- Trinamool, BJP are squabbling over Netaji's birth anniversary
- Mamata Banerjee led a march through Kolkata to honour Netaji
- She also announced an university named after Netaji will be set up soon
The battle for Bengal, to be fought in polling booths in a couple of months from now, is today being fought in Kolkata over the legacy of iconic freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The ruling Trinamool and the opposition BJP are locked in a bitter squabble over who better honours the legendary Netaji on his 124th birth anniversary.
On Saturday, hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi was due in Kolkata to take part in a series of events to honour his memory, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee attacked the centre for failing to declare the day a national holiday and build a memorial for the freedom fighter.
"I protest the centre's decision to not yet declare Netaji's birth anniversary as a national holiday. You are building new parliament and buying new planes... why no memorial for Netaji?" the Chief Minister asked at the end of a vigorous six-km march through the city.
"You can name any port after Shyama Prasad Mukherjee... we have no objection. But I got Rajiv Gandhi to name Kolkata airport after Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose," Ms Banerjee continued.
The Chief Minister was referring to the centre's decision in January last year to rename Kolkata Port Trust after the founder of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, which later evolved into the BJP.
She also criticised the centre for abolishing the Planning Commission conceptualised by Netaji and replacing it with the NITI Aayog. "The centre has to bring back the Planning Commission," she said.
The Chief Minister also doubled down on her morning criticism - when she hit out at the centre for choosing to call today 'Parakram Diwas', instead of 'Deshnayak Diwas' as she wanted.
"What is the meaning of 'Parakram Diwas'? If you did not want to consult me, you could have consulted Sugata Bose (Netaji's grand-nephew, the Chairman of the Netaji Research Bureau and a former Trinamool MP)? If your action is wrong, we will give you a reaction," she declared.
"I don't understand the word 'parakram'... I understand his (Netaji's) 'desh prem'. Netaji is a philosophy... an emotion... he believed in the unity of religions," Ms Banerjee said this morning.
A monument, named after Azad Hind Fauj, will be built at Rajarhat. A university named after Netaji is also being set up which shall be funded entirely by the state, and will have tie-ups with foreign universities. #DeshNayakDibas (2/3)— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) January 23, 2021
"Why have we declared today 'Deshnayak Diwas'? Because Tagore gave him the title... because Netaji gave Tagore's song recognition as anthem," she added.
Ms Banerjee also suggested that India have four "rotating capitals" and parliament sessions should alternate between major cities.
Ms Banerjee's march was also be a show of strength and an effort to showcase the Trinamool's efforts to portray itself as a home-grown party, as opposed to "outsiders" - her standard dig at the BJP, whom she accuses of flying in to ask for votes and then flying out again.
The Prime Minister, who was in Assam (which also votes this year) to preside over a land allotment ceremony, will attend the inauguration of a permanent exhibition on Subhas Chandra Bose at the Victoria Memorial.
PM Modi will also make a brief stop at the Netaji Research Bureau. NRB sources said the Prime Minister was welcome as the leader of the country, but not as that of a political party.
Earlier this week, after the centre said today would be celebrated as 'ParakramDiwas', the Trinamool responded sharply and called it a move linked to the forthcoming polls.
The Bengal Assembly election has seen the Trinamool and BJP attacking each at every opportunity.
Ms Banerjee remains confident of winning re-election, but many believe her hopes have been severely dented by the mass wave of defections from her party - the most recent of which will likely be Forest Minister Rajib Banerjee, who resigned from his post Friday and is expected to join the BJP on January 31, in the presence of Home Minister Amit Shah.
The ruling party, however, has brushed off these setbacks, comparing the Trinamool to an ocean and saying "a couple of mugs of water taken out of it make no difference".