51-PM related to the INA treasure. [See image below]
Government's likely response to the
demand of declassification
In 2006, the full Bench of Central
Information Commission led by Wajahat
Habibullah passed an order calling upon
the Ministry of Home Affairs to release
202 records concerning Netaji's fate.
Consequently, then Home Minister went
to the Cabinet Committee on Political
Affairs for a decision. According to a
deliberations "the Shivraj Patil-led Home
Ministry had come around to the view
that there really was no fear of a law and
order problem if the secret documents
But despite “approval” by the CCPA, the ministry released only 91 out of the 202 records. There was no word about
the rest of the records, including Home Ministry, External Affairs Ministry files; letters from Home Minister, High
Commissioner, Taiwan government and Intelligence Bureau Director; a report on the missing INA treasure and a
memo from Director of Military Intelligence over Mahatma Gandhi's view on Netaji's reported death.
The moral of the story is: If it was ever cornered over secret Netaji files, the central Government would wriggle out
with releasing or even leaking some undamaging records. Therefore, the aim of any declassification drive concerning
Netaji should be to seek release of each and every record, especially those held by the intelligence agencies. For
the sake of fair play and transparency, we must not settle for anything less than a complete disclosure.
The way forward
Two decades back the United States of America faced a similar situation over the controversy surrounding the
assassination of John F Kennedy. The 30 years of government secrecy relating to the assassination had led the
American public to believe that their government had something to hide. In 1992, the US Congress passed a law
providing for a "unique solution to the problem of secrecy" which was at the root of the problem. Under the JFK
Records Act of 1992 all records were made public and the controversy was rested to the extent possible. Time has
come for India to take similar steps and move on.
Secret records concerning Subhas Bose exist in other countries also. For example in 2009, using the American
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the writer of this note managed to obtain a formerly secret Central Intelligence
Agency record of 1950. "It is now currently rumored in the Delhi area that the 'Netaji'… is alive and is in Siberia," the
document said, sourcing the information to a highly-placed agent in India.
But efforts made by individuals in their personal capacity cannot match the approaches made by the authorities,
showing the resolve of a nation to seek
facts. Alluding to the possible Netajirelated documents with security and
intelligence archives in Russia, a still
secret Ministry of External Record says:
“It would be unrealistic for us to expect the
Russian authorities to allow our scholars
to access to KGB archives. What we can
do is to request the Russian authorities to
conduct a search into these archives, and
let us know if there is any evidence of
Netaji's stay in the Soviet Union”.
But then, how are we going to ask foreign
governments to release their secret
records when our own is sitting on a pile of its own making? Like charity, transparency must begin at home.
Anuj Dhar is the author of India’s biggest cover-up.
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008CDVRWW [Digital edition]