For a slice of history

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to declassify documents in the government’s possession relating to Subhas Chandra Bose on January 23, 2016, the date of his birth anniversary, and also send a request to Russia and other countries to share any documents in their custody, is a welcome step. Mr. Modi has assured Netaji’s family members that opening the files to scrutiny would help lift the veil of secrecy surrounding his life and death. It should end a long wait for the family, as also students and scholars of history for whom Bose remains an enigma. Part of the credit for the momentum on this front should go to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who last month released Bose-related Cabinet papers from 1938 to 1947: what the CPI(M) government in the State could not or did not do even at the height of its power. While it is hoped that the decision to make the files public would help lay to rest the many conspiracy theories that have swirled around Bose since his disappearance following a 1945 plane crash, there is no telling whether this would indeed prove to be the last word on the issue. Part of the mystique and the urban folklore surrounding Bose have to do with the actions of governments past that held him hostage to history by keeping under wraps crucial bits of correspondence and files. The reasons cited were vague, and typically referred to threats to India’s integrity and unity and potential impact on external relations. Three judicial commissions went into the disappearance. Their findings not being accepted by the government only deepened the mystery.

It is also about time India joined other countries that have a stated policy of declassifying official documents after a stipulated time period. Thus, this opening up should be the norm, and it should not be confined to Bose. And this set of documents should be made accessible not only to scholars and students of history but all those who are interested in learning about the country’s past. Bose belongs to history, and the present generation must engage with his actions fully. In this age of assured transparency, Mr. Modi’s step, and especially his observation that “nations that forget history are bound to lose the power to create it”, must go beyond mere words. Whether the BJP will get any dividend out of this decision on a hero whose name evokes strong passions in West Bengal — set to go to the polls in 2016 — only time will tell. As the party under Mr. Modi looks towards more States to conquer, it is hard to miss the timing and the nature of the overture.