The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) wants all official papers of Independent India to be declassified, saying it’s time to open up — a demand that is likely to make the government uncomfortable.
In an interview to HT, Balmukund Pandey, all-India organising secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana, the Sangh’s history wing, said, “We ask the government to declassify all documents. No papers since 1947 have been opened up and this must change. It’s time to learn from our past.”
Recently, the BJP-led NDA government refused to declassify a report on India’s worst military defeat at the hands of China in 1962. When it was in the opposition, the BJP had asked for the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report, which clinically analyses reasons for India’s humiliation, to be made public.
It was a “top-secret report” and its release would not be in “national interest”, defence minister Arun Jaitley had said. Successive governments have stubbornly turned down demands to make public the report submitted in 1963.
But the RSS, the BJP’s ideological parent, is not buying the “national interest” argument. “History is neutral. We must learn lessons from history and teach everything — from the defeat to China to the victory in Kargil,” Pandey said. “Using security as an argument to keep it secret is wrong. Understanding our mistakes is important.”
The Sangh is of the view that all official papers – on domestic politics and statecraft – and not just those related to foreign policy, should be in public domain.
“Be it the emergency or Sanjay Gandhi’s role in it or Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, we must know what really happened,” Pandey said.
Indian Council of Historical Research’s new chairman YS Rao has been associated with ABISY.
In the UK, official papers can be declassified after 30 years. The ceiling is 25 years in the US for most documents. In rare cases, the US keeps documents secret for more than 50 years.
India doesn’t have a stated policy. The norm was to release documents after 30 years, author-historian Srinath Raghavan told HT. Ministries were expected to declassify documents and send them to the National Archives but it wasn’t being done, he said.
The ministry of external affairs, however, had tried to do it in recent years, but there was almost nothing from the PMO, ministries of defence, home and finance, Raghavan said. The backlog was a problem and most ministries didn’t have the ability to cope with it, he said.
Early August, when news reports talked about possibility of freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose being awarded the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour, his family demanded that the documents about his disappearance be made public.
The right to information law allows citizens unfettered access to documents older than 20 years but the government often invokes a security exemption to block requests.
Academics, especially historians and political scientists, have been calling for the government to open up its secret files’ cabinet. They now have an ally in the RSS.