Icon who believed in pluralism: Mamata
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s philosophy of inclusiveness, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi completely ignored, was the theme of Mamata Banerjee’s three public addresses in Calcutta on Saturday — at Netaji Bhavan, Shyambazar five-point crossing and near Netaji’s statue on Red Road.
The chief minister’s stress on the icon’s faith on India’s pluralistic culture on his 125th birth anniversary was clearly aimed at countering the BJP’s narrative in the run-up to the Bengal polls.
“Netaji was a firm believer in unity. He always spoke about solidarity among all religions. Just see the composition of the Indian National Army, which had Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and people from all religions. It had people from Gujarat, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and all across India as he believed that since he was fighting for the country, everyone should be part of the force,” said Mamata while delivering an address at the end of a 7.5km rally that she led on Saturday afternoon.
“The British believed in divide and rule, while Netaji wanted to unite the country,” she added, before announcing that her government would carry on with year-long celebrations and spread his ideals among the young.
The underlying message in her address could not be missed in poll-bound Bengal, where the saffron camp is banking on a polarisation among voters on religious lines to wrest the seat of power.
With inclusiveness on her lips, Mamata tried to send out a message that she was a believer in Netaji’s philosophy while the saffron party’s agenda was that of dividing people.
“What should be the qualities of a leader? That person should be like Netaji, who believed in taking everyone along…. Netaji never said that the country should broken down into pieces...,” said Mamata.
As Bengal nears the polls, an intense battle has broken out between Trinamul and the BJP over appropriating Bengali icons like Netaji, Rabindranath Tagore or Swami Vivekananda.
On Netaji’s birth anniversary, the battle intensified.
Mamata announced on Twitter that the state government would build an Indian National Army memorial in Rajarhat and set up a university after Netaji’s name.
Through the day, Mamata rolled out example after another to establish that the BJP was far from Netaji’s principles. After elaborating on Netaji’s inclusiveness different from the saffron camp’s divisive politics, she focused on how Netaji’s idea of governance was different.
“Netaji had envisioned the Planning Commission and the Indian National Army much before Independence…They (the Centre) claim to idolise Netaji but (they) scrapped the Planning Commission and formed NITI Aayog. No harm in setting up NITI Aayog, but why scrap the Planning Commission?” she asked.
Mamata repeatedly said in the past that the BJP government’s decision of disbanding the Planning Commission was part of an agenda to reduce the power of states and an assault on federalism.
Quoting the BJP’s oft repeated slogans, she said, “The attitude needs to be changed… One leader, one nation, one ration card, ... One political party, one nation. Why this?”
Giving a new dimension to her federalism argument, she questioned why India should have only one capital in Delhi and suggested there be four rotating capitals in different parts of the country.
“Why shouldn’t Calcutta be the capital of the country, I am saying this because of our contribution to the freedom struggle... I will again urge the Centre that India should have four capitals, one in south, one in north, one in east and in northeastern,” the chief minister said.
The BJP state leaders were quick to rubbish the demand as “absurd”, but Trinamul insiders said they would keep repeating the demand in the run up to the polls to strike a chord with voters in Bengal.
Mamata also explained why her government celebrated Netaji’s birth anniversary as Deshnayak Dibos while the Centre celebrated the day as Parakram (valour) Diwas. “Rabindranath Tagore was the first to bestow the title of Deshnayak (national hero) on Netaji...,” Mamata said at Netaji Bhavan.
Additional reporting by Debraj Mitra