The 125th anniversary celebrations of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in Kolkata proved to be not just an event to remember the freedom fighter but also a referendum on the mood in the state which is gearing up for assembly polls later this year.
An outpouring of support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the streets of Kolkata not only caught the TMC by surprise but also bewildered the local police.
As part of his itinerary, PM Modi visited Netaji Bhavan but keeping aside protocol, he bought a ticket worth Rs 10 to enter the premises. The prime minister was accompanied by former Trinamool Congress MP Sugata Bose, which many perceived as yet another dig at the Mamata Banerjee-led party.
Bose had been a TMC MP and his mother Krishna Bose was among the earliest supporters of the party. His presence, thus, left the TMC and its supporters stunned. Bose also urged PM Modi to climb an extra floor and visit two more galleries.
This was followed by a gathering on the lawns of the Victoria Memorial after the official ‘Parakram Divas’ programme. The event was well-attended by the who’s who of Kolkata, including top businessmen, artists and film personalities. While such an event would go unnoticed in any other state, in Bengal, such gatherings would often see zero attendance, given the style of CPM and TMC. Commenting on the gathering, an official quipped that the event reminded them of the years 2010-2011, when it became acceptable for people to meet Mamata Banerjee and the TMC. Is this a sign of things to come in the assembly polls later this year?
The highlight of the celebrations, however, was Banerjee’s refusal to speak at the event after a section of audience raised ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans at Victoria Memorial Hall, saying she felt "insulted". “I am honoured to be invited here by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Centre. But this is not the way to welcome your guest and that too in a government event. This is not a political event and you must maintain the sanctity of Netaji’s birth anniversary event,” said a visibly angry Banerjee. “I am not going to deliver my speech except Jai Hind and Jai Bangla.”
Banerjee’s outburst led many to assume that she would get a fitting reply from PM Modi. However, the prime minister disappointed many by focusing his speech on tributes to Pranab Mukherjee. He later shared tea with Banerjee and spoke to her for about 15 minutes. Clearly, there was no mixing politics and national heroes for PM Modi.
Among the other people PM Modi met very warmly was Firhad Hakim, Kolkata mayor, state minister and one of Banerjee’s closest aides. When Hakim received PM Modi at the Race Course Helipad, much to the surprise of all, Modi warmly greeted and spoke to him, once again underlining that he was not in Kolkata for politics but only for the larger agenda of Netaji Bose.
While this happened, on the other end of the spectrum were Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, none of whom extended wishes on Subhas Jayanti.