Netaji statue, merging jyoti spark flames

By Shivaji Sarkar

Never before has a national memorial to soldiers or a national icon sparked major controversy as the decision to extinguish the 50-year-old eternal flames –Amar Jawan Jyoti – at India Gate or the installation of the Netaji statue at a disputed canopy once occupied by the statue of the British ruler, George V.
Earlier, a proposal to install Mahatma Gandhi’s statue there was not considered befitting his stature and abandoned. Now how could the statue of a national icon like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose be installed there? A storm rages.
As India Gate was a memorial for the 80,000 Indian soldiers killed in wars in Europe, Persia, East Africa and Afghanistan, the Jyoti – four flames – was lit at its arch in 1972 by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi to commemorate the victory against Pakistan in 1971, creation of Bangladesh and tributes to the soldiers.
The dispute now is sparked by an apparent targeting of the Congress at the height of the elections to UP and four other states. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is the other target whose Netaji tableau for Republic Day parade was rejected and the centre is trying to claim credit for Netaji’s legacy.
The Government says that although the Congress Prime Minister might have lit the flame in 1972 but never cared to put the names of the 3,843 soldiers who died in the 1971 war. The National War Memorial next to India Gate is the first national monument, Air Marshal BR Krishna, chief of integrated defence staff, merging the flames at NWM stresses. The government says that it has names of all soldiers who sacrificed their lives till recently.
An unseemly situation is developing. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi slamming the government says that flames are for our soldiers and would be lit again. “This is insulting history and memory of the martyrs of the Bangladesh war. It is a shocking outrage”, says former Congress minister Anand Sharma. Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan says it’s “unnecessary controversy” and the opposition lacks knowledge of history.
The Congress is accusing the present government of not giving due honour to leaders like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi even as BJP appropriates freedom fighters like Vallabhbhai Patel, BR Ambedkar and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
Beyond politics, people in Delhi feel that the memorial is to Indian ethos and soldiers of the same army regiments whether in the British Indian army or succeeding Indian army. It is a continuation of the same army that boasts of its heritage since the East India Company days. The Amar Jawan Jyoti is supposed to be historic and should have continued. Many Hindu shrines, including Badrinath, have such jyoti lit continuously for centuries.
It is also being echoed that now it is not the same jyoti at NWM. The nation has to respect, honour and be proud of its heritage. Doing anything new is not a novelty. Let the nation think, consider, discuss and then do. The Government says that dignitaries cannot pay tributes at two shrines. People wonder why suddenly the decision to install the Netaji statue being carved out of black granite in Telangana is being announced without a discussion. Discussions clear doubts.
The statue of George V was removed in 1968. A number of times there were proposals to have Mahatma Gandhi’s statue there. In 1991, Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar wanted the canopy demolished and a Gandhi statue there. But for various reasons, and one of it that since the canopy housed a colonial occupier, who was removed by Indian freedom fighters, a statue of an Indian leader would be inappropriate and insulting. So Gandhi was never given that place. Netaji has been raised to an icon by RSS executive member Indresh Kumar who initiated an event in the Andamans to celebrate Netaji’s freeing of the island and setting up of the first national Azad Hind Government every December end. Prime Minister Modi has taken it forward. Still many are not comfortable with Netaji’s statue being placed at its present space. Most senior leaders feel he should have an independent place and not a “tainted” one.
It would have been better to put up the Netaji statue at the centre of Rajpath, opposite the VIP masthead where the national flag is hoisted, commanding the Central Vista. The look would be magnificent and the locale better than at the far end corner of Rajpath, where the canopy of the colonial occupier is.
But it is more than that. Modi wants to trounce Mamata Banerjee. In 2021, he tried by having the 125th birth anniversary celebrations on the eve of the Bengal elections at Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial, again an incongruous British symbol. Mamata had stolen the show then. Now the government rejected her Netaji tableau and wants to install the Netaji statue quickly to spite her. Would that help the BJP?
Unseemly battles do not behove a great nation. But politics today has touched a new low.

Get real time updates directly on your device, subscribe now.

Comments are closed.