Sunday, April 26, 2015

My take on the Bose papers that are yet to be declassified 

            In a voluminous text that he wrote in 1992, when the Soviet Union and the Socialist bloc had turned into history, Francis Fukuyama, held that the world has come to settle down and that there was no further movement of history beyond the capitalist system. Rooted firmly in Hegelian scheme, Fukuyama’s arguments were found to have been made in haste. Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, in 2000, also Hegelian, argued that things have not settled down and that history was bound to move beyond the present; they took this further in their two other publications in 2004 and 2009 to establish that man continues to make history and that the circumstances in which he lives determines the course of history. [1]
Alhough Negri and Hardt argued just the opposite of what Fukuyama did, there is something that binds them (apart from their Hegelian premise) and that is their approach to history.  Neither Fukuyama nor the Negri-Hardt duo were willing to treat history the way Leopold van Ranke or Lord Acton sought to do: as merely the quest for the absolute truth. Instead, both Fukuyama and the Negri-Hardt duo considered history as ``a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past’’ as held by E.H.Carr.[2] The point is that events in history are understood differently by different historians, whether from the same generation or by historians of different generations and this indeed is what makes history an interesting discipline and not merely a compilation of facts. Carr, however, went on to espouse the importance of facts for a historian. ``The duty of the historian’’ he stressed, ``to respect his facts is not exhausted by the obligation to see that his facts are accurate. He must seek to bring into the picture all known or knowable facts relevant, in one sense or another, to the theme on which he is engaged and to the interpretation proposed.’’[3]
With this espousal of history -- as a continuous dialogue between the past and the present and that facts are to be held sacrosanct in this exercise – it is then imperative that the classified documents in the vaults of the various departments of the Government are declassified and thrown open to historians. Where the law sanctions those documents older than 30 years do not warrant to be held as secret, it is baffling that the Netaji papers should have become the basis for investigative journalism in 2015!
Such expose’ in the media and the debates on television have taken the usual course: Anchors screaming against snooping and such conclusions drawn that Nehru was threatened by Netaji still alive and to such absurd extents that one journalist concluding that if Netaji was there we would have had the first non-Congress government in New Delhi in 1962 (and would not have had to wait for it until 1977)! The challenge to Nehru in 1962 came from the Swatantra Party, perhaps the first ever in our short political history to have spoken against the socialist pattern and favoured the market economy, winning 18 seats in the Lok Sabha securing 7.9 per cent of the votes polled. However, it is necessary to stress that Netaji certainly was as much socialist (or even more) as Nehru was and it is absurd to presume that he would have teamed up with the Swatantra Party in 1962.
Netaji’s approach to the struggle for independence, which was best enunciated in his two volumes titled Indian Struggle[4] should serve as evidence against concluding that Netaji would have teamed up with the Swatantra party, the Jan Sangh and such others in 1962. Similarly, his differences with Netaji and his activities post-1942 did not prevent Nehru from donning the robes (that he had hanged as early as in 1920 in response to the call for non-cooperation and boycott of British courts) in defence of the INA prisoners.[5] It is also a fact that Netaji’s close aides in the INA went on to join the Congress and the Communist Party while many others went on to rebuild the Forward Bloc as a political party leaning to the Left. There is no evidence of any substantial movement of those in the INA moving towards the Bharathiya Jan Sangh.
The developments in the past few weeks: A news story in a magazine that Netaji’s kin were spied by the Intelligence Branch personnel; excerpts from those files, yet to be declassified being meshed with speculations on why such a thing was done; all these being debated from TV studios; and conclusions drawn that all these will change the way we as a nation perceived Nehru; and the Government setting up a committee consisting of officers from the RAW, IB and such other agencies to take a call on declassifying these papers, are all reflective of a certain disrespect to the practice of the discipline called history. Diplomatics now an essential part of the historian’s craft warrants that these documents are thrown open for the historian (rather than depend on what the investigative journalist passes on) and is also made available to any other historian to verify.[6] This is what it takes for a document to be treated as a source for a historian.
In other words, we have such documents as the Fortnightly Reports by the Director Intelligence Bureau for all the years when India was under British rule in the National Archives of India (NAI); these are compilation of the reports from the IB from each of the districts in British India and apart from the NAI a scholar of history has access to these in the various State Archives. We have such IB reports on the underground resistance that Jayaprakash Narayan, Achyut Patwardhan and Yusuf Mehrali organized after 1942 in the Saran and the Satara divisions in British India; we have reports by the IB on the strikes across India since the early 20th Century or on the RIN mutiny, available to historians in the NAI. The list is only indicative and not exhaustive and historians worth their names have published works that are critical of Nehru as much as they have lauded him. Hence, it is not as if all hitherto existing works on the history of modern India have only praised Nehru. Marxist scholars have found holes in Nehru’s personality and gaps in his precept and practice. But then, this was possible because of the access they had to the Private Papers, the IB reports and such other sources and they did not give up the rigours of diplomatics when they went about their work.      
The debate over the Netaji papers and the need for their declassification will have to be raised from this context. The records, particularly of the Home Ministry, are not available in the NAI for the period since independence. Notwithstanding the 30 years rule[7] what we have, for the period between 1947 and 1985 (going by the 30 years rule as in 2015) are documents that are absolutely innocuous. As for instance, we do not have the notes, correspondence and records of meetings that led to the listing of the ban on the RSS and some other organizations, imposed as they were in the aftermath of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948; nor do we have such documents pertaining to the lifting of the ban (imposed in the aftermath of the Calcutta thesis) on the Communist Party of India in 1951, ahead of the first general elections. This has led to historians holding all these to Nehru’s unflinching commitment to liberalism. Throwing open of the papers may help us understand things better as we do, now, with the prisoners in the cellular jail in the Andamans.[8] 
In the same way, writing a history of such events as the dismissal of the elected governments in Kerala (1959) the rise and the fall of many non-Congress governments in the various States across the country between 1967 and 1970, the IB reports on the Navnirman movement in Gujarat and the students movement in Bihar in the early 1970s, the secret reports involving the trade unions in the Railways and on the historic general strike of 1974 (on which the National Archives has only such files that are innocuous and useless at the moment), the IB reports on Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court and such reports on individual leaders of the opposition political parties before the imposition of the Emergency and all those files in the Home Ministry including the IB reports, that are still in the realm of speculations that Indira Gandhi was informed by her sleuths that she stood a chance to win elections if they were held soon and that it led to her decision to hold the general elections in March 1977 are declassified. It will also help in writing history if the records that explain why some leaders were released by the emergency regime sooner than others and as to whether some of those in detention had written apology letters to her from jail.
It will also help in the writing of our history if the IB reports on the agitations in Assam, Punjab and elsewhere are declassified in the same way as we have the secret correspondence between the Viceroy and the Secretary of State to India before independence. It will help history writing, in the way E.H.Carr stressed and as the business of diplomatics demands to know whether the IB had reported anything on the events that preceded the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid in February 1986; it may be that we should wait for another year before the 30 years rule is applied to this. And a decade later we should know all that was recorded by the IB and such other agencies on the events that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
In the end, it is not only important that records are declassified, as a matter of routine and this is done without getting paranoid about national security and such concerns. Such nations as Germany and Italy have not crumbled because historians across the world were given access to secret papers that belonged to the times of Hitler and Musolini. After all, when the Soviet Union crumbled and the secret papers were thrown open, one of our own eminent historians, Suranjan Das Gupta could access them and would unravel material that certainly should be of use for the communists. Likewise, knowing what was reported about Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his kin will only help in the writing of history.
It is another matter that we as a people will also come to know the intensity with which the state was watching its people and no party was innocent of this. Michel Foucault helps us understand why the state does this: pan optican is the concept he uses by which the mere knowledge that one is being watched is bad enough to create a sense of scare in the people and thus make them conform. The ethics and the rightness of snooping and the state doing that is another matter for another debate. Meanwhile, where it is known that anyone and everyone has been snooped by the state should leave us with one demand. That such reports are declassified as a matter of routine, after 30 years or even before that. This is necessary In Defence of History, to borrow the title of his seminal text from Richard J Evans.

[1] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, Free Press, 1992. The book was an expansion of his 1989 essay, with the same title. Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt Empire (2000), Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (2004) and Commonwealth (2009) are part of a trilogy by the two authors.
[2] E.H.Carr, What is History? Penguin, 1961. p 30. Carr’s book was based on a set of five lectures he had delivered as part of the George Macaulay Trevelyan Lectures at the University of Cambridge between January and March 1961 and is held a basic text for all students of history.
[3] Ibid. p 28
[4] Indian Struggle, was a trenchant criticism of Gandhi and his economic ideas as well as political and was written in the early 1930s, banned by the British administration, and first published in 1948, when Nehru was India’s Prime Minister. Netaji had handed over a copy of his proscribed book to Benitto Musolini when he visited Italy in 1935. Netaji’s differences with Nehru lay in the approach to fascism; while Netaji held it good to ally with the fascists against British imperialism (and this approach took him to Japan after escaping the British police and the revival of the INA with Japanese and German support) Nehru was firm that the struggle against British imperialism shall not be pursued in alliance with the fascist forces. This difference was not a secret and the debate was carried out in the open in their times.
[5] It is a recorded fact that the Defence Committee for the INA soldiers, charged of treson and for court martial by the British Indian Government was constituted by the Indian National Congress and this included Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai and Asaf Ali taking the brief for the defence of the soldiers. Historians have argued that Nehru and the Congress were guided by political expediency in doing this but this was possible only because the documents are available for historians to research into.
[6] Diplomatics is the branch of paleography that deals with the study of old official documents and determines their age and authenticity. Historians do apply this to the study of documents and its use is no longer restricted to paleography in modern times.
[7] There is a certain lack of clarity here in the sense that it is not mandatory for documents to be declassified after 30 years; nor is there any bar on such declassification before 30 years. There is a large grey area in this and it emanates from the discretion given to the government of the day to either declassify a certain record or not; and governments in independent India have pulled all the stops to keep them classified.
[8] Penal Settlement in Andamans, a collection of documents pertaining to each and every prisoner in the cellular jail, including details of why some were released prematurely, was put together by R.C.Mazumdar and published by the Government of India in 1975. This was possible only because the records were made available to the historian; and all those records are available, to this day, for any other person to read through and verify.