Ahead of the election in Bengal in a few months, Netaji's legacy has been dragged into a political race.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's birth anniversary on January 23 will be marked as "Parakram Diwas (Courage Day)", the government announced today, drawing a sharp reaction from Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress, which called it a move linked to the upcoming polls in the state.
Both the Centre and the Bengal government will begin yearlong celebrations on the day to mark Netaji's 125th birth anniversary year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected in Kolkata on Saturday to join celebrations. Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will hold a march in the city.
A Union Ministry of Culture notification said today: "In order to honour and remember Netaji's indomitable spirit and selfless service to the nation, the government has decided to celebrate his birthday on the 23rd day of January every year as Parakram Diwas to inspire people of this country, especially the youth, to act with fortitude in the face of adversity as Netaji did, and to infuse in them a spirit of patriotic favour."
The announcement has sparked a sharp reaction from Forward Bloc, the party founded by the legendary freedom fighter. Its Bengal general secretary Naren Chatterjee said, "We oppose and protest this decision to call his birth anniversary Parakram Diwas. We want the day called 'Desh Prem Diwas (patriotism day)' as proposed by the Left Front many years ago."
Ahead of the Bengal election in April-May, Netaji's legacy has been dragged into a political tug of war between Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool and its main challenger BJP.
Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Roy said: "We are not satisfied with the government's decision to celebrate Netaji's birthday as 'Parakram Diwas'. It should be 'Desh Prem Diwas'. We believe Netaji deserves much better. We will observe this day on our own with Mamata Banerjee leading a procession in the state. The 'Parakram Diwas' declaration has been made with eye on upcoming assembly elections. We don't appreciate politics in Netaji's name. If the PM wanted to do it, he could have done it six months ago."
Ever since Union Home Minister Amit Shah visited Bankura in November and paid floral tributes to the statue of a tribal man, reportedly mistaking it for freedom fighter Birsa Munda, other iconic figures like Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda have also been drawn into the fight between the two parties over Bengal's cultural icons.
Earlier this month, Mamata Banerjee had said the state would mark Netaji's birth anniversary as "Desh Nayak Diwas".
"I personally feel we haven't done anything important for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose after independence. I have written a letter to Centre to declare January 23, birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, as a national holiday. It is my demand," the Chief Minister said.
She also demanded that the central government declassify all files related to Netaji.
The BJP, which has mounted an intense campaign to oust the Mamata Banerjee government in the election, has also launched a big effort to honour Netaji.
PM Modi heads a committee set up to oversee the year of celebrations. The other members are "distinguished citizens, historians, authors, experts, family members of Bose, as well as eminent persons associated with Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army)". Opposition leaders like Congress's Manmohan Singh, Mamata Banerjee and prominent Bengal celebrities will also be a part of the effort.
Mamata Banerjee, too, named a panel for Netaji's 125th birth anniversary celebrations. They include Nobel Laureates Amartya Sen and Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee as well as Harvard historian Sugata Bose who is also grand nephew of Netaji. Professor Bose, a former Trinamool MP, did not figure in the Prime Minister's committee which has four other members of the Bose family.
Today, Professor Sugata Bose, historian and grand nephew of Netaji - said he was more than just a warrior. "Netaji had a vision for a secular India. That should also be remembered," he said.