#KLF19: An Exclusive Interview with Ashis Ray

Ashis Ray at Kolkata Literature Festival


Q: How does it feel to be invited to speak on such a charged topic?

Ray: Well first of all, I wrote the book to end all controversies which is the purpose of the book and that it achieves its objectives. But when I got this invitation, naturally I jumped at it. This is actually my third visit to Kolkata to speak on my book. And this was an opportunity I could not refuse because I really need to come back to Calcutta repeatedly as this is the biggest market of my book and this is where Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose lived. This is his city where people adore him and my invitation to attend this Book Fair and Kolkata Literature Festival is to appeal to them and request them to bring his mortal remains to India from Tokyo, and pay a last respect to the great soul and a great hero of the Indian freedom struggle. I feel that a huge amount of disrespect has been done to him by not bringing his remains to India because his final rites has not been performed yet. I’m not a sentimental person, I’m a scientific person. And, to me religion and religious practices don’t matter. But, Subhas Bose was a Hindu, and his daughter has fervently asked for his remains to be returned to India, and that is a sentiment that needs to be respected.

Q: What according to you took the previous governments prior to the present one to start the declassification process of, “A History of Indian National Army, 1942- 45”?

Ray: It was a huge mistake on their part. There was nothing in the files that suggested that, anything embarrassing would come out by way of India’s external relations. And that was the excuse that was always truncated. It was a government classified file, and these files are supposed to be secret files. But there comes a time where after a period of time in most democratic countries, these files are used by historians, are released to the public, they are declassified, and they’re given over to the national archives. Now in this case they kept on giving the excuse that if the files were to be declassified, then they could cause difficulties in terms of India’s foreign relations. That was obviously not the case, and to this extent I would certainly would seek that Congress governments were mistaken at not declassifying the files, and I congratulate Modi for having done so!

Q: Justice Mukherjee Commission of Enquiry (JMCI) report had suggested that the story of Bose’s death in a plane crash was “nothing but a smokescreen”. How would you comment on that?

Ray: Well, the answer to that is in my book. It’s a comprehensive answer. All the evidence is there in my book. I have chosen to highlight 11 chosen investigations, 3 of them British, 3 of them Japanese, 4 of them Indian and 1 Taiwanese, and each reach the same conclusion that he died as a result of a plane crash on the 18th of August 1945 in Taipei, Taiwan. The other point of view which can be entertained on this subject is that as far as Justice Mukherjee’s report is concerned, the report was rejected by the Government of India. Therein is the answer to what the report was about.

Q: Just to conclude, is there any unknown fact about Netaji that you have mentioned in your book and would like your audience to know?

Ray: I think there’s a popular misconception that has been fostered by the present government in India, that, he was some kind of right winged leader, which he wasn’t. He was very much a left wing leader and so, ideologically when it came to economic and social matters, Subhas Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru were on the same page. So it needs to be understood that it might have come a little hazy because, it’s history rather than contemporary politics. He was a Congress leader, he was twice elected President of the Congress party. The Forward Bloc which as a party, derives its oration from him. It was a group within the Congress. He was never other than anything but a left wing patriot. For right wing leaders to appropriate him is I think, misleading the people.

Q: If Netaji was alive and, if Netaji and Nehru were contesting, what would be the results according to you?

Ray: It’s a very difficult question to answer. It’s a hypothetical one. It is very difficult to talk about it today after 75 years but one thing is certain that both were extraordinarily popular figures and they were big leaders as well. So, there is a point of view that, if Subhas had returned to India in 1945, he would have been a power unto himself. I think that Subhas would have linked force to Gandhi’s efforts, to avoid partition. There is certainly this feeling both in India and Pakistan that, two things could have happened. One thing is that partition may have been prevented had he returned, the other is, even if the partition was rejected or avoided, at least the relationship between India and Pakistan would have been much better.


Interviewed by Astha Pramanik


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