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Issue No.: 575 | May 2015

Was Jawaharlal Nehru Responsible for “snooping” on Bose?

V. Balachandran
The recent controversy on whether Jawaharlal Nehru had personally authorized "snooping” on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and family has resulted in predictable squabbles on partisan political considerations. The clamorous TV debates that we see on this subject daily by the assemblage of usual faces who are chosen not for their knowledge but more for their easy availability also do not help us in coming to any conclusions. My brief analysis has already appeared in a national daily on April 12. 

Before coming to this particular subject I need to give a brief outline on how "snooping” is officially done. Indian Telegraph Act 1885 gave a monopoly to the Government of India to operate telegraphic communications and for licensing private broadcast systems. Since public security was involved, the government retained the power under Section 5 to intercept any communication during any "emergency” or on "Public safety”. For doing this, four conditions were specified: Preservation of sovereignty and integrity of India, friendly relations with foreign countries, maintenance of public order and/or preventing incitement to violence. Written orders have to be issued before any interception is done. Since 1885, the Central and state governments have specified rules from time to time specifying who are the competent authorities to grant permission and what procedure has  to be followed for interception. These principles are being followed and modified for interception of land line telephones/cell phones and also for digital transmissions now. 

The East India Company and later the British government were primarily bothered with crime. All energies were devoted in suppressing crime and gangs. All intelligence gathering by Provincial and princely State Police was used to watch crime and gangs. However this perspective changed after the First War of Independence (Great Indian Mutiny) in 1857. There was need to watch unrest against the British rule. The Whitehall (British Government) took over the entire responsibility of governing five British provincial governments. It also started controlling 562 princely States. A new law "An Act for the Better Government of India” was passed in 1858. Secretary of State for India was made totally in control, assisted by the Viceroy & Governor General. Indian Civil Service (ICS) was created. Lord Canning altered Dalhousie’s annexation policy with "perpetuation of the states as different entities” but with tighter control. As the late V. P. Menon had said, "The Indian States thus became part and parcel of the British empire in India”. A "Political Department” under the direct charge of the Governor General was created with Indian Political Service officers (ICS & Army) and police forces. Secretary of State for India "kept close control over the activities of the Political Department”. 

Meanwhile Col. (later General) William Henry Sleeman completed his work of suppressing thugs by 1848 which he started in 1829. He prosecuted 4,500 thugs. Of them 504 were hanged and 3,000 given life sentence. Only 250 were acquitted. After he was moved as Resident of Oudh, the most coveted post for a British officer in India in 1848, his team known as "The Thugee & Dacoity Department” was converted as the centralized intelligence arm of the new Political Department. This became ‘DIB’ (Delhi Intelligence Bureau) during the British days and Intelligence Bureau (IB) after Independence. This unit came to be directly controlled by Whitehall. During the 1920s an office known as ‘Indian Political Intelligence’” (IPI) which was jointly run by India Office, Scotland Yard and Government of India took total control of security and intelligence. IPI which was started by a lone Indian Police (IP) officer in 1909 to keep an eye on the Indian revolutionaries grew into a massive organization by the Second World War. By 1935, arrangements were made in all colonies integrating intelligence, police and security organizations to face freedom struggles. In 1929 DIB was headed by Sir David Pertie who later became Director General of MI-5. 

The declassified British intelligence papers revealed by Christopher Andrew, author of the mammoth (1044 pages)"The Defence of the Realm- Authorized history of MI-5” indicate that Indian intelligence activities were tightly controlled from London through IPI and DIB before Independence. Indian police officials were utilized for this work. In 1934 Sir Holt-Wilson, a senior MI-5 officer recorded: "Our Security Service is more than national; it is Imperial. We have official agencies cooperating with us, under the direct instructions of the Dominions and Colonial Offices and the supervision of local governors, and their chiefs of police, for enforcing security laws in every British Community overseas. These all act under our guidance for security duties...” 

What was not, however, anticipated was that even after 1947 this very close liaison continued between MI-5 and our IB, like a junior partner. One of the unwritten agreements during the transfer of power to India in 1947 was the secret positioning of a "Security Liaison Officer” (SLO) at New Delhi as MI-5’s representative. This was obtained by Guy Liddel, then Deputy Director General of MI-5 with the consent of Intelligence Bureau according to declassified archives.  British archives quoted a communication from the late T.G.Sanjeevi Pillai, IB’s first Director on the need for maintaining close liaison with MI-5. A British Government website defends this decision: "When India ceased to be part of the Empire on 15 August 1947 and was partitioned into two independent States, India and Pakistan, there were profound implications for the British intelligence. From every point of view, economic, geographic and political, India remained of key strategic interest to the British government, and in the early Cold War context good intelligence on the region was, if anything, even more important than before”. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was the Home Minister under whom IB worked. There is no official confirmation whether Nehru was consulted before this arrangement. This point will be known only if the IB records of that time are declassified. 

As a result of this junior status, IB closely followed Britain’s intelligence priorities even though an independent democratic country was born. DIB Sanjeevi did not like V.K.Krishna Menon although he was a close confidante of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The dislike was shared by Guy Liddel who audaciously assured his government that "we are doing what we could to get rid of Krishna Menon”. However they did not succeed. Nehru continued having confidence in Menon. B.N.Mullik, the second director also carried on with this policy and preferred integrated approach with the British. According to British archives he "encouraged” Walter Bell, the then SLO to visit IB’s headquarters  and outstations to see for himself the work IB was doing in preventing Communist subversion. In 1953, during his visit to London, Mullik sought MI-5’s help in bolstering our counter espionage machinery.  

Declassified British archives also speak of a loud disconnect between Nehru’s strategic policies and the priorities pursued by the IB. Apart from the Krishna Menon episode, the disconnect was evident during the exchange visits of Soviet leaders Nicolai Bulganin and Khrushchev to India and Nehru’s visit to the USSR which heralded closer Indo-Soviet relations in 1955. One year later there was a chill in the Indo-UK relations when Nehru condemned the Anglo-French invasion on the Suez. Andrew says, quoting British records that this, however, "had little impact” on the IB-MI5 collaboration. IB even allowed an MI-5 officer to study their records on Moscow’s subsidies to Indian Communists. In 1957 Mullik wrote to Roger Hollis, MI-5 chief, "In my talks and discussions, I never felt that I was dealing with any organization which was not my own”. Thus Christopher Andrew concludes, "Nehru, however, either never discovered how close the relationship was or – less probably – did discover and took no action”.

Normally any intelligence liaison with an independent foreign country should have been maintained by Britain’s foreign intelligence service known as MI-6 but in this case MI-5 resisted all such attempts till 1971. British archives also quoted the then Director IB S.P.Verma, writing obsequiously to the MI-5 Chief  that he did not know "how he would manage without a British SLO”, when told about his withdrawal. 

How was Subhas Chandra Bose put on surveillance? From 1919 onwards Britain considered the "Red Menace” as their top security challenge. Our bureaucracy and the fledgling IB that we inherited from imperial Britain also continued that policy till 1975 when Mrs.Indira Gandhi gave them a strong admonition for watching Communists and not Communalists during the annual IB conference, which I had attended. 

The above background needs to be kept in mind before we jump into any conclusion that Jawaharlal Nehru had ordered IB snooping on Bose’s family members. Declassified IPI records indicate that Bose was kept under watch since April 1924. In 1922, the Indian revolutionary Abani Mukherjee was sent by the Comintern to India. Purabi Roy, Netaji’s biographer says that he spent nearly eleven months in Calcutta meeting Chittaranjan Das and Subhas Bose. She says: "After his return to the USSR, Abani Mukherjee stated in his report to Comrade Petrov, the secretary of the Eastern Section, Comintern in Moscow: ‘….The right hand man of C. R. Das, Mr. S. Bose, being a pro-communist, and a friend of ours, we have a good influence over the Swaraja Party’”. (Dr. Purabi Roy, The Search for Netaji: New Findings, Page 30, Purple Peacock Books, Kolkata- 2011) 

British intelligence must have started watch over Bose and his family after this. Amiya Nath Bose, Netaji Bose’s nephew had also mentioned in his blog that it was Communist leader Soli Batliwala who was the link between the Communist Party of India and Subhas Chandra Bose in 1939 to forward the latter’s proposal to the Soviet Union. A full picture will be available only if we declassify all our IB and Bose records. High decibel TV debates are not enough. 

V. BALACHANDRAN is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, and member, 2 man High Level Committee to enquire into 26/11 terrorist attacks. He is also writing a biography of A.C.N.Nambiar, 
Netaji Subhas Bose’s deputy in Berlin during the Second World War 






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In this Issue

R. Srinivasan

The Bose Engima

Netaji Betrayed?

Ashok Karnik

Was Jawaharlal Nehru Responsible for “snooping” on Bose?

V. Balachandran

The National Scene

State of the Economy – Issues and Challenges

Sunil S. Bhandare

Abusive words can’t be used for Mahatma


BJP’s strategy in J&K remains an enigma

H. R. Bapu Satyanarayana

Poor Farmer


The Modi Government

Saffronisation is Creeping Up On Us

Firoze Hirjikaka

The Rural Perspective - 6

Agriculture and Rural Indebtedness - VII

R. M. Mohan Rao

Point Counter Point : Every issue has at least two sides

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What is wrong with AAP?

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Foreign Relations in the 21st Century

Modi Goes Abroad Again: Target Development Agenda at Home

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The Iran N Deal: Whose Fate Will it Seal?

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The Swatantra Party in Gujarat - A Historical Perspective

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