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CIA more forthcoming on ‘secret’ Netaji files

PMO said that release of files may ‘prejudicially affect relations with foreign state’.

NAVTAN KUMAR  New Delhi | 6th Dec 2014

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

Even as the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has shown unwillingness to divulge any records relating to the mysterious death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has no qualms about doing so.

Some documents (in possession of The Sunday Guardian) released by the CIA, under the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) earlier this year, clearly cast doubts on the reported death of Bose. In fact, one of the CIA reports was filed in 1964, a long time after Netaji disappeared in 1945. The CIA response came following an FOIA application filed by NRI Abhishek Bose, author Anuj Dhar and Chandra Kumar Bose, Netaji's grandnephew, last year.

In its reply dated 28 January 2014, the CIA enclosed four declassified documents. Among them, the oldest one goes back to May 1946, in which a confirmation of Netaji's death has been sought from the Secretary of State in Washington DC. "The hold which Bose had over the Indian imagination was tremendous and that if he should return to this country, trouble would result," it reads.

In a response dated July 1945, which was almost a year after Netaji's reported death in an alleged air crash in Taiwan, it was stated that "a search of our files indicates that there is no information available regarding subject's death that would shed any light on the reliability of the reports".

In another report dated January 1949, the agency noted the rumour that Bose was "still alive". In November 1950, a highly placed source informed the CIA that Bose was in Siberia, waiting for a comeback. "It is now currently rumoured in the Delhi area that 'Netaji', which is Bose's nickname, is still alive and is in Siberia, where he is waiting for a chance to make a big come back. Officially, Bose was declared 'lost' when the ship he was on was sunk en route from Burma to Japan. However, his body was never found and there are no known witnesses to his death. Whether Bose is dead or alive is relatively unimportant but the possibility of an imposter should not be overlooked," the document reads.

"I have had several education Indians tell me that the USSR would send an imposter for Bose into India and it would be easy to convince the people that he is Bose. If Bose or an imposter should return, it is probable that a great many of the people would accept his leadership," it further reads.

In February 1964 the agency was told about the "possible return" of Subhas Bose. "There now exists a strong possibility that Bose is leading the rebellious group undermining the current Nehru government," says the document.

Speaking to this newspaper, Dhar said, "It's relatively easier to get Netaji-related documents from the CIA than from the PMO." Dhar's long standing activism and 2012 book India's Biggest Cover-up has brought the demand of declassification of Bose files in the national spotlight.

He added that two of the CIA documents released earlier this year were in fact declassified by the agency after he filed his first FOIA request in 2007.

"Initially the agency turned my request down because the release of the documents was likely to harm US interests. I appealed that the documents should be released for the sake of Netaji's admirers the world over, including in America, with necessary censorship of the names of agents and the method employed to collect intelligence. The arguments that do not cut ice with our government were accepted by the CIA. The two records were then sent to me after some cuts. They showed that in 1950 rumours were in circulation at high levels in India that Netaji was alive, probably in the USSR."

In contrast, the Prime Minister's Office is silent on the issue. In the latest RTI reply (dated 25 November 2014) to Dhar, the PMO turned town his July 2014 request seeking access to 22 files listed out by him. The PMO also declined to place his request to for disclosure before the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"There is no provision under the (RTI) Act to place the application before the Hon'ble Prime Minister," the reply said. It said that the release of 22 files may "prejudicially affect relations with foreign state". In response to another question, the PMO has stated that since 2006 two files concerning Netaji have been declassified and sent to the National Archives.

"Both the files sent to the archive are about the transfer of burnt INA treasure to India even though the title of one of the files says it is about Netaji's disappearance," Dhar adds. "Some pages are missing too."

The government has always avoided releasing secret Netaji files for reasons of national security. In 2007, an RTI proceeding involving Dhar and the Union Home Ministry had revealed that the ministry alone had close to 70,000 pages of material concerning Netaji's fate.

Putting the ball in Narendra Modi's court, Dhar said: "All that I have learned in my years of research tells me that Government of India at the highest level is fully aware of what happened to Netaji. The Prime Minister must clear the air on Netaji's fate."

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