Over the weekend, social media was flooded with images of an empty display box from the Subhas Chandra Bose Museum at Red Fort, which used to hold Netaji’s cap — a rare personal belonging that was gifted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Bose’s family. Not only the cap, no less than two dozen artefacts from the museum were reported ‘missing’ by those who visited the Red Fort over the weekend, as the monument reopened for the first time after the January 26 farmer’s violence and pandemic-related lockdowns.
Soon after, the Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), custodians of the Red Fort, had to issue a clarification that the cap (and other artefacts) had not gone missing from the Red Fort; they were, in fact, loaned out to the Victoria Memorial Hall (VMH) in Kolkata for an exhibition on the freedom fighter.
The cap and its significance
The rare personal belonging was gifted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the Bose family. In 2019, Modi had himself placed the distinctive triangular cap on a display unit at the Subas Chandra Bose Museum while inaugurating it. Chandra Kumar Bose, the grandnephew of Netaji, expressed displeasure that the late freedom fighter’s cap had been “transferred to another place it was not meant to be at”. He tweeted: “#NetajisCapMissing Bose family had handed over #Netaji’s historic cap to Hon’ble PM-Shri @narendramodi ji to be kept at #RedFort Museum ¬ to be shifted around. Request Narendra Modiji to instruct placing cap in its original place.”
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It was on October 21, 2018, that Modi had laid the foundation stone for this museum, to mark the 75th anniversary of Azad Hind Government, formed by Bose. The museum was inaugurated by the PM on January 23, 2019, to mark his 122nd birth anniversary. It is part of the Kranti Mandir complex, a set of four museums.
To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, 24 antiquities and one modern painting were loaned by ASI to Victoria Memorial Hall, as the VMH had intended to organise an exhibition on the day of inauguration of celebrations in Kolkata on January 23, 2021. Twenty-four of these antiquities that included cap, sword and other items were loaned from the Exhibition on Netaji Subhash Bose in Red Fort, Delhi. As per the MoU, other significant items include a copy of the INA Act, two pairs of goggles worn by INA soldiers, sword and sheath of Bose, INA badge, medals and shoulder insignias, a cheque book of Azad Hind Sangh, uniform worn by Lt Asha Sahai of INA’s Rani Jhansi Regiment, and a 7.5×3.5 feet portrait of Bose.
The terms of engagement for loaning of artefacts
The loan was effected between the ASI and VMH as per formal MoU which was duly signed by Secretary and Curator, VMH and Superintending Archaeologist. Kolkata Circle, on behalf of ASI on January 18, 2021. The loan period is for six months and extendable to one more year after that, subject to due approval from the Ministry of Culture. The Ministry of Culture put its foot down that loaning and borrowing of antiquities is a regular procedure and that all due formalities have been taken care of. “These artefacts were sent to Kolkata with proper escort and insurance. The loaning and borrowing of antiquities and exhibits are a regular exercise between museums. In this case, both ASI and Victoria Memorial Hall (VMH) are under the administrative control of the Ministry of Culture. During the loan period, ASI inspects the loaned objects. Next inspection of this is planned by ASI Kolkata Circle July 1, 2021, under a Deputy Superintending Archaeologist Chemist,” it said.
What happens now
Most likely, as the six-month MoU expires on July 18, 2021, the artefacts will be brought back to their original place at Red Fort.
Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patel also indicated through a tweet late on Sunday night, after the entire controversy erupted: “Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s cap and his sword are completely safe. ASI has given 24 items related to Netaji on loan to Victoria Memorial Kolkata. These were given for the exhibition organized on the occasion of the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji. Those are being brought back soon.”
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