Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee led a march through Kolkata to honour Netaji

Highlights

  • 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

Kolkata:

The battle for Bengal, which will 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 is due in Kolkata to take part in a series of cultural events to honour Netaji’s memory, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee attacked the centre for failing to declare the day a national holiday. She also asked why when Rs 20,000 crore was being spent on a new parliament in Delhi, there could not be a memorial for Netaji.

“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?” she asked.

The state government is marking the day as Deshnayak Diwas.

“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 at the start of a six-km march through the city, adding, “Why have we declared today ‘Deshnayak Diwas‘? Because Tagore gave him the title… because Netaji gave Tagore’s song recognition as anthem.”

Ms Banerjee then said that she, unlike those who came before “just before elections”, was “happy to be with the family”. “I am always in touch… not just before elections,” she said, reiterating, “Netaji is an emotion.”

Shortly before Ms Banerjee had tweeted that an university, named after Netaji, was being set up and would be “funded entirely by the state, and will have tie-ups with foreign universities”.

Over one lakh people were expected to take part in the march.

Ms Banerjee’s march will 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, meanwhile, when he lands in Kolkata (he is currently in Assam, which also votes later this year, where he presided over a land allotment ceremony), will attend the inauguration of a permanent exhibition on Subhas Chandra Bose at the Victoria Memorial.

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Ahead of the Bengal election Netaji’s legacy has been dragged into a political fight (File)

Earlier this week the centre said today would be celebrated as ‘Parakram Diwas, drawing a sharp reaction from the Trinamool, which called it a move linked to the forthcoming polls.

“We are not satisfied… 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,” senior Trinamool leader Saugata Roy said in response.

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, starting with former minister Suvendu Adhikari.

On Friday cabinet minister Rajib Banerjee resigned from his post (the third in the past six weeks to do so) 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“.

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