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>>

Grandnephew tries to whitewash previous governments' pathetic handling of the Netaji matter with selective disclosures

Last week Ashish Ray, a grandnephew of Subhas Chandra Bose, suddenly decided to make his case for Netaji's death in Taiwan in August 1945. He launched a new website whose purpose, in his words, is "to chronicle the truth about what happened to Subhas Chandra Bose, based on 25 years of investigation and research into this subject".

Mr Ray has tried to marshal his arguments in favour of the theory that Bose died in a plane crash in 1945.

Mission Netaji refutes Mr Ray's claims with the help of supporting official documents which tell the full story, and punches big holes in his claims.

The crux of Mr Ray's claims is that the Russian Government has no information on Netaji's presence in their country in and after August 1945.This he says on the basis of some records posted by him on his site here:

http://www.bosefiles.info/#!7-DEC-15-STATEMENT-NO-INFORMATION-ON-BOSE-IN-USSR-IN-OR-AFTER-1945-RUSSIA/cjds/566460020cf212bd6be8b298

He cites records available to him that "requests for information on whether Subhas Bose went to the Soviet Union in or after 1945 were made by the Congress party government in India of Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao", but that "Russia provided categorical official responses" to the effect that Netaji was not in Soviet Union after August 1945. The records that he has produced are two official Russian communications issued in January 1992 and October 1995 claiming that investigations carried out in Russian archives yielded "no information whatsoever" regarding the "stay of Subhash Chandra Bose on the territory of the former USSR in 1945 and in subsequent years".

What Mr Ray has attempted to present as a new discovery is trite and hackneyed. That India requested Russia in 1990s for information on Netaji is a known fact, with relevant details and documents already published in Mission Netaji member Anuj Dhar's 2012 book "India's biggest cover-up".

For example, the following document 8 January 1992 "released" by Ray appears on page 219 of Dhar's book.

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What Mr Ray conveniently chooses not to mention is that the India-Russia communication on the Netaji issue in 1990s happened through note verbales. A note verbale is an unsigned note, a "Demi-Official" (DO) letter, lowest-level communication between two nations. It would be naïve to expect that a matter of such high sensitivity and probable consequences to both Russia and India would be resolved with such casual approach.

Documents, which are available with Mission Netaji, and which Mr Ray has chosen to ignore for his convenience show that India did not accept the Russian version, primarily because the Russian claim was made without searching the records kept in inaccessible security and intelligence-related archives. In a note created in January 1996, RL Narayan, the Joint Secretary in charge of Europe East Division of the Ministry, explained that "papers relating to the Stalinist period (KGB archives) are kept separately and have so far not been accessed by foreign and even Russian scholars."

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"Papers relating to the post-Stalin period fall into two categories-governmental and Central Committee/Politburo (these are again kept separately). The Russian foreign ministry's note verbale suggests that their disclaimer about Netaji may be based essentially on perusal of these latter archives," he added as he recommended issuance of a démarche to the Russians for a search of the records kept in the erstwhile KGB archives.

A PMO document further shows that the Russian denial notwithstanding, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao too was inclined to seek an access to the KGB archives.

"PM would like our Ambassador in Moscow to make discreet enquiries at a high level to ascertain, if possible, the existence of such information in Russia; and the possible reaction of the Russian side if we were to request access. Foreign Secretary may kindly see," a noting made by his secretary reads.

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In addition to the above, another reason why Russian note verbales cannot be taken as a gold standard of proof is that there have been instances in past when the Russians have given misleading statements even at a high level before coming out with truth as pressure mounted.

The case of Raoul Wallenberg, a young Swedish diplomat who disappeared in January 1945 and was suspected to be in USSR thereafter, is an example. Persistent Swedish approaches made Moscow come out in August 1947 with its first ever high-level formal reply that an extensive search of the records had shown that "Wallenberg is not in the Soviet Union and is unknown to us".

However, under pressure from the Swedes, the Russians owned up in 1957 that Wallenberg was very much in their custody after 1945.

Mission Netaji has for long been requesting both the UPA and the NDA Governments to take up the issue of Netaji with the Russians at the highest level, as we do not think that note verbales or even démarche are the right instruments to settle this vexed issue. This should be seriously followed up by our Government after declassifying all our records because we should not expect a foreign nation to reveals its records from its intelligence and security-related archives when we are sitting on our own.

On 14 October this year, in the presence of Mission Netaji members, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised that he himself would raise the matter with his counterpart in Moscow.

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We note with regret that Mr Ray, a senior journalist, has casually referred to the approach made by Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj with Russian foreign minister. It is the first ever high level contact between the two countries on the Netaji matter. The very fact that it is happening proves that both governments have moved on from their positions in previous years when Congress party's worldview held sway. The records selectively cited by Ray only showcase the pathetic handing of this serious matter by previous governments and his lack of understanding of this complex matter.