During his recent visit to West Bengal, Union Home minister Amit Shah paid floral tributes to revolutionary Khudiram Basu and Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, while addressing the centenary celebrations of Tagore’s Visva Bharati University, said the literary legend’s vision was the essence of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’.
As elections approach in Bengal, the fight is not just over political or civic issues, but as to who would be the true flag-bearer of Bengali ‘ashmita’. And with Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s birth anniversary round the corner, the Trinamool Congress and BJP are involved in a tug-of-war over who does it better. Many in Bengal still believe Netaji did not die in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is projecting herself as someone who’s deeply rooted in Bengal’s culture, respects the state’s icons and shares the emotions of an average Bengali. The BJP, who she has branded as ‘outsiders’, are also keen to put across the message that they are not far behind.
The Centre has big plans to celebrate Netaji’s 125th birth anniversary on January 23. Mamata, on the other hand, had announced a high-powered committee to conduct a year-long celebration which will continue till January 23, 2022. The committee is headed by Nobel winners Amartya Sen and Abhijit Binayak Bandyopadhyay.
Poet Shankha Ghosh and Netaji’s kin Sugata Bose are also members of the committee, which will kick off Netaji’s birth anniversary celebrations in every district in a show of strength for the Trinamool. Photographs, busts and statues of Netaji will be garlanded in every district, followed by cultural programmes and movie screenings.
The Centre has, meanwhile, announced a committee for the celebrations under the leadership of Amit Shah. Netaji kin Chandra Bose and other prominent figures are part of the team. BJP says Trinamool has no right to appropriate Netaji, and Modi is the first Prime Minister to declassify a number of documents related to him.
The BJP will also campaign that Netaji never got the respect he deserved while in Congress. In fact, the state unit has requested PM Modi to address a public meeting in Kolkata on January 23. The Prime Minister’s Office is now trying to prepare a schedule accordingly.
Apart from this, the Bengal BJP plans to conduct street corner meetings on the day. School children are also expected to participate in various programmes in the districts. The BJP never commemorated the day on this scale earlier.
Mamata says the BJP has become ‘Netaji bhakts’ all of a sudden as elections are approaching. The Trinamool will campaign that Mamata, even when she was in Opposition, used to mark the day.
The Bengal CM will address a public meeting on January 23, the details of which are being worked out. Apart from functions in every district, the state government has issued an advisory to every school government and private to mark the day.
A brief history
Netaji had formed the Indian National Army out of Indian prisoners of war in Germany and Japan and launched an armed struggle to drive the British out. The Congress then was against the idea of INA, and several members of Netaji’s force were declared war criminals and tried at Delhi’s Red Fort.
The issue became more relevant since PM Modi came to power. The BJP will further campaign that when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was PM and Lal Krishna Advani Home minister, the then NDA government had formed the Mukherjee Commission to investigate Netaji’s disappearance.
On the other hand, the PV Narasimha Rao government had announced posthumous Bharat Ratna for Netaji. The Trinamool will campaign that Mamata had opposed the move despite being in the Congress at that time.
Mukherjee Commission was the third committee after the Shah Nawaz Committee (1956) and Khosla Commission (1970) to investigate Netaji’s disappearance. The Mukherjee Commission report fell out of favour with Leftist historians and even some of Netaji’s kin such as Sugata Bose and his mother late Krishna Bose.
The mystery around Netaji’s death still persists, and both the Trinamool and BJP want to cash in on the emotions surrounding him. Netaji has become all the more significant this poll season because Trinamool has made the election a ‘Hindu nationalism vs Bengali pride’ issue.
In this context, not just Netaji but other Bengali icons such as Rabindranath Tagore, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, etc. assume significance for the Trinamool too.
(The writer is Mamata Banerjee’s media advisor)