Answers to a Right to Information query have revealed that the Ministry of External Affairs has closed public access to files on Kashmir put together by India’s second Army chief Sir Roy Bucher. The papers are in the possession of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in Delhi, which is popularly known as Teen Murti Library.
The RTI query was filed by Venkatesh Nayak, who is the programme head of the Access to Information Programme of non-profit organisation Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. The content of the papers, dating from 1947 till the Army officer’s retirement in October 1949, may prove to be crucial to understand Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s role in the 1947-’48 Kashmir crisis. Nehru is often accused of not showing courage to force Pakistani invaders to retreat from Jammu and Kashmir in September 1947, Nayak wrote in an article on Wednesday.
In an interview to biographer BR Nanda a few decades after his retirement, Bucher noted that he had two letters from Nehru in which the prime minister requested him to do whatever possible to counter the shelling of Akhnoor and the Beripattan Bridge by Pakistan heavy artillery from within Pakistan, Nayak pointed out. Nehru reportedly suggested that he was prepared to “advance into Pakistan”.
In his RTI plea, the human rights activist sought a clear copy of list of records, documents, papers, and other material available with the Teen Murti Library that were closed to public access on instructions from the Centre, or any state or Union Territory. He asked for names of the agencies that had barred the material from public viewing, the date of the instruction, and the duration for every such material to be remain closed to public access.
The petitioner also asked for five hours to examine the material related to Jammu and Kashmir that Bucher handed over to the library.
Teen Murti’s Public Information Officer responded within 20 days of receiving the query. The official included a set of archival papers that were kept away from public access either under the Centre’s directions or instructions from donors, and said Bucher’s papers “cannot be permitted for anybody to see or consult”.
Apart from Bucher’s papers, a few papers of Mahatma Gandhi’s personal secretary Pyarelal and his personal physician Dr Sushila Nayyar are closed to public access for 30 years. The library did not mention when the embargo began.
Certain documents related to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi are also restricted under orders from the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust. Papers of former Union minister Uma Shankar Dixit were sealed on the instructions of his daughter and former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit. It is unclear if Sheila Dixit’s heirs will continue to restrict public access.
Documents donated by writer Nayantara Sahgal are closed for public viewing till 2033. Other such restricted documents in the library’s possession are the papers of Gordon B Halstead, who was associated with Gandhi till the British government forced him out of India.
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