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Modi, Mamata fight over Netaji legacy, ahead of 2021 polls in Bengal

Abhishek Law Kolkata | Updated on January 23, 2021

Kolkata: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee releases a book during 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, at Victoria Memorial in Kolkata   -  PTI

Ahead of the all important 2021 Assembly elections in Bengal, the Trinamool Congress and its challenger, the BJP, crossed swords over Netaji Subhash Bose’s legacy.

While the West Bengal government carried out elaborate programmes with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the forefront to mark Subhash Bose’s 125th birth anniversary; the BJP banked on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who flew in to Kolkata to attend the Centre’s programmes on the day. This is the first time Modi visited Kolkata on January 23.

As against the 10 km-long walk that Chief Minister did traversing between north and central Kolkata, Prime Minister Modi’s programmes focussed more on cultural events and felicitating INA veterans.

The Prime Minister in fact flagged off anniversary celebrations at Victorial Memorial, lacing his speech with Bengali quotes of Subhash Bose, clearly indicating growing significance of the State in the party’s political roadmap.

Four capital theory

The Chief Minister had over the last few months played on the Bengali-Non-Bengali card to gain “Bengalee support”. And, on Saturday, she used it again, this time from a State government dais, by mooting that India should have four capitals, one each across north, south, east and the north east. Kolkata, of course, was pitched as one of the alternative capital cities.

“Like Netaji Subhash Bose, Bengalis will not tolerate insults. Kolkata was the capital of British India. Our contribution to Independence cannot be slighted. Why should power now be concentrated only in Delhi, which is full of outsiders (people not having origins there)? Why not make Kolkata a second capital? In fact, why not have four capitals,” Banerjee said.

While the Chief Minister did not specify, it is implied that she wants rotating capital cities — with one session of Parliament being held in each of them.

“I am not being parochial or regional. There can be a capital in the Northern region in Uttar Pradesh or Punjab. There could be another in South, which can be in Kerala, Tamil Nadu or Andhra. A third can be explored in the east, preferably Kolkata. The fourth will be in the North East,” she maintained.

The name game

Banerjee was not over though. She raised objections to January 23 being called “Parakram Diwas” (Valor Day) – the name given by the Centre to mark the occasion. Her objection though was to the fact that the name was “too Hindi”. A national hero from Bengal should be celebrated with names that are closer to his / her mother tongue, she reasoned.

“Why not call the day as Desh Nayak Day or Desh Prem Diwas,” she questioned while reiterating her previous demands that January 23 be declared a national holiday and “all files” relating to Netaji and his disappearance by “de-classified’. She promised an “Azad Hind Memorial” too.

The war between BJP and Trinamool Congress had begun a few days back after the Centre marked January 23 as “Parakram Diwas” and detailed elaborate celebrations. Trinamool leaders saw it as an attempt by BJP – which they call a Hindi heartland party – to “usurp” Bengali icons and claim it as their own to gain votes.

This is the second time they two are clashing over Bengali icons, the first being birth anniversary celebrations of Swami Videkananda.

Sugata Bose, former Trinamool Congress MP and Netaji’s great grand-nephew, said: “The name Desh Prem Diwas encompass Netaji’s thoughts more appropriately.”

Visit to Netaji’s House

Incidentally, while Mamata Banerjee has diligently been visiting Netaji’s ancestral home in south Kolkata – which now houses the Netaji Research Bureau; Prime Minister Modi made a last minute modification to his schedule to visit the place.

However, the 15-minute visit had its high drama.

Several BJP leaders, including another family member Chandra Kumar Bose, also wanted to visit the Elgin Road house along with the Prime Minister; but one side of the family – led by Sugata Bose – reportedly objected to it. Ultimately, it was only the Prime Minister who went there.

“We requested that the PM visit Netaji Bhavan as head of the country and not as a political party representative. He obliged and took a tour of the house and the museum,” Sugata said adding that: “The Bhavan is open for everyone. Anyone can visit it. But, we would like to keep the day (January 23) free of politics.”

Chandra Bose – another faction of Bose family and a former vice-president of the BJP ‘s Bengal unit – downplayed the incident. “There is a pandemic and it makes sense not to crowd around the PM. There is no other reason,” he said.

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Published on January 23, 2021
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