Remembering Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

Battle for brownie points over the leader’s birthday celebrations all too apparent

Published : 23 Jan 2022 09:27 PM

It eventually took 75 years of Indian independence — not to speak of the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose — one of the tallest leaders of the country’s freedom struggle to get his first statue in the country’s seat of power.

Surely an anomaly, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to address on Friday when he said that a hologram statue of Bose would be installed at the India Gate on Sunday (Jan. 23), the 125th birthday of Bose for the time being. 

The original statue, to be made of black granite supplied from Telengana, will take a good seven to eight months and will be placed at the canopy once it’s ready by August — while the grand statue will be ostensibly his tallest one in the country.

A case of better late than never, given our fetish for statues? That could be the overriding sentiment for legion of his admirers, who always felt that Bose could have been the first Prime Minister designate of independent India but for his mysterious disappearance after the plane crash in Taihoku, Japan in 1945. However, the haste and the timing of the announcement barely 48 hours before the leader’s birthday — does speak of a form of political opportunism in no uncertain terms.

A masterstroke move

The government’s announcement can be seen as a masterstroke for a number of reasons. For one, move can be seen to set right the cold shoulder to the legacy of Bose meted out by the Congress-led union governments over successive terms, though the question of ‘Netaji’ being dead or alive could have raised a serious dilemma on the issue.

The selection of the venue on the same canopy which once featured a statue of King George V of England, which was removed and shifted in 1968 to Coronation Park in the capital — could be seen as a symbolic statement to reclaim its history.

However, the suddenness of the decision — coming after a prolonged war of words between the union government as the West Bengal government over the rejection of the latter’s tableaux for the Republic Day Parade with the central theme on 125th anniversary of Bose — will be certainly open to interpretations. While the Trinamool Congress government had raised the hackles over the non-inclusion of their offering for the Jan. 26 spectacle on Janpath, the BJP can surely see this as a perfect platform to steal the thunder in exploiting the pro-Netaji sentiments.

The tableaux controversy has reached the ears of Anita Bose-Pfaff, Netaji’s daughter and a resident of Germany. Speaking in an interview with Indian media, Pfaff revealed that she was made member of a high-powered committee to celebrate Netaji’s 125th anniversary formed last year but subsequently she was not aware of any meeting being convened — nor was she consulted on the mode of celebrations. Understandably, she refused to comment if the decision to install the statue was a move to diffuse the controversy over the tableaux or the BJP government wanted to score in the game of one-upmanship over Netaji.

India's statue war

The ‘statue war,’ however, is mired in layers of history. The Modi government’s attempts to own the legacy of Netaji — who quintessentially was always a Congress person and opposed the ideals of Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), founded by Veer Savarkar is fresh in memory.

Netaji had a major fallout with Gandhiji and Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru over the means of their fight for freedom — with him launching his own Indian National Army (INA) with the idea of initiating an armed struggle against the British even with the help of axis powers (Japan and Germany) of World War II.

Gandhiji’s clarion call, on the other hand, was the ‘Quit India’ movement. While it’s a subject of protracted debate as to whose influence was stronger in prompting the British Raj to contemplate leaving India, Netaji’s disappearance turned out to be the biggest enigma of India’s modern history — leaving one to interpret what his equation be with Nehru and the ‘Father of the Nation’ would have been if he was alive.

This is the sentiment which the BJP has chosen to capitalise on time and again — with Modi announcing the ‘declassification’ of the Netaji Files for the National Archives during a visit to Kolkata during his first term in 2017. The government had, on that occasion, declassified 304 files relating to him and the Azad Hind Fauj and they are uploaded on the web portal, www.netajipapers.gov.in for the researchers.

The legacy of Bose is something which the Bengali society holds very dear to their hearts — with an underlying sentiment that his legacy hasn’t been given the due recognition — and this possibly explains the tug-of-war with the great man’s memory.

The giant statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Patel, Deputy Prime Minister to Nehru on the banks of Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, stands like a real spectacle. It seems that Netaji’s statue will also not be lacking in scale once it is up as a tribute to one of the greatest leaders whose promise remained unfulfilled.

The question that will, however, remain unanswered is: what eventually happened to him?

Gautam Bhattacharyya is Senior Associate Editor at Gulf News. Source: Gulf News