Kolkata(PTI): The internet and Google were unheard of. Edward Snowden was yet to be born. India as a free country was barely two years old and extremely poor. Yet the Jawaharlal Nehru government was running a sophisticated interception mechanism that targeted the kin of Subhas Chandra Bose. dna has accessed over 50 letters addressed to Netaji’s nephew Amiya Nath Bose and intercepted by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) on instructions from the Nehru administration in addition to IB memos that record every aspect of the snooping.
Intelligence personnel were stationed at the Elgin Road post office in Calcutta (now Kolkata) to intercept letters that were meant for Amiya Bose. These letters were copied by sleuths and sent to the Home Ministry, then under Vallabhai Patel. While the interception seems to have begun sometime in 1949, it continued for more than 15 years after Patel’s death in 1950. Some of these letters were detained and never reached Bose’s nephew. Others were copied and allowed to be delivered at Amiya’s residence at Woodburn Park in Calcutta.
The snooped letters reveal that the Nehru administration kept a close watch on the political activities of Bose’s elder brother Sarat and nephew Amiya. In some instances deeply personal conversations between Amiya and his friends were intercepted. Other letters allowed the Nehru administration to track Sarat’s movements in Europe and his political activities in India. Things did not stop at mere interception. The IB also kept an eye on some of the people who wrote to Amiya Bose. Background checks were conducted on these people and handwritten notes sent to the Home Ministry in Delhi.
THE LETTER THAT NEVER REACHED BOSE’S KIN
On June 18, 1949, the IB sent a memo (number 9434 T.P 605) to the Home Ministry under Vallabhai Patel. The memo detailed that sleuths had intercepted a letter destined for Amiya Bose on June 10 at the Elgin Road post office. The letter was written in chaste Bengali by an individual named Mritunjoy Mukherjee whose address was mentioned as 24/4, Russa Road, Calcutta. The letter details political tactics of the Indian National Congress to undermine the political rise of Subhas Bose’s elder brother Sarat Bose.
Translated excerpts of the letter addressed to Amiya Bose reads as follows: “I am sitting in the Congress office and writing to you against them. I know this is wrong but not revealing this to you would be a greater wrong. I have been spending considerable time at the Congress office and have come to know to know that they have conducted a secret survey that shows that Sarat Bose would get 15,000 votes while the Congress would get only 6,000 votes. This has worried them and they want victory at any cost. They have made special arrangements to bring about their victory by whatever means possible. Under instructions of the PM and leaders like Bidhan Roy, a new office has been set up. The only job of this special office is to make a list of dead people. They are planning to make arrangements to get the votes of the dead cast by others. Moreover, the Congress has also made plans to fraudulently cast votes of all those who are no longer residents of Calcutta. You must take firm measures to secure ballot boxes and the voting process.”
On July 11, 1949, the Nehru administration sent a handwritten note asking local Intelligence officers to do a background check on the author of the letter. On July 17, an officer with the Intelligence branch in Bengal wrote back saying, “As ordered I made secret enquiries at 24/4 Russa Road, but none by the name of Mritunjoy Mukherjee could be traced there. There are two shops – one of paper and books and other of garments. No further details about the subject or shops could be ascertained.”
It is still unclear which elections Mritunjoy Mukherjee was warning Amiya Bose about since the first state election in West Bengal after Independence was held in 1952.
WHEN BOSE’S KIN WHEREABOUTS IN SWITZERLAND WERE SNOOPED ON
An IB memo (number 9995 TP.502-III) dated June 26, 1949 throws valuable light on how the Nehru administration was tracking Sarat Bose’s movements and political activities in Europe. Sarat Bose was leading his brother Subhas Bose’s Forward Bloc apart from his own Socialist Republican Party and mobilising support abroad on a socialist platform. The memo shows that a letter dated June 17 and addressed to Sarat’s son Amiya Bose was intercepted by the IB at Elgin Road post office. A copy of the letter was promptly sent to the Home Ministry. The original was allowed to be delivered to Amiya.
Sarat Bose wrote the letter from Victoria Hotel in Glion, Switzerland, where he was staying with his wife. The letter mentions that Subhas Bose’s Austrian wife Emily Schenkl and his daughter Anita Bose were to join Sarat in a few days at the hotel.
The father’s letter to his son reads: “We came here shortly after midday… Anita and Minu (Emily Echenkl) are expected here on Monday. We shall fly to London on the 9th of July. Indians in London will give me a public reception on the 10th at St Ermear Court in Westminster… I am enclosing an illustrated leaflet of this hotel. Our bedroom is marked with an X…”
This was one of the several letters written by Sarat Bose from Switzerland that was intercepted by IB agents in Calcutta. Sarat Bose, at the time, was preparing a manifesto to prepare for the yet to be announced elections to the West Bengal state assembly.
An IB memo (number 9273 TP.502) dated June 16, 1949 reveals that the Nehru administration was keeping a close eye on the socialist manifesto being drafted by Sarat Bose in Switzerland.
The intercepted letter dated June 4, 1949 and addressed to Amiya Bose reads: “A typist will come here at 10 am and make five copies of my election manifesto and appeal. I will send you one copy… I am happy that all leftists and professors have come together and are working for my election. Congress agents will try to create confusion in the polling booths. Our workers must not lose their heads.”
Interestingly, a goof-up by IB agents made Sarat realise that his and Amiya’s letters were being opened by someone.
An IB memo (10872 TP.502 IV) shows that a letter dated July 2, 1949 sent by Sarat to Amiya Bose was intercepted in Calcutta. The letter starts: “Your letter of 18th June was to land on the 30th. Apparently, it was detained somewhere. There is no postal mark on the stamps on the envelope.”
Sarat Bose died in 1950, five years after his elder brother Subhash Bose’s mysterious disappearance. Amiya Bose went on to become a Member of Parliament in India. But the snooping on the Bose family continued for over a decade.