Updated: January 22, 2022 7:31:18 am
The Amar Jawan Jyoti, the eternal flame burning continuously for five decades at India Gate in honour of soldiers who died for the country, was put out Friday after being merged with the flame at the National War Memorial a few hundred metres away.
The move triggered a political firestorm with the Opposition accusing the government of attempting to rewrite history, a charge that members of the establishment and the ruling party rejected.
Amid the furore, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that a “grand statue” of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose will be installed beneath the empty canopy at India Gate – it has been vacant since 1968 when the statue of King George V was removed and taken to Coronation Park in northwest Delhi.
Saying Netaji’s statue there will be “a symbol of India’s indebtedness to him,” the Prime Minister, in a Twitter post, said: “At a time when the entire nation is marking the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, I am glad to share that his grand statue, made of granite, will be installed at India Gate. This would be a symbol of India’s indebtedness to him.”
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“Till the grand statue of Netaji Bose is completed, a hologram statue of his would be present at the same place. I will unveil the hologram statue on 23rd January, Netaji’s birth anniversary,” he said.
Hailing the announcement, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said: “This decision is a national expression of respect for Netaji by a grateful nation on the occasion of his 125th birth anniversary. With the installation of the statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the inspiration of patriotism, self-respect and valour will be awakened in the minds of the people of India and future generations, and the spirit of sacrificing everything for maintaining the independence of the country will be ignited. Congratulations and thanks to the Prime Minister for this decision.”
Taking a dig at the Congress, Home Minister Amit Shah said: “Netaji is an epitome of India’s true strength and resolve. The Congress has left no stone unturned to forget the immortal contributions of India’s brave son. Prime Minister Modi’s decision to install Netaji’s statue at India Gate on his 125th Jayanti will inspire our generations to come.” He said the decision was “great news for the entire nation” and “this is a befitting tribute to the legendary Netaji, who gave everything for India’s freedom”.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman called it a “welcome decision” and a “fitting tribute to the great hero”, and said: “In the hearts of all Indians, there is undiminished respect for Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.”
The decision to install a statue of Netaji at India Gate is politically and historically symbolic. The BJP has often accused the Congress of having ignored the contributions of many from the pantheon of freedom fighters.
At the Amar Jawan Jyoti, in a short and solemn ceremony, presided over by Air Marshal BR Krishna, Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, a part of the flame was taken and merged with the flame at the National War Memorial with full military honours.
The Amar Jawan Jyoti was established in 1972 to mark India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. The then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi had inaugurated it on Republic Day in 1972.
The Amar Jawan Jyoti is an iconic symbol. Live TV coverage of the Republic Day parade, watched by millions every year, always began with visuals of the flame and homage being paid to the fallen soldiers. The flame there has now been merged with the one at the National War Memorial, burning ever since its inauguration in 2019.
The sandstone canopy where Netaji’s statue will be installed was constructed in 1936. It has been vacant ever since the statue of King George V was moved to the Coronation Park.
For a long time, there were deliberations in successive governments to install a statue of Mahatma Gandhi there. Some historians were of the view that the canopy should be symbolically kept empty – as a silent reminder of India’s past.
Sources in the Ministry of Culture say while the graphic model of the 28×6 feet statue has been readied by a team from the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), and has been approved by the PMO, they are shortlisting a sculptor to execute it.
“It won’t take more than a few months before the actual statue is ready,” sources said, adding that the installation will be done this year itself, to coincide with 75 years of Independence celebrations, the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav,” sources said.
A senior government functionary privy to the developments, who didn’t wish to be identified, called it an attempt to “decolonise our monuments”.
“This move shouldn’t be seen in isolation. In fact, when Bose’s 125th birth anniversary celebration was launched on January 23, 2021, it started with packing off British relics from the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata and turning it into a museum dedicated to the life and times of the iconic leader. It’s an attempt to decolonise British-era monuments and reclaim them, and what can be better than India Gate, situated in the heart of the national capital, to conclude the year-long celebrations,” the government functionary said.
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