By Soudhriti Bhabani
Kolkata, Jan 21 | In poll-bound West Bengal, nationalist icon and freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose happens to be the new-found commodity for political parties contesting a high-voltage electoral battle this year.
The Centre has decided to celebrate Bose’s birth anniversary on January 23 as ‘Parakram Diwas’ every year. On Wednesday, Indian Railways also renamed Howrah-Kalka Mail as ‘Netaji Express’ ahead of his anniversary celebrations.
“Indian Railways is happy to announce the naming of 12311/12312 Howrah-Kalka Express as Netaji Express as Netaji had put India on the express route of freedom and development,” the Ministry of Railways said.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal also tweeted: “Netaji’s ‘parakram’ (valour) put India on the express route of freedom and development. I am thrilled to celebrate his birth anniversary with the introduction of ‘Netaji Express’.”
The legacy of Bose has become all the more significant this time ahead of the crucial state Assembly election with the ruling Trinamool Congress and its arch rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) involved in a tug-of-war over who will win.
Both the parties are desperate to emerge as the true flag-bearer of Bose on his birth anniversary – the patriot who defines Bengali ‘asmita’ (pride). They want to cash in on the emotions surrounding him in the state.
But a section of Bose’s family members and researchers consider the slugfest as mere politicisation of the event. “This has been a regular thing now. We feel really bad as political parties play with the sentiments of people over Netaji every year. This time it is even murkier as the election is approaching. Once the poll heat is over, Netaji will once again roll into oblivion and nothing will happen in reality. Both the Centre and state government have trivialised the stature of India’s freedom hero to a great extent. We can’t accept it,” Bose’s grandnephew Indraneel Mitra told IANS.
He said both the Trinamool Congress and the BJP has made the Assembly polls a fight between Hindu nationalism and Bengali pride over Bose as the mystery around his death still persists.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has already announced a high-powered committee, spearheaded by Nobel laureates Amartya Sen and Abhijit Banerjee, to carry out a year-long celebration in Bengal. Poet Shankha Ghosh and Bose’s kin Sugata Bose are also members of the committee, which will commemorate his birth anniversary in every district throughout the year.
According to sources, the state government is set to celebrate the occasion garlanding photographs, busts and statues of Bose in every district, followed by cultural events and movie screenings. In a bid to project the party as deeply associated with Bengali culture, the Trinamool Congress-led government is trying to take up the issue to pay respect to the state’s icons. Mamata Banerjee is slated to address a public meeting on January 23.
“The school of politics they practice, I mean both the BJP and TMC, cannot go hand-in-hand with Bose’s political ideology. There is no reflection at all. They are just using the occasion to garner public sentiments in their favours without any context. It is an insult to the freedom legend and we Bengalis are feeling deeply ashamed at the activities surrounding Netaji on his 125th birth anniversary celebration,” said political analyst Udayan Bandopadhyay.
He said that lawmakers in both the state and at the national level should reinvent their political ideology and take actions accordingly. “They are going for revivalism in a very wrong way. This will never last for too long. It has gone abysmally low,” he added.
Meanwhile, the state unit of the BJP has requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address a public meeting in Kolkata on January 23. Sources said that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is trying to prepare a schedule accordingly. On the occasion of Bose’s birth anniversary, the saffron brigade also does not want to stay behind as they have decided to conduct street corner meetings on the day and cultural programmes to pay tribute to the national hero.