More correctly, I should say “The Indian babus do not like History”.
They believe that by hiding the history of Modern India from the eyes of the public, they will enhanced their power.
We know the fate of the Henderson-Brooks Report (HBR) on 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. I have often written about it.
I have also mentioned on this blog another report, 12 years older than the HBR which is also missing in action. This is the Himmatsinghji Report, prepared soon after China’s invasion of Tibet in October 1950. It seems to have been ‘misplaced’ in some South Block almirah.
In November 2011, under the Right to Information Act, a petitioner applied to have a look at the Himmasinghji Report (as well as 5 other historic reports prepared by the MoD).
The Central Information Commission (CIC) noted that on October 12, 2011, the Director (Vigilance) in the Ministry of Defence had informed the CIC that only one report could be found: “none of the remaining five,
- PMS Blackett Report 1948;
- Himmatsinghji Committee Report, 1951;
- HM Patel Committee report on functioning of the Ministry of Defence(MOD), 1952;
- Sharda Mukherjee Committee report on restructuring of MoD, 1967 and
- Committee on Defence expenditure report, 1990 are available in the MoD
Does it mean that the Ministry of Defence had lost them?
Now, another issue has come up for hearing with the CIC: Indira Gandhi's Time Capsule.
On February 9, 2012, Madhu Purnima Kishwar, a writer and activist filed an RTI application asking some information about Indira Gandhi’s Time Capsule, from the Central Public Information Commissioner (CPIO) in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). She wanted to know:
- The exact date and location at which a Time Capsule was buried by the former Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi during the Emergency;
- Detailed contents of the Time Capsule;
- The name and official status of the person who decided what information, objects were to be assigned to the Time Capsule;
- The official justification offered for creating such a Time Capsule.
A month later, Kishwar filed another RTI application, this time addressed to the Public Relations Officer, Ministry of Human Resource Development. As could have been expected, the babu in the HRD Ministry replied: “Since the requested information does not fall within the jurisdiction of MHA, the application is, therefore, being transferred to the PMO and the Ministry of Science and Technology.”
He was probably right. Similarly, the Ministry of Science and Technology said they do not have the information.
Then Kishwar wrote the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting asking the same questions, no reply.
A few months later, the PMO notorious to loosing files gave the same old answer: “As per records no such information is available.”
But Kishwar was tenacious; she filed an appeal in April 2012. The First Appellant Authority dismissed her appeal: “An Information seeker under the Act can only seek information that is held in the records available with the public authority.”
Where are the records then?
The next appeal was filed in August 2012 with the Central Vigilance Commissioner. On January 2013, the petitioner was summoned for a hearing of the case by the CIC on February 26.
In his order given the same day, the Central Information Commissioner wrote: “…It is indeed very strange that there should be no information about this in the PMO or elsewhere in the government. During those days, the newspapers had very widely publicised this fact. It had been reported that the Time Capsule had been conceptualised by the then PMO and it had been buried in the Red Fort. If any of this report is right, then not only the PMO but also the Archaeological Survey of India should have some information about this matter.”
After suggesting to approach the National Archives of India and the Archaeological Survey of India (which is supposed to have buried the precious capsule), the CIC noted: “The PMO should make a renewed search for any available records on this subject. Even if this entire exercise takes some time, it would be worthwhile. Complete denial of any knowledge about the Time Capsule by all public authorities within the government including the PMO would be very hard for the public to accept.”
Kishwar wrote on her blog: “It is bizarre that a Time Capsule buried by the Prime Minister’s Office at a premier national monument like Red Fort protected by the Archaeological Survey of India should vanish without leaving any trace whatsoever.”
Even the date that the capsule was buried is in doubt, though it certainly predates the Emergency.
Some commentators said it was buried on August 15, 1973 on the occasion of the 26th anniversary of India’s Independence.
I found a newspaper clipping dated May 27, 1972 saying: “Prime Ministry Indira Gandhi today lowered into the earth a time capsule to last 1000 years and preserve the memory of her father Jawaharlal Nehru who as Prime Minister guided India’s destiny for 17 years. …The copper contained some of Nehru’s most famous writings and his address to the nation on the occasion of India’s independence from Britain [on] August 15, 1947].”
This made more sense. Indira wanted to preserve the memoir of her father whose death anniversary was on May 27.
The saga of the ‘lost’ capsule continued for a few years after the Emergency. In 1977, the Janata Dal came to power and Morarji Desai took over as Prime Minister. On December 8, 1977, apparently at his request, the capsule was lifted. A BJP Member of Parliament (later Governor of Odisha) Yagya Datta Sharma, so-called Chairman of the Time Capsule Committee announced on 20 December 1977 that the ‘encapsulated’ history would be submitted to the Parliament, but nothing was later made public.
I happened to know of a document which is buried in the Time Capsule.
A few years back, I was told by a doctor from Bengal, that the diaries of Surendra Mohan Ghosh had been kept in the capsule.
The person who spoke to me was a very close friend of the former MP from West Bengal, himself a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, who during his seclusion in Pondichery had kept in touch with Indian (and the world) politics mainly through Surendra Mohan Ghosh.
The MP was then President of the West Bengal Congress Pradesh Committee. Ghosh used to regularly visit Pondicherry; he usually had four sessions with Sri Aurobindo. During the first one, they spoke about international affairs, during the next one, they discussed national politics, then, the situation in West Bengal and the last was consecrated to Ghose’s personal sadhana.
The only persons that Sri Aurobindo received between 1926, when he retired in his room and 1950, when he passed away, were: Rabindranath Tagore in May 1929, Dr. K.M. Munshi, a former student of the Master in Baroda at the end of the 19th century and Maurice Schuman, a French politician who was sent by the French Minister to study a solution for the French Establishments in India in September 1947.
One can imagine the value of these diaries.
It is does not change the fact that it is rather strange that the government is unable to trace the content of the Time Capsule.
What was the point to bury these documents if nobody knows where it is and what is inside?