India unveils statue to Nazi-allied independence hero

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday unveiled a statue of an independence hero venerated for taking up arms against the British, but controversial for his collaboration with Nazi Germany's war machine.

Subhas Chandra Bose was a charismatic and popular contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi but broke with the pacifist leader to forge alliances with Germany and Japan during World War II, as he sought to overthrow the colonial regime in India.

He made propaganda broadcasts from Berlin encouraging Indians to fight alongside Axis forces -- on one occasion meeting Adolf Hitler -- and raised an anti-British legion from captured Indian PoWs before sailing in a submarine to Japan.

The statue of "Netaji" -- or "leader", as Bose is commonly known -- was erected near the India Gate war memorial in New Delhi, and replaces a statue of Britain's King George V torn down nearly half a century ago.

It is part of a long and expensive renovation of the capital's administrative district, coinciding with this year's 75th anniversary of independence.

"Today we are leaving the past behind," Modi said at the inauguration ceremony on Thursday.

"The country today set up Netaji's statue at the same spot and has given a boost to modern, independent and confident India," he added.

Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) espouses a muscular Hindu nationalism that champions historical figures who opposed outside influence and domination.

The BJP has lionised Bose as an anti-colonial hero while downplaying the influence of Gandhi and inaugural Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, two men whose legacies are closely associated with India's main opposition party.

Modi opened a museum to Bose in Delhi's UNESCO world heritage-listed Red Fort in 2019 and called him the "grand hero of independence" earlier this year.

Bose's courtship of fascist powers tarnished his image elsewhere but he remains widely revered at home for his role in the struggle for independence -- and the subject of conspiracy theories over his untimely death.

He was killed when the Japanese bomber he was travelling in crashed in Taiwan at the close of the war in 1945.

But many Indians at the time thought the crash had been faked to help Bose go underground, as he was wanted as a war criminal by British authorities.

In the decades that followed, many insisted Bose was still alive and several alternative theories flourished to account for his whereabouts, including capture and detention in a Soviet gulag, or an anonymous return to India for a quiet life.

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