Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s legacy is going to be a major campaign theme in the upcoming West Bengal Assembly elections, as both the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vie to exploit it fully to further their national pride versus Bengali ‘ashmita’ campaign.
For the BJP, Netaji is one of the central figures who pushed the Britishers to finally decide to leave India. Britain witnessed disaffection surging among British Indian soldiers after it conducted trial of Netaji’s Indian National Army (INA) for waging a war against the British Army. For British Indian soldiers and for Indians, they emerged as freedom fighters. For the TMC, Netaji is the great hero from Bengal who represents Bengali 'ashmita' and it demands that Bose's birthday be declared a national holiday.
For BJP, reinstating Netaji’s legacy is the foremost concern. The party says Netaji’s legacy was neglected so far to benefit the Nehru-Gandhi family. For TMC, it is BJP’s desperate attempt to appropriate the state icon to further its political interests.
BJP has decided to celebrate Netaji’s 125th birth anniversary in a grand manner. The panel appointed by the Centre is headed by Home Minister Amit Shah. Meanwhile, the TMC has decided to make it a year-long celebration that will culminate with Netaji’s birth anniversary next year.
BJP has questioned how TMC can appropriate Netaji’s legacy when it was Narendra Modi, who as a prime minister for the first time, declassified files on the freedom fighter. TMC, on the other hand, questions BJP’s sudden interest in celebrating Netaji’s birth anniversary this year as assembly elections are around April-May. TMC says it used to celebrate Netaji’s birth anniversary in the same fervour even when it was in opposition.
The BJP goes on to say a Congress government under Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao had announced Bharat Ratna posthumously for Netaji and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee was in the Congress then. It was a BJP government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee after Narasimha Rao government that formed the Mukherjee Commission to investigate Netaji’s disappearance. TMC says Mamata had opposed the Narasimha Rao government’s decision even though she was a Congress member then.
The fight will only heat up in the days ahead as election campaign gathers pace. TMC was the absolute winner in 2014 Lok Sabha election and 2016 assembly elections but the BJP, once a marginal party in the state, has seen a meteoric rise and is now the main challenger, sidelining the Left and Congress.
In 2016 assembly election, TMC won 211 seats in 293-member state assembly with 44.91% votes. BJP got just 3 seats with a vote share of 10.16% but 2019 Lok Sabha election in the state saw TMC and BJP fighting neck-to-neck. TMC was reduced to 22 seats from 34 seats it won in 2014 Lok Sabha election. BJP gained spectacularly winning 18 seats with 40.25% vote share.