In poll-bound Bengal, politics overshadows Netaji’s birth anniversary
- Some leaders and political experts even described Modi’s visit as an exercise to woo Bengali voters on whom Bose’s ideology has great influence even after 76 years of his mysterious disappearance.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to celebrate Subhas Chandra Bose’s birthday in Kolkata as Parakram Diwas, or day of valour, ran into a political debate on Saturday with chief minister Mamata Banerjee expressing anger at Bharatiya Janata Party supporters present at the PM’s main event raising the Jai Sri Ram slogan hours after she accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of not showing respect to the iconic freedom fighter.
With political tension rising in the state where elections are due in March-April, the tussle between the saffron camp and the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) intensified, with the Left and Congress, who are now electoral partners, not missing the opportunity to take potshots at their rivals.
Some leaders and political experts even described Modi’s visit as an exercise to woo Bengali voters on whom Bose’s ideology has great influence even after 76 years of his mysterious disappearance.
Sparks started flying in the afternoon when Banerjee, after leading a roadshow sans any TMC flag through the heart of Kolkata, said that if the Centre really wanted to show respect to Bose it would not have dissolved the Planning Commission of India that Bose conceived. She even questioned large central spending on aircrafts (she did not specify which one) and a new Parliament building but not on a monument dedicated to Bose.
She demanded revival of the Planning Commission and a national holiday on January 23.
Without naming the BJP or Modi, whose flight was yet to arrive, Banerjee said, “They want to celebrate the day as Parakram Diwas (day of valour). Kiya hai Parakram? (What is parakram?). They could have consulted us on use of the right word. We are celebrating Desh Nayak Diwas (day of the national hero). Netaji does not need anyone’s favour. We will set up a monument dedicated to the Azad Hind Bahini (Indian National Army that Bose led). We will show proper respect to Netaji.”
Banerjee even demanded that India should have four capitals in four corners of the country where Parliament sessions can be held on rotation. “A one party, one government system will not work in this country. States have equal rights. Netaji believed that the nation belongs to Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and people from all religions and class,” she said.
A few hours later, Modi’s main event at the Victoria Memorial Hall pushed politics to the fore when Banerjee lost her temper on hearing the Jai Sri Ram slogan while she was about to address the audience.
“I feel a government programme must have some dignity. This is not a political programme but a government programme and it is for the public and all political parties. I am grateful to the Prime Minister that this event is being held in Kolkata. But you have no right to invite someone to a government programme and insult that person. In protest, I am not saying anything,” said Banerjee before raising her own slogan Jai Hind, Jai Bangla, which is meant to project Bengal’s identity against her repeated assertion that the BJP is “a party of outsiders.”
Speaking after her, Modi said the Centre’s Atmanirbhar Bharat, or self-reliant India project, which focuses on indigenous production of all products, would have made Bose proud had he been around.
“The nation is following the path Netaji showed. I often think how Netaji would feel seeing India surging ahead, its army getting modern weapons and planes like Rafale guarding the nation. How proud he must have felt seeing India giving vaccines to other nations,” said Modi.
All political parties, including the CPI(M), as well as eminent intellectuals of Kolkata condemned the sloganeering. Some BJP leaders tried to play down the incident while others argued that it is a way of greeting people and does not carry any political message.
“Modi’s speech made the purpose of his visit before the polls quite apparent. But it misfired. It will have no impact on voters,” TMC Lok Sabha member and party spokesperson Saugata Roy told HT while condemning the raising of the slogan.
Kolkata-based political science professor and election analyst Udayan Bandopadhyay too felt Modi’s visit will not impact voters. “Netaji’s real followers believe in his secular and all-inclusive nationalism. These people will not vote for the BJP. If the BJP wants to reach out to them it has to alter its approach,” Bandopadhyay told HT.
“Banerjee’s demand for multiple capitals, however, will not work in India as we have a federal structure,” he added.
Former Tripura governor and BJP leader Tathagata Roy was present at the Victoria Memorial Hall grounds when the Jai Sri Ram slogan was heard. “Some people were simply teasing Banerjee since she had chased at people in the past for raising it in her presence. I don’t read any politics into this,” Roy told the media.
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