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Why and how Anuj Dhar wrote ‘India’s Biggest Cover-Up’

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This is journalist-researcher-author Anuj Dhar’s first letter to activist-journalist Surajit Dasgupta

Dhar requested Dasgupta to introduce him to a new publisher who would help him explore the mystery beyond his previous book, Back from Dead: Inside the Subhas Bose Mystery (2005). A few emails and telephone exchanges thereafter, the writer began writing for Renu Kaul Verma’s Vitasta Publishing. The authoritative book, India’s Biggest Cover-Up, eventually turned out to be a bestseller. The e-mail follows:

The controversy surrounding Subhas Chandra Bose’s death is free India’s longest running with new dimensions added to it in every few years. The sheer time-frame across which the “Netaji mystery” has spread out, the subplots it has spawned and the number of high- profile personalities it has taken in its fold will bewilder anyone trying to make a sense of this absorbing issue. The situation has been compounded to unimaginable proportions by the inexplicable state secrecy. Security classification has over the years resulted in the stockpiling of secret files. The Prime Minister’s Office alone, by its own admission, has 33 of them.

In such a befuddling scenario, people have reacted to the controversy in two broad ways. They have either shut their minds to it, or embraced conspiracy theories. Either way does not lead to anything worthwhile. The lack of a proper public discourse on the Bose death controversy is due to the absence of freely available literature breaking down its complexities into an easy to understand account.

There has always been a market for an authoritative book on the Bose mystery. In Bengal, where the issue still emotive; in Hindi heartland, where a leading “conspiracy theory” is set; in Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, from where a huge number of people joined the INA.

But such a book was not possible to come up with because of two main factors: absence of a desired level of legitimacy and clarity. Today both the problems stand resolved to a great extent. The findings of a commission of inquiry headed by a former Supreme Court judge and widely reported disclosures under the Right to Information in the last few years have made the issue important enough to be discussed by top media outlets, both Indian and foreign, which otherwise would have thought nothing of it.

  1. Fate of Indian war leader thrown into doubt by new report: The Guardian
  2. The Times, London, on Netaji’s whereabouts
  3. Subhas Chandra Bose: The Afterlife of India’s Fascist Leader, History Today

(All stories inspired by my research)

Anuj Dhar
Anuj Dhar

Clarity is what I offer in my manuscript, tentatively titled “India’s biggest cover-up”. As a journalist and then a researcher trying to crack the mystery for the last ten years, I have been able to collate and grasp the various threads of the issue like no other.

A simple Google search with my name will bear me out. The Wikipedia entry about me is more or less correct. For emphasis though, I would like to point to the Times Now show which more or less upheld the view I and other people closely associated with the case have come to hold. This includes Justice MK Mukherjee who headed the last commission.

I have already tested the waters. In 2004 I wrote Back from Dead: Inside the Subhas Bose Mystery (available in hardcover, paperback and Hindi editions) whose main findings, in hindsight, were quite the same as what Mukherjee Commission arrived at months later. The point where the commission report did not appear to agree with was taken care of by the 2010 statement of Justice MK Mukherjee.

Written from the present day perspective, “India’s biggest cover-up” is an investigative insight, not a historical analysis. It feeds off on official records—open and closed—I laid my hands on since the writing of the last book. Not only does the manuscript refer to the still classified records, it has been augmented with the images of such records to convince the readers of the veracity of the shocking narrative. Would you believe if I told you that once upon a time the Indian Embassy in Japan went on a wild goose chase over an 18,400 carat emerald Buddha statue said to have belonged to Bose? You will, because you will see the records.

A large number of people are desirous of knowing the facts about the mystery and “India’s biggest cover-up” will give them those in an authoritative, as never before, way. For most part, it is the story from the inside. Of a mystery people thought they knew but actually don’t. How many, for example, are aware that the issue involves KR Narayanan, JN Dixit, Dr Subramanian Swamy, apart from more familiar names? Or that once there were talks of an abortive coup attempt with “dead” Bose figuring in it somewhere?

Justifying its title, “India’s biggest cover-up” indicts the Government of India of unfair play, often citing legally admissible evidence. In fact the only criticism which could be leveled against it would be that it violates the Official Secrets Act. Well, in 2006 several MPs in Parliament accused the Government of willful cover-up and warned them that “people will decide themselves what to do”.

Surajit Dasgupta
Surajit Dasgupta

I do not think that, if published, India’s Biggest Cover-Up would invite action from the state for unauthorised disclosures. It will prove to be counterproductive. Media, for one, will never back the authorities. Journalism would be finished if people are going to get persecuted for accessing classified information in national interest. The Government of India itself accepts that the Bose mystery is a matter of “national importance” but still doesn’t explain convincingly why it is sitting on so many classified files.

The approximately 2,50,000-worded manuscript is divided into two parts. There are 13 chapters and 7 appendices. The chapters tell the basic story chronologically from 1945 to present and the appendices elaborate some connected issues one can better appreciate in retrospection. The writing is factual, but not dry and unemotional for the audience I am primarily trying to reach out is average. Essentially, the manuscript invalidates the air crash theory of Bose’s death and shows that he escaped towards the former Soviet Union. Mukherjee Commission report stated as much. The manuscript also demonstrates the Government of India’s culpability in covering up the matter and suggests a line of action to resolve the issue, drawing a parallel with a similar case in the United States.

Considerable importance has been given to the engrossing Faizabad angle to the mystery. The manuscript does not claim that the unseen holy man who lived there in the 1980s was Bose. Nor does it reject it like those who have nothing but “disbelief” in such a thing to support their belief. Proof is the leitmotif running through “India’s biggest cover-up”.

An outline of the chapters and & appendices is as follows:

Chapters

  1. Covering up a cover-up

The opening is set in a 2006 Central Information Commission hearing following the refusal of the Ministry of Home Affairs to release Bose death records to the writer and friends on the ground that their disclosure will outrage the nation, specially Bengal. The RTI case ends in the protagonists’ favour but the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs decides to make a selective release of records. The narrative moves on to Parliament debate on the rejection of Mukherjee report. A peep into past and classified records reveals that the stands taken by Pranab Mukherjee and Shivraj Patil are not worthy of trust.

  1. Mystery begins

Recalls Subhas Bose’s last known journey in August 1945. Details the air crash and subsequent intelligence inquiries by the British, Indian and American sleuths. There’s only one proof of Bose’s death—shifty statements of his ADC Habibur Rahman. Information gleaned from the records shows that the British, Raj and the US governments virtually rejected the air crash version. Their suspicion: Bose might have fled to the USSR with the help of the Japanese.

  1. Big brother watching

Picks up the thread from the early 1950s when demands for inquiry into Bose’s death are being stonewalled by the Government. Details the official stand and cites classified records demonstrating the falsehood in it. Circumstances in which the Prime Minister is forced to form Shah Nawaz Committee are gone into and it is shown that this inquiry took a predetermined trajectory. The “no air crash” stand taken by Suresh Bose, Netaji’s elder brother and member of Shah Nawaz Committee, is highlighted.

  1. Enter the Shaulmari sadhu

Briefly revisits the early 1960s campaign to associate a holy man with Bose and what local intelligence inquiries find about his identity. Details the charge that he is a plant by the Intelligence Bureau, out to mislead the people. Document shows IB’s most unusual interest in the sadhu much after the controversy has ended.

  1. Shooting star Samar Guha

It’s late 1960s and a series of events unfold. Lawmakers visiting Taiwan are told that no plane carrying Bose has ever crashed there. Samar Guha, a first time MP, bursts on the national scene demanding a judicial inquiry. Backing him is Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other leading MPs. Records show the Government’s refusal to inquire the matter further but political volatility makes it change the stand. The chapter gives an overview of 1970-1974 inquiry by GD Khosla, the judge’s closeness to the authorities and points up his complicity in hushing up evidence. Guha revives the case during the Morarji period and makes the Government admit in Parliament that the evidence on the issue is inconclusive. Then he undoes himself by announcing that Bose is alive and in India.

  1. A proper inquiry at last

The 1990s dawn with the demands to settle the matter in the wake of the fall of the USSR. There is the Bharat Ratna controversy and then court cases. The last one leads to the decision that there should a new inquiry. There is no way the Vajpayee government can overlook the court order like the Rajiv Gandhi government did in a similar case in 1985. Mukherjee Commission is formed but doesn’t get desired support from the NDA government. The commission has to fight till the end to make its Taiwan visit a possibility. The commission eventually concludes that the air crash was a ruse and Bose escaped towards Russia. The UPA government rejects these findings but its logic for doing so evaporates on close scrutiny.

  1. The search for Bose files

Discusses the writer’s quest for obtaining information from the Government under the RTI and contrasts it with the similar attempts made under Freedom of Information Act with the Central Intelligence Agency and the British government. There is an insightful commentary around classified files relating to Bose being maintained by the IB. Lid is taken off a big lie of the first IB director BN Mullik. R&AW’s response to the writer is questioned.

  1. Ashes which turned to bones

Relates the story of “Netaji’s remains” and how under pressure the Government started paying for its upkeep in a Japanese temple. The question of DNA test and the Government’s reluctance is discussed.

  1. How India dealt with the Russians over Bose’s fate

Contrasts the Subhas Bose issue with the Raoul Wallenberg case and shows how the Government’s belatedly taking up the matter with the Russians from 1991 onwards doesn’t inspire much confidence.

  1. The ‘dead man’ returns

Gives fascinating details about Faizabad’s Bhagwanji, the man Samar Guha, his seniors in revolutionary fraternity, INA secret service agents and several close Bose aides took to be “Netaji” in disguise.

  1. Why Bhagwanji can’t be wished away

Analyses several aspects of the Bhagwanji issue; like the opinions of the handwriting and DNA experts; Mukherjee Commission’s report and Justice Mukherjee’s 2010 admission that he was sure that this man was Bose indeed. Dwells on the reasons why he did not surface in the “interest of India”.

The sum and substance of chapter 10 and 11 is that the Bhagwanji angle cannot be ignored for it throws up amazing details and the only direct evidence so far in the Bose mystery.

  1. Subhas Bose alive at 114?

A short chapter which discusses the theories of Bose being alive today and disagrees.

13: Resolving the mystery

Describes in nine thousand words or so a contemporary approach to settling the matter.

Appendices

  1. The loot of the INA treasure

Classified records show that the INA treasure was swindled by some leading proponents of the air crash theory.

  1. The chase for 18,400 carat emerald Buddha

Relates to the INA treasure. Completely ripped off from Top Secret records.

  1. The strange case of Taipei air crash

Analysis contradictions in evidence about Taipei air crash theory.

  1. Family’s take on Bose’s fate

How a small but influential, pro-Congress section is coming in the way of the unanimous view of the entire Bose family that Subhas did not perish in 1945.

  1. Was Subhas Bose a war criminal?

Concludes that the available records do not show that Bose’s name figured on any of the declassified lists of the United Nations War Crimes Commission. But doubts remain over a treaty relating to war criminals ratified by India in 1971.

  1. The land of conspiracy theories

Lists out a number of mindboggling “conspiracy theories”—some of which aren’t exactly without any substance.

  1. The men who kept the secrets

Shows why Habibur Rahman, who died as additional defence secretary of Pakistan, could have given out a false story of his leader’s death.

Cover of the book as it finally shaped up
Cover of the book as it finally shaped up

From anuj.dhar@gmail.com to dasgupta.surajit@gmail.com on 13 November 2011 at 12:30, EDITED

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