The loathsome misappropriation of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s legacy on his 125th birth anniversary and extinguishing the Amar Jawan Jyoti exemplify the Narendra Modi government’s gross indulgence in gratuitous symbolism and hypernationalism.
The country is battling a third wave of COVID-19, soaring unemployment touching 8% and retail inflation hovering around 6%, and was ranked 101 out of 116 counties in the Global Hunger Index and 142 out of 180 nations in the World Press Freedom Index last year.
Plagued by such crises, the Centre’s unbridled decision to cancel West Bengal’s proposed ‘Bose and his Indian National Army’-themed tableau at the 72nd Republic Day parade and “merge” the 50-year-old flame with the National War Memorial is a spectacle of redundancy and jingoism.
Instead of settling political scores with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee under the garb of hypernationalism, it would have been befitting of the Modi government to idolise Netaji by executing his idea of a secular and communally cohesive India. In fact, the Trinamool Congress and Banerjee’s attempts to claim Bose’s legacy, especially during last year’s Assembly elections, are equally condemnable.
A liberal follower of Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda, Bose advocated and firmly believed in religious cohesion, not the diabolical plan of the British to cleave India communally. Unfortunately, recurring nightmares of communalism and polarisation have dashed his dream of an undivided India.
Bose’s firm belief that the so-called Muslim problem, created and nurtured with a satanic devotion by the British, would disappear with the departure of the Raj has been proved wrong. A communally motivated cabal has harvested the unproven fears among Indians with precision by sloganeering and rabble-rousing.
Pointing to the futility of building Bose’s statues or tableaus while not following his inclusive ideology, his grandnephew Chandra Kumar Bose tweeted on January 19: “#Netaji cannot be honoured-just by building his statue, setting up a museum or making a tableau-towering personality like Netaji can only be honoured by following & implementing his inclusive ideology of uniting all communities to build India that he envisioned.”
In November 2019, Chandra Kumar Bose, who resigned as Bengal Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vice-president, told The Indian Express: “The party must follow Netaji’s ideology to unify India, where there is no place for religion. If it doesn’t, then the entire country will break into pieces. Subhash Chandra Bose united Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians in his Azad Hind Fauj.”
The BJP government’s reason for extinguishing the Amar Jawan Jyoti sounds equally ludicrous. Facing an avalanche of criticism from the Opposition and several military veterans, the government reasoned that the names of military personnel killed in the 1971 War and other major conflicts were absent on the cenotaph. In contrast, the new memorial has the names of 25,942 soldiers killed in different wars and the Galwan Valley clash in Eastern Ladakh inscribed in golden letters on its granite, it argued.
The Amar Jawan Jyoti was inaugurated in 1972 by then-Congress Prime Minister Indira Gandhi—therefore, the political overtones in the decision are evident. Had the memorial been inaugurated by the erstwhile Janata Party government, neither the government would have indulged in the profligacy of splurging Rs 176 crore on a new war monument nor would it have extinguished the eternal flame.
Buttressing its argument further with the ballast of hypernationalism, the government reasoned that the memorial is under the archway of India Gate, which displays the names of soldiers who fought for the British in WW-I and the Third Anglo-Afghan War and symbolises “our colonial past”.
The government’s memory needs a jolt that thousands of Indian soldiers were killed in both wars, irrespective of their service to the British.
Though the decision split military veterans with several criticising the decision and others supporting it, Lieutenant Colonel Rajendra Bhaduri (retired), a veteran aviator, made the most valid point. “India Gate has names of Indian soldiers who died in wars. It is immaterial who constructed it. The 1971 war memorial Amar Jawan Jyoti was added to it in 1972. It is sacred and it need not be extinguished even if there is a new war memorial with its own amar jyoti,” he tweeted.
Tagging the Prime Minister’s Office and requesting Modi to roll back the decision, Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retired) tweeted: “Sir, the eternal flame at #IndiaGate is part of India’s psyche. You, I & r generation grew up saluting our brave jawans there. While NationalWarMemorial is great, the memories of #AmarJawanJyoti are indelible. Request rescind decision.”
Lieutenant Colonel Anil Duhoon (retired) criticised the decision as well with the hashtag ‘FakePatriotism’. “Is it true? Does @BJP4India know “Amar Jawan” is not a name of any soldier? Actually they were never for soldiers in the first place,” he tweeted. Criticising the BJP further, he tweeted: “If one can’t make it then break it” is the @BJP4India mantra for new India. “Amar Jawan Jyoti” is too sacred to be touched/relocated. Why can’t they have two of them? Can’t understand their functioning.”
On the other hand, former Army Chief General VP Malik tweeted in favour of the decision: “A natural thing to do now that the National War Memorial has been established and all ceremonials related to remembrance and honouring soldiers killed in action are being held there.”
Similarly, Lieutenant General Satish Dua (retired) tweeted in favour: “A needless controversy is being created. The flame of Amar Jawan Jyoti is being merged with that of National War Memorial; it is not being extinguished. NWM is the designated war memorial at National level to pay homage all India’s Bravehearts, past present or future.”
The eternal flame not only stoked patriotism, pride and honour in Indians, particularly serving and retired military personnel, but was also the perfect tribute to the unflinching soldiers who decimated the Pakistani military. Dousing the flame is an insult to the immeasurable valour of those soldiers and the proud memories it fuelled in the hearts of their bereaved families.
Tributes paid to freedom fighters and military personnel killed in the line of duty and the associated memories are not commodities that can be claimed by one party of government; they are etched in the collective psyche of Indians—too pure and precious to be tampered with.
Inscribing the names of soldiers killed defending the nation on monuments is a noble gesture. But splurging crores on a new monument and fanning hypernationalism by using national icons and the armed forces to reap political harvests is reprehensible.