The location of the Netaji statue should have been better chosen

In the early morning of August 13, 1965, a dozen members of the new “Samyukta Socialist Party”, a splinter group from India’s “Praja Socialist Party”, slithered through the deserted avenues of New Delhi with hammers, scissors , ladders and tar buckets, towards the imposing white marble statue of King George V under a cupola, 150 meters on the east side of India Gate.

The gate was built by the British in memory of 90,000 British Indian Army soldiers who died overseas during the Great War (WW1) and the Afghan ‘War of Independence’. The India Gate complex was part of the work of the Imperial War Graves Commission which came into existence in December 1917.

The socialists climbed the king’s statue, cut off part of the nose, ear and crown and poured tar over the sculpture. They ended their campaign by hanging a portrait of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. In the process, there was a brief scuffle with two police officers on duty. It took three years for the statue of the king to be removed.

It was not the first time that the statue of the King Emperor was vandalized. On the night of January 3, 1943, in the midst of the Quit India movement, some Indian National Congress leaders climbed over the statue, broke its nose and draped it with a large black cloth that read “Death to the Tyrant “.

Fifty-seven years later, the socialists’ mission seems to be succeeding. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that a granite statue of Netaji would be placed under the imposing sandstone cupola designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

It is the second time that a statue of Netaji has been placed in the capital on a pedestal built for a British ruler.

Previously, in 1975, a statue of Subhas Chandra Bose was installed in Edward Park (now called Netaji Park) near the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort, on an abandoned pedestal where a towering equestrian statue of King Edward VII once stood. This means Netaji now replaces two British monarchs from their place in the nation’s capital. One wonders why Netaji could not receive a specially designed pedestal for his statue on land in New Delhi as a symbol of India’s “debt” to him. Why such a misery of space just for him?

Following the action of the Socialist Party of Samyukta, the government evoked, in February 1966, the idea of ​​installing a statue of Gandhi under the canopy near the gate of India in place of the statue of King George V. The distinguished sculptor, Ram Sutar, has started work on the statue. Its design was approved by the government in 1979. But that government collapsed. The project faded into the background.

On November 23, 1981, the government informed Parliament that “various aspects such as the site, shape and size of the statue have been examined by the government. A final decision on this should be made soon. But in reality nothing was moving. Sutar was still working on the statue. No target completion date was given to him. Controversy erupted whenever a location was suggested for the installation of Gandhi’s statue.

Eleven years later, a Union cabinet meeting held in July 1992 adopted a proposal for the statue to be placed at India Gate, “leaving the exact location to be decided by the Minister for Urban Development in consultation with others”. In 1994, the Cabinet decided to develop the area around the India Gate as “August Kranti Udyan” and put the statue of Mahatma Gandhi there. They also said there were many alternative proposals for the exact location of the statue. Finally, in 1995, a group of ministers, on instructions from the Union cabinet, reconsidered the matter and recommended that the statue be installed under the canopy.

Historians, town planners and architects have protested that the India Gate compound was part of the original Rajpath layout and should not be altered. They felt that the canopy should remain empty as a “symbol of the end of the Raj” and that it was not appropriate to install a single chieftain statue. Conversely, a proposal to demolish the canopy also did not find favor with the developers.

In response to a written petition, the Delhi High Court issued an interim order in July 1995 “restraining the government from altering/removing/demolishing the canopy of the India Gate complex”.

An RTI filed with the Central Department of Public Works in 2008 led the CPWD to deny that the Mahatma statue was to be installed in the empty canopy.

The Ministry of Urban Development, in response to a question in parliament in 2009, clarified that there was a decade-old plan in the ministry to install a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at India Gate. The plan, however, had been put in cold storage following a written petition on the matter (although the High Court decided the case in March 2005). The minister added that the issue had not been addressed since 2005 – “there is no immediate request or proposal to install a statue of Gandhi at India Gate”, he said . The status quo has been maintained ever since.

Following a controversy over the rejection of a West Bengal painting of Netaji for the 73rd Republic Day Parade, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden announcement on the installation of a statue of Netaji on the previously disputed and currently abandoned canopy near India Gate was seen by many as a political diversion. tactical.

A traffic cop in Bombay, 1945. Photo: Pinterest/Shrikant Patil

Many find the posture of the salute – as seen in footage released by the government – not correct and unsuitable for the Supreme Commander as seen in photos of Netaji giving a salute in Singapore, Tokyo or even earlier in Germany. The location of the statue under the canopy also raises the question: from whom does he receive salvation? It faces India Gate, a war memorial for Indian soldiers killed in World War I, but the Amar Jawan Jyoti has been moved to a location that will be behind it at the National War Memorial. Rashtrapati Bhavan is also more than 3 km away, so the Netaji statue cannot be connected there either. To avoid these controversies, many believe that any changes to this heritage neighborhood should only have been made after proper deliberation and public consultation, including with experts.

Speaking personally, Netaji in this posture, saluting, standing on a pedestal under a cupola, draws a strong resemblance to a traffic cop standing on a covered gazebo at a road intersection. What I hate the most is the roof over Netaji’s head. His stature and size are immense. It shouldn’t look like it’s locked between four pillars and a roof above.

Netaji is a key figure in the Indian freedom struggle and the location of his statue should have been decided after considering various aspects and with due care. Some have argued that it was inappropriate to give it the space previously occupied by a British ruler, that too which was a memorial built after the king’s death. In other words, such a location is not suitable for a great hero. No wonder the Delhites also did not allow Gandhi’s statue to appear at this site. But surprisingly this time, people are silent. The opinion of the Delhi Urban Art Commission seems to be under control. Maybe Vijay Chowk could have been a better location.

We hear Modi talking about transparency in the workings of government. Had it been practiced here, these dissonant concerns might have been avoided.

Sumeru Roy Chaudhury graduated in Architecture from IIT Kharagpur. He was the chief architect of the CPWD. He studied the Netaji files and related documents in detail.

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