Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday named 21 islands in Andaman after recipients of India’s highest miliary gallantry honour, the Param Vir Chakra, in a message of valour and unity, even as he alleged that the legacy of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was allowed to fade after Independence and his contribution downplayed
The largest unnamed island was named after the first Param Vir Chakra awardee, Major Somnath Sharma, who lost his life in action on November 3, 1947, while fighting Pakistani infiltrators. He was martyred while staving off an enemy attack on the Badgam aerodrome in Kashmir Valley. He was filling magazines and issuing them to the light machine gunners when an explosion killed him.
The PM underlined that the naming of the islands was dedicated not only to the awardees but also to the Indian armed forces. “It is the duty of the country that the soldiers who dedicated themselves to these national defence operations should be widely recognised along with the contributions of the army,” Modi said. “Today the country is fulfilling that responsibility and it is being recognised in the name of soldiers and armies.”
The PM said attempts were made to erase the legacy of Netaji after Independence but added that he was now remembered by the country every moment. “The place where Netaji hoisted the tricolour for the first time in Andaman, the sky-high Tricolour is singing praises of the might of the Azad Hind Army. When people from all over the country come here, seeing the Tricolour waving on the seashore will fill their hearts with patriotism. Now the museum and memorial which will be built in Netaji’s memory in Andaman will make a trip here even more memorable,” added Modi.
Bose, a firebrand nationalist who led and revived the Azad Hind Fauj, was a believer in armed conflict with the British. He had first hoisted the Tricolour in Andaman on December 30, 1943, and declared it a free territory.
In recent years, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has increasingly laid claim on his legacy, saying that the Congress attempted to downplay the legacy and importance of Bose. Last year, the Union government unveiled a granite statue of Bose under the canopy at India Gate, as part of the renovations on Central Vista. But these attempts have drawn angry responses from the Opposition, which claims the BJP is appropriating the legacy of a man who worked in the Congress for decades.
In his speech on Monday, Modi noted that the Andaman & Nicobar Islands will lay down a path for strengthening the nation’s development in the future, similar to the way it showed the path during the freedom struggle.
He said that heroes such as VD Savarkar had achieved the pinnacle of their sacrifice on these islands. “In the cells of the Cellular Jail, the voices of those with unprecedented passion and immense pain resonate in the ears of everyone. But unfortunately, instead of those memories of the freedom struggle, the identity of Andaman was associated with the symbols of slavery,” he said. Savarkar was lodged in the Cellular Jail for around a decade.
In his speech, Modi referred to the names of some islands, and said his government had made efforts to remove the vestiges of colonial history.
“Even the names of these islands had the imprint of slavery. I am fortunate that when I went to Port Blair four-five years ago, I had the opportunity to give Indian names to the three main islands there. Today Ross Island has become Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Island. Havelock and Neil Islands have become Swaraj and Shaheed Islands,” he said.
“It is also interesting that the names Swaraj and Shaheed were given by Netaji himself. This name was also not given importance after Independence,” he added.
Modi also appeared to refer to the declassification of files connected to Bose’s life.
“For decades, there was a demand to declassify files related to Netaji’s life. The country took this work forward with full devotion. Today, in front of our democratic institutions, even on the path of duty, the grand statue of Netaji Bose reminds us of our duties. I think these works should have been done long ago in the interest of the country. Because, the countries which connected their leaders with the public in a timely manner progressed quickly in development and nation building,” Modi said.
The first lot of 33 files that were declassified was handed over by the Prime Minister’s Office to the National Archives on December 4, 2015. The same year, the West Bengal government released 64 files on the leader held by the home department.
In his speech, the PM alleged that inferiority complex and lack of self-confidence marred the efforts of previous governments. ”Our North-East states and parts like Andaman and Nicobar Islands have always been thought of as remote, inaccessible, and irrelevant areas. Such thinking has led to decades of neglect and development of such areas,” he said.
The PM said that from 2014 to 2022, the number of tourists travelling to Andaman had doubled. “Due to fibre connectivity, these islands have benefited from fast internet connectivity. Tourists and citizens here are getting the benefits of the increase in digital transactions. I am confident that we will build an India that will be capable and will touch the heights of modern development,” Modi said, extolling the achievements of the government in the region.
The proposed memorial whose model the prime minister inaugurated during the day will be set up on Ross Island, which had been renamed as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep in 2018. Neil Island and Havelock Island were also rechristened as Shaheed Dweep and Swaraj Dweep.