The Republic Day celebrations from this year are to start from January 23 instead of January 24 to include the birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, as directed by the Government. A statue of Netaji will be installed at India Gate in August but its hologram replica can be seen in hours of darkness at India Gate January 23 onwards.

When the ‘Statue of Unity’ of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was installed in Gujarat, questions rose why a statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose could not be installed alongside? Why not simultaneously install Netaji’s statue at Cuttack (his birthplace) on Mahanadi River? Why not in West Bengal with Netaji’s Bengali origin? But both Odisha and West Bengal are ruled by opposition parties and doing so would have meant sharing the limelight.

The Statue of Unity was inaugurated on October 31, 2018. But on October 21, 2018, the government took a decision to set up a Museum of Netaji in the Red Fort at Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Subhas Chandra Bose Museum at Red Fort on January 23, 2019, marking Netaji’s 122nd birth anniversary.

Netaji Bhawan in Kolkata is the house built by Netaji’s father in 1909. Presently, it is owned and managed by the Netaji Research Bureau and includes a museum, archives and library. The Bureau is run by Sugata Bose and his mother Krishna Bose. News reports of December 15, 2020, quoted the Union Culture Ministry saying to commemorate Netaji’s 125th anniversary in 2022, a museum was planned in Kolkata, an exhibition at the Victoria Memorial and cultural performances in West Bengal. But with the current estrangement between the Centre and West Bengal, how much the Union Ministry of Culture will assist West Bengal in these celebrations, if at all, remains to be seen.

On January 19, 2021, the Centre officially named Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Jayanti as “Parakram Diwas” although the Forward Bloc and family members of Netaji had asked the Union Government to declare Netaji Jayanti ‘Deshprem Diwas’ while Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wanted it to be declared Deshnayak Diwas. A controversy is Banerjee accusing the Centre of rejecting the West Bengal tableau of Netaji for the Republic Day Parade though Defence Minister Rajnath Singh says a transparent policy was followed.

Apparently, the Centre already had planned tableau(s) of Netaji. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin also wrote to PM Modi calling the Centre’s decision to reject all seven designs of Tamil Nadu tableau for the Republic Day parade ‘unacceptable’.

Now questions are being raised why installation of Netaji’s statue at India Gate is in August when the renovated Central Vista (don’t query cost escalation – India has enough money) will dazzle the nation during the Republic Day Parade? Are parts of the statue coming from China since bronze panels for the Statue of Unity were cast in Jiangxi Tongqing Metal Handicrafts Co. Ltd in China? Is China delaying the shipment deliberately because of the standoff? Will the statue be named Statue of Bravery (Parakram)?

Government has not announced any name for Netaji’s statue but the other queries are outright stupid. Adwaita Gadanayak, Director General of the National Gallery of Modern Art recently disclosed that the grand statue of Netaji to be installed at India Gate will be 25 feet tall, made of jade black granite stone from Telangana and will be visible from Raisina Hill. Also, that the design of the statue was prepared by the Ministry of Culture and the process of making the statue has commenced.

There is no question of any delays. If the statue was required earlier, it would have already been there. The optics of the new Central Vista, holograph of Netaji’s statue and tableau(s), together with the parade including fly-past by Rafale fighter jets, swarm of a thousand drones etc. are more than enough to impress the public for the state elections already announced. But the momentum must be maintained with elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat at the end of 2022. So, one should expect a grand ceremony for installation of Netaji’s statue in August concurrent to celebrating Independence Day.

Timings for everything are related to elections and votes. The National War Memorial was inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi on February 25, 2019. The President laid a wreath at the memorial on August 12, 2019. The Prime Minister has visited the memorial on three more occasions but the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate was merged with the NWM as late as January 21, 2022 – obviously to add to the optics of Republic Day Parade 2022, with the Prime Minister laying the wreath before the parade at the NWM instead of earlier practice at Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate.

Doing it under full media blitz was another reason for the Prime Minister to inaugurate the hologram of Netaji’s statue at India Gate on January 23. He could have not done so without first laying a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti. With the hologram of Netaji’s statue being inaugurated on Netaji’s birth anniversary, Prime Minister Modi could have dedicated the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate to the INA.

Discussions are raging about merging the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate with the NWM and others deploring extinguishing the Amar Jawan Jyoti. But a two-star veteran made an ass of himself in a TV discussion terming the names on India Gate those of mercenaries. In so doing, he abused all those who served in Armed Forces before 1947 – two Field Marshals, a Marshal of the Air Force, down to soldiers. Another idiot was observed wagging his head in unison. The two-star veteran has been howling and crying like a sissy in panel discussions earlier too – a shame!

The only Netaji-related issue that the Modi Government has not addressed is Netaji’s ashes. After Netaji died in an air-crash in Taiwan (then Japanese Territory) on August 18, 1945 his ashes were brought to Tokyo and are preserved in Renkoji Temple since September 18, 1945. Renkoji Temple is a small shrine established in 1594, about an hour and a half drive from central Tokyo. In front of the main entrance is a bust of Netaji.

Renkoji Temple was visited by PM Nehru in 1957, President Rajendra Prasad in 1958, PM Indira Gandhi in 1969 and PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001. A plaque behind Netaji’s bust replicates in Hindi and Japanese, what Vajpayee wrote on September 12, 2001 while visiting the Temple, which says, “Mujhe Renkoji dobara akar prasanata hui, jahan Bhartiya swatantarta sangram ke mahan senani Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose ki smritiyan surakshit hain”.

Among all the stories that Netaji died of torture by the Soviets in a Siberian prison and that he is still alive, there is absolutely no reason for the Japanese to lie on the issue, who hold Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in the highest esteem and celebrate his birthday every year at the Renkoji Temple. Many Indians visit the shrine and I was fortunate to do so while serving as the Defence Attaché at Tokyo.

In 2019, Hiroshi Hirabayashi, President of Japan India Association, Tokyo and former Ambassador of Japan to India asked why successive governments in India have failed to take back the ashes of the “hero” back home. His question came in the run up to the 2019 general elections when our political parties were accusing each other for having let down the nation, including ignoring Netaji.

The issue is indeed very easy to resolve – do a DNA test on the ashes. In fact after the BJP returned to power in May 2019, media reports of August 22, 2019 said that Anita Bose Pfaff, daughter of Netaji, wanted to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to seek a DNA test of the ashes interred in Renkoji since she believes he died in a plane crash in August 1945. Anita Bose Pfaff (born in 1942) is an Austrian economist and the only child of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Emilie Schenki.

Nothing was heard thereafter. It cannot be that Modi is not interested in bringing Netaji’s ashes to India or he did not like Anita Bose meeting Congress leaders in Delhi. The mere fact that Nehru and Indira Gandhi visited Renkoji Temple should be enough to dispel the theory that Nehru handed over Netaji to the Soviets for torturing and killing him. What Vajpayee wrote during his visit to Renkoji Temple more than conveys the high esteem and reverence India has for Netaji. There is no reason to distrust what the Japanese say either with whom India has had excellent relations for the past several decades.

Why Modi has not acted to bring Netaji’s ashes to India possibly is because he has not found time to visit Renkoji Temple so far and possibly wants to initiate action after he visits Renkoji. It is also possible that he wants to do so in conjunction with the 2024 general elections, given his penchant for high-octane optics. Hopefully he will do so, not leaving the Japanese wondering what mettle Indian politicians are made of.

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch is a veteran of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal

First published in Raksha Anirveda