New Delhi: The US has rebuffed India’s request for declassification of files related to the death of Subhash Chandra Bose, claiming that a search through “widely dispersed” records would be impractical.
This was revealed in a written reply in Rajya Sabha by the External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to a query posed by Trinamool member of parliament Sukhendu Shekhar Roy on Thursday.
Netaji’s death in a plane crash on August 18, 1945 in Formosa (Taiwan) has become a contentious subject over the years, with a section of his family claiming that he had survived the accident. Before the 2014 general elections, the BJP had taken up the matter and made a commitment to declassify the files if it came to power at the Centre. In 2015, West Bengal’s state government had made public 64 files related to Netaji. On January 23, 2016, the government released the first 100 declassified files on a separate website created to help in searching through the documents which are from 1956. Since then, seven more tranches of files have been published on www.netajipapers.gov.in, with the last tranche coming through on September 2016.
In her reply, Swaraj said that the US’s central repository for archives had flatly refused to undertake the “extensive research” as it would require a lengthy search through records of different US Government agencies.
“The US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) have informed that locating documentation relating to Netaji will require extensive search through the records of a number of different US government agencies. Locating documents of interest to us will require review of a large number of files from various agencies and since these are widely dispersed, NARA cannot undertake the extensive research necessary to examine the records,” Swaraj said in her written reply.
Interestingly, the external affairs minister’s answer is also completely different from an earlier statement provided by minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju in the Lok Sabha in April 2016. “The US does not have any document related to Netaji,” Rijiju stated on April 26 last year.
The UK had told India that “most material on Netaji” – roughly 62 files – are already available on the website of National Archives and British Library. “Copies of these files can be obtained costing each copy £8.24 and would require 24 days to obtain the copies after formally placing the order,” said Swaraj, helpfully.
She also informed that Japan had declassified two files related to Netaji, which have been transferred to their archive depository and can be accessed by general public.
The release of the two files had been in the pipeline when Rijiju made his statement last year. The junior home minister had said that Indian government was “hopeful” about two files being made public by end of 2016. “Our mission there has been in touch with the Japanese government and they have agreed to declassify two files,” he said.
Russia, Singapore and Myanmar
After the two files were made public, a report by the Yomiuri Shimbun in October 2016 said that documents indicated that Japanese government’s investigation had concluded that Bose perished in the 1945 plane crash.
However, Rijiju had added that there were more files with Japan which Indian government had wanted to be made public. “Three more files are there which they have not committed about yet. So, we are hopeful for those files also,” he said.
A year later, Swaraj has now said that Tokyo has conveyed that it cannot make a special exception to expedite declassification of additional files. “Regarding any other documents that Japanese Government may have, they have conveyed that the documents are declassified as per their policies after prescribed time period based on an internal review mechanism,” Swaraj informed Rajya Sabha.
Russia told the Indian government that after a fresh search, “no documents pertaining to Netaji Bose’s death were found in the Russian Archives”, Swaraj noted.
India had also made a similar request to Myanmar and Singapore – two countries which had close links with Netaji’s life, but there has been no response. “We have also approached Governments of Myanmar and Singapore and their replies are awaited,” Swaraj said.
Besides these countries, India had also approached Austria, Germany and Italy with the same request. Germany had said that all files related to Netaji in its archives from 1945 were already in the public domain, while Austria indicated that it had found no documents related to the Indian freedom fighter. Italy’s response is not known.