It does not require much analytical experience to decipher the politics behind the release of the Netaji files by the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee towards the fag end of her first term in office. This act of serving the cause of Bengal’s best known political icon would stand her in good stead when it comes to re-election. The timing is all the more significant as it comes after the union government under prime minister Narendra Modi too has toed the line of the previous Congress governments and refused to declassify the files with the central government. So, Mamata has gone one up on Modi as he has backed out after making a public commitment to Netaji’s family members that he would reveal the entire truth. However, there is little of substance in the files released by the West Bengal government to alter the available narrative on the subject. Indeed, a historian who has done a book on Netaji and Nehru has commented that a mountain has been dug up and mouse has been revealed. He has even questioned the nomenclature of the documents as “Netaji Files” on the grounds that the bulk of files are not related to Bose. Even for those who have been waiting for evidence to further damn Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in pursuance of their theory that the first prime minister of India was ‘scared ‘ of Bose’s return in independent India and thus conspired to keep him out have been disappointed.
The problem with mysteries and mystiques is that the believers do not leave any scope for interference by facts in their narratives. Thus those who believe that Netaji did not die in the plane crash would stick to their narrative and keep on pursuing it. They would not be bothered by the fact that Netaji the courageous man who gave a slip to the Britishers and then raised the Indian National Army to fight them during the World War II would not be cowed down by any threat in independent India and come out openly to gain his rightful place without any fear. Nehru or no Nehru, can it be conceivable that a brave soul as Netaji would be in hiding in independent India? But the mystique has also been kept alive by some illogical adherence to bureaucratic rules by the government of India. Pray what damage to international relations would be caused nearly 70 years after the Netaji episode now? Besides, is the Indian government still scared of these foreign countries and does not have the diplomatic wherewithal to carry them along with it on such a sensitive national issue as declassification of files. Much of the problem lies with our penchant for protecting so-called official secrets and not following the well-respected practice of automatic declassification after a period of 30 years that is followed by western countries. Prime minister Narendra Modi should take the initiative and bring about this amendment or change in rules to ensure that this 30 year rule becomes a part of system. He should begin by declassifying the Netaji files. We must have the courage to live with our past.