Thursday, 26 April, 2007

The man who put MHA in a spot

Face off: Sayantan at the INA memorial in Singapore
Let's start with a little quiz. Which one of the following do you think would be best suited to inquire into Netaji reported death?

1. A Congress MP; 2. A friend of Pt Nehru's, and a biographer of Indira Gandhi to boot; 3. A Supreme Court of India judge.

Unless you are one of those khandani Congress backers, chances are you will without hesitation pick option 3. But our honourable Home Minister has gone for 2. With apologies to Shivraj Patil, this is the dumbed down, lay man's version of the reason why his Ministry rejected Mukherjee Commission's report while favouring that of GD Khosla, a great writer but a lousy investigator of the case.

Coming to the point, Mission Netaji wanted to figure out how did the redoubtable Gopal Das Khosla and Shah Nawaz Khan, elevated to ministerial office after giving his report, reached conclusions that Netaji had died in an air crash in Taipei without checking up with the Taiwan Government. So, Sayantan Dasgupta filed a petition under the Right to Information Act, seeking copies of all documents exhibited by the first two panels. He was promptly denied the records under 8 1(a) of the RTI Act. By that the Home Ministry meant that the disclosure would have prejudicially affected sovereignty and integrity of India, relation with foreign states and even lead to incitement of offence.

After this point-blank refusal, Dasgupta lodged a complaint with the Central Information Commission (CIC). In the first hearing before the CIC in October last year, the Ministry officials said they were not even aware of the exhibits, as unlike the Mukherjee report the earlier reports had not appended any lists of the exhibits. Very suspicious this was, and it bespoke of the bona fides of the gentlemen named above. Information Commissioner AN Tiwari then directed Dasgupta to ask for specific documents. Abracadabra! Dasgupta furnished a copy of a classified list of 202 documents used as exhibits by the Khosla Commission in the argument session. (Click here to download your copy.)

In the next hearing the Home Ministry officials were supposed to come up with these 202 documents, but they came with excuses. "Where did you get this list from?" they asked Sayantan and Anuj, who, in a role reversal, denied the "information" to them.

By this time Commissioner Tiwari, a retired Secretary himself, had understood the gist of the matter. Berating the officials, he directed them to "sensitise" the Home Secretary about the matter and take it to the level of Prime Minister. The Commissioner gave the reasoning: "I am surprised that the Government of India is keeping documents on the death of such an illustrious son of India secret! … Records on someone's death should not be kept classified for decades … Why don't you release all the files to National Archives and let researchers draw conclusions?" The Ministry was given a good three months to furnish full details about the papers. But when they returned on 26 March 2007, the officials were armed merely with a secret letter from Home Secretary VK Duggal (since retired). The letter stated that papers relating to Netaji's death could not disclosed for fear of causing unrest in the country, specially in Bengal. (The lead story in Bengali newspaper Bartaman below captured the point. You may also see the Hindu story.)

Obviously for Commissioner Tiwari it was nonsensical, yet again. Giving "a final chance" to the Ministry, he told the officials that "this chapter of secrecy over Netaji-related documents will have to end." Tiwari told Sayantan (accompanied by Chandrachur this time) that he is taking the matter to the full bench of the CIC headed by Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah.

We foresee the following scenario in coming days:

* A full bench hearing may cause discomfort to the Government as the last thing they want is a controversy about this old djinn they think they have firmly put back in the bottle. Contrary to what most people think, the mention of Subhas Bose death issue increases heart beats on the Raisina Hill. For reasons unknown, almost everyone has made up their mind that there is something horrendous in it. Try it yourself, and you will know.

* The CIC, in all likelihood, would order the Ministry to disclose the records.

* The Ministry will never disclose more relevant records. That is, they may show some "harmless" records but the question of releasing sensitive ones doesn't arise.

* If pushed to the wall, the Ministry will move to Delhi High Court. They may even take a stay order even before the hearing takes place.

* Chances are that the CIC will take on them in the Court.


Anonymous said...

I tried to do my bit for same pupose few years back. The efforts were handicapped by lack of RTI, Blogs, Net and my "student" status.

It gives indefinite pleasure to see this blog and initiative. My sincere appreciation for your initiatives. Please let me know how to be activly involved. I have sent you my contact info.


Anuj Dhar said...

Thanks indeed for this. Time has come for us to join hands and ask for facts. It is crazy that Govt should continue to sit on records for so many decades.

please feel free to air your views here. If you have a post in mind, send it across. This blog is a platform for all of us to discuss the matter.

Anonymous said...

Please read this "MH" see if this makes any meaning ...