The political battle over Netaji | HT Editorial
To mark Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s 125th birth anniversary, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government and the Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government pulled out all the stops. Netaji was a remarkable patriot, an iconic freedom fighter who charted his own path after differences with Mahatma Gandhi, and despite his questionable understanding with Axis powers, a courageous nationalist.
But there is also little doubt that the intensification of the battle over Bose’s memory stems from the contemporary political divide in Bengal. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s annoyed intervention at the Victoria Memorial event to mark Bose’s birth anniversary on Saturday, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was just the latest evidence of this political battle. But at the root of it is both the BJP and Trinamool’s belief that they have the first right to claim Bose.
For the BJP, Bose was a target of a Nehruvian conspiracy to undermine the legacy of a political figure who would have become a symbol of an alternative political matrix. This, therefore, fits into the party’s overall political rhetoric of how a set of rulers in Delhi have been unfair to other icons — and only the BJP can make it right. For the Trinamool, Bose was a victim of a conspiracy to undermine the contribution of Bengal to the national movement and marginalise its icons. This fits into the regional party’s tactic of tapping into Bengali sub-nationalism against an insensitive Centre. In the process, Bose’s own convictions — on secularism and nationalism — and his relationship with Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru have been simplistically portrayed. To be true to the present, both sides must be truthful about the past, instead of making one of India’s icons a subject of political wrangling.