Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

CIA record captures the spectre of Bose's return in 1950

Many feared USSR would send an imposter to India

In a first instance of its kind, the world's the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has declassified and released to an Indian citizen based in India two records sought under the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The released documents make some interesting comments about India of circa 1950. Main among them is that four years after the reported death of Subhas Chandra Bose, the spectre of his return from the USSR remained strong enough to make many well-off Indians feel jittery. Since the source of CIA's information had to be but a highly-placed individual, the import of his inputs is that the belief of Bose's presence in USSR after his so-called disapperance was equally rooted among the elites, as with man on the street.

Click here to see the documents

Then, the public memory is still fresh about the brazen manner in which our Government handled the "Russian-angle" finding of Justice Mukherjee Commission. On the other hand, the world's top intelligence agency has by releasing the records displayed the fairness that our government might like to follow. After all, the Government of India and its intelligence agencies are sitting on stockpile of classified information on the man who even in the estimates of his detractors was one of the topmost freedomfighters

"The Agency Release Panel (ARP) considered your appeal and determined that the document that was initially denied in its entirety can now be released in part, with some information to remain protected from release on the basis of FOIA exemptions (b)(1) and (b)(3)," wrote Delores M. Nelson, Executive Secretary Agency Release Panel to Anuj Dhar, author of Back from Dead: Inside the Subhas Bose Mystery. The panel comprising top CIA officers handles the appeals against denial of information under FOIA. Exemptions (b)(1) and (b)(3) are invoked, as was the case in the present case, when the release of information could harm America's national security, including relations with foreign states; and name of the all-important source who provided the information contained in the records.

That the CIA should release the records sought make for a nice gesture indeed given that they were appealed by us to release the records in the interest of Netaji's admirers world over -- including the Americans of Indian origin.

CIA Information Report on the subject "Comments on political situation" [in India and Pakistan] was marked Confidential before it was declassified and sent to Dhar last week. The prevalent marking in those days in the agency were Secret, Confidential, Restricted and Clear. Which would mean that by today's standard, the document was deemed Secret. The highest level these days is Top Secret

And one of the reasons the document is classified as such is because of the informant who provided the dope to the agency from Delhi. We would never know who this person was because his name and related details have been censored in the sanitized copy released by the agency. But we are not complaining. When the agency initially refused to release the record in the entirety, we implored them to release it in part, blocking out the name of the source that the CIA director is duty bound never to disclose.

For good measures, the markings on the record reveal that the source was "usually reliable" and his opinion was "probably true" -- just one degree below "the truth". With that sort of setting, here's is the crux of the document.

India of 1950 faced -- in source's estimate -- "some real potential danger". That is: Bose "is alive and is in Siberia, where he is waiting for a chance to make a big comeback".

The second record released by the agency is a "Restricted" one-line Information Report acquired in 1948. It speaks of the recurring rumor that Subhas Bose was alive and "active in the underground RSSS movement". In hindsight, one wonders why such a seemingly irrelevant piece of information on a man presumed dead years ago be described by the agency markings as "material requiring special handling"? Could it be that the document formed part of the many more papers on the subject of Subhas Bose mystery which was a rage in India those days?

Getting back to the first document, its source appeared impressed by the popularity of Bose in 1950. He painted this telling illustration: "Recently his life story was told in the Indian movies and I attended several different native theatres to study native reaction. Every time that the actor representing. Bose appeared on the screen, he was loudly applauded. This expression of great enthusiasm clearly indicated to me that Bose is a National hero, and in the eyes of the man on the street, I think he ranks next to Ghandi [sic]. The native Indian explanation for this is found in the fact that Bose took definite action against British rule."

Interestingly, and incredibly, "several educated Indians" told the source of their fear of the USSR sending "an imposter for Bose into India". "If Bose or an imposter should return, it is probable that a great many of the people would accept his leadership," source averred.