Netaji and the Politics of Bengal

The nation witnessed its first Parakram Diwas on 23rd January 2021 celebrating the birth of a nationalist and patriot – Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. It was his 125th birth anniversary, on which Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that it would be celebrated as Parakram Diwas (day of valour) to inspire citizens of India, especially the youngsters, to act with strength in the face of hardships as Netaji did, and to imbibe in them a spirit of patriotism. Prime Minister reached Victoria Memorial, where the celebrations were organized. He was accompanied by Governor of West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankhar and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. He then greeted and interacted with the spectators and the participants of the cultural event. He also met the family members of the great freedom fighter. The Prime Minister also participated in an exhibition organized at the same venue depicting 125 most important events of Netaji’s life followed by a laser show. The exhibition titled ‘Nirbheek Subhas’ will continue for next two years. Before the event, a committee was established with aim of providing guidance to activities remembering Netaji and his teachings both in the country and abroad. The committee consists of 85 members including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and members of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s family. In addition, on the occasion of Netaji 125th birth anniversary, the Railway Department of India has renamed one of the oldest running trains of India as Netaji Express which was earlier called Kalka Mail.

Though his contribution in India’s struggle of freedom has been acknowledged by the then Prime Minister of England Climent Attlee, and had been recorded in British parliamentary debates of that time, it took 73 years for the Indian governments to recognize the iconic freedom fighter who led the India`s freedom of struggle by front. After arriving in South-East Asia in 1943, Subhas Chandra Bose rebuilt the Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army, INA), and although it`s true that the INA was not able to completely achieve what it aimed for i.e. complete independence from the British rule, and had a rather gloomy ending, it was successful in impacting the minds and souls of Indians and ignite in them a flame of patriotism and nationalism. The INA men and women were valiant and they were ready to sacrifice everything for the nation. This infectious patriotic spirit touched every single person of the land— especially the youth. Yes, the INA was not very successful in achieving its aim, but when we look at past events, especially related to freedom struggle, we don`t regard it as not being worthwhile just because it did not accomplish what it aimed for, because more than the goal achieved it is about the outcomes of that movement. The revolt of 1857 was a failure if looked by the aims it was supposed to achieve, but it still is an important chapter in India`s history because of the feeling and hope it gave rise to in the minds of Indians.

Two years before India attained its independence in 1947, Subhas Chandra Bose disappeared quite strangely (though Japanese and Taiwanese files recorded events surrounding his ‘last moments’ in an air crash in 1945). The mystery of his death and Gumnami Baba (the man rumored to be Netaji) has not yet been solved. In an RTI in 2017, the then Central Government of India confirmed that Netaji died in a plane crash in Taipei, Taiwan on 18th August 1945, many historians and people still doubt this theory. Different political parties support a different theory of his death according to their agenda – the Left wants to reject the death in Russia theory. The Congress stands by the plane crash theory while the Right wing supports the Gumnami Baba theory. But as his life and death continue to intrigue generations, 125 years after Subhas Chandra Bose was born, his legacy still shapes the politics of Bengal.

It is a well-known fact that Bengal people are highly emotional towards Netaji and regard him as the greatest patriot India has ever seen. Netaji showed that it is about holding our head high with pride as we involve with the world. A lot of great Indian leaders felt a sense of inferiority towards the colonial power and other foreigners. And it isn`t their fault too, looking at a map of India then, the most striking thing to notice was that a country this large was dominated by a tiny island nation 118kms away. It is enough to diminish anyone`s self -confidence. But Netaji never saw it this way. He considered the colonialism as just a mere mistake done by the Indians in the past and their negligence towards the British traders. He negotiated with the Soviets, the Germans, the British and the Japanese on his own conditions. Netaji has attained immortality in our hearts and especially in the hearts of Bengalis and due to this Netaji and his due credits have become the latest ‘Political Agenda’ for the parties right now in Bengal.

While the center announced Parakram Diwas, it was strongly rejected by the ruling party of West Bengal, the TMC. Their leader and the current Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee had declared that Netaji Jayanti would be celebrated as ‘Desh Nayak Diwas’, and led a grand march of five kilometres in Kolkata. The TMC said calling the day ‘Desh Nayak Diwas’ (day of national hero) was based on Rabindranath Tagore’s idea to name him Desh Nayak and that West Bengal celebrates Bose’s birthday each year as Subhas Diwas. The West Bengal government has recently announced to introduce Jai Hind Vahini (the slogan Jai Hind was given by Netaji) and Netaji Subhas University in the state. The party also blamed that their plea of declaring a national holiday on 23rd January has been rejected time and again. BJP leader and Netaji’s grandnephew Chandra Kumar Bose said the day should be observed as Desh Prem Diwas (day of patriotism). But while all these parties and different groups were busy claiming Netaji`s legacy for their interest and were trying to outsmart each other by giving unique arguments, Netaji`s daughter Anita Bose Pfaff (currently in Germany) in a recent interview given to Times Now said that the great freedom fighter cannot belong to one political party, but to the citizens of our country and the people who look up to him and his ideologies. Anita Bose continued and approved central`s decision to celebrate the freedom fighter`s birthday is an appropriate idea to respect one of the greatest sons of India and she also hopes it will be done in a fashion which is also appropriate to a person like him who was a person of thought, action and had great love for his country.

Many politicians and historians have blamed the Congress for sidelining Netaji from the pages of Indian history. Netaji`s ideologies were in conflict with that of Nehru and Patel as he was a revolutionary while Nehru and Patel steadfastly followed Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence. Most criticis blame Nehru (and later India Gandhi) for not giving credits to other leaders such as Netaji, Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad either in the books or otherwise. In fact, Netaji`s portrait did not even get a place in India`s parliament hall. Leftists have blamed the Congress government for disregarding Netaji from textbooks and other courses. BJP has always blamed Congress for not giving appropriate tribute to the leader. Bose was featured on two-rupee coin in 1996 and 1997 only when non-Congress leaders were elected as the Prime Ministers (i.e. Atal Bihari Vajpayee followed by Deve Gowda), and later on ₹ 75 coin in 2018 and ₹125 coin in 2021 (under the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi).

It is also disheartening to note that there is no memorial of Netaji. Governments spent thousands of crores in building statues of other personalities or even themselves, but no memorial was built for the national leader. And now suddenly, all the parties are showing love and respect towards him. Subhas Chandra Bose’s acquaintances have called for a Research Centre in either Kolkata or Delhi and also for a memorial in Kolkata as a tribute to him and his efforts in India`s freedom.
From the above facts it is certainly clear that Bose did not get the deserved recognition by the previous governments. But the credit and appreciation that is being given to him now by some parties, is it real or just a new topic for parties to manipulate the voters via this emotional card? Will this respect towards a true patriot eventually fade as the elections are over? Or this time he will truly be remembered? Well, this is something to look forward to after the elections but one thing is clear that even years after his death, he is still ‘alive’ and continues to influence Bengal`s politics.

-Priyanshi Mishra (Freelancer)

Picture Credits: outlookindia.com

Most Popular

To Top