History would have many such stories of how coups are made and unmade. When West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee declassified 60-odd files on Subhas Chandra Bose lying with the state government in Kolkata in September, 2015, very few would have thought what the BJP leadership, particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would do to kick off its own operation to install Bengal’s long-worshipped hero in the party’s pantheon of new gods. Many in political circles, especially among the Trinamool Congress party’s ranks believe that Modi is leaving no stone unturned to hijack the myth and magic of Netaji by all means.
“Mamata Bandyopadhyay was the first one to declassify and release Netaji’s files lying with the state government. She had shown the way. She has been fighting relentlessly for bringing out the truth about Netaji’s disappearance. She has all along been very genuine and spontaneous in her approach. What the BJP leadership is trying now is yet another jumla. Prime Minister Modi, known for his marketing gimmicks has lately found Netaji as another marketing tool to steer his party’s way through in Bengal in the 2019 polls. It’s not going to work,” says Purnendu Basu, senior Trinamool Congress member in the Mamata Banerjee cabinet.
Basu says: “These people have no inheritance of India’s freedom struggle. BJP as a party was born only in 1982. They are now up to earning some credibility by way of icon appreciation and by trying to hijack these great leaders of freedom movement. They don’t mean what they say. Be it Sardar Patel or Netaji, BJP’s fight is against one family, the Nehru-Gandhis, and they are using these names and personalities to undermine and humiliate that particular family. They have suddenly come from nowhere, without any inkling of what happened during the freedom movement.”
Whatever the Trinamool Congress leaders may say, the BJP leadership does not seem to be paying any heed. On the 75th anniversary of Bose’s declaration of the formation of India’s first independent government — the Azad Hind Government on October 21, 1943, PM Modi preferred wearing a Netaji cap and announced a special award in the name of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, which will be given every year to police personnel who do excellent work in rescue and relief operations during any kind of disaster. He also dedicated a police memorial and museum in Delhi to the nation.
The game of one-upmanship between Modi and Mamata Banerjee over Bengal’s national icon had begun much earlier. The West Bengal chief minister minced no words to lash out at the Narendra Modi government for not declaring Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s birthday a national holiday and said the freedom fighter is yet to get his due honours. She has been demanding that the people of this country are still keen on finding out the truth about Netaji’s disappearance, which the Modi government is yet to do.
“The birthday of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose has not yet been declared a national holiday. Can’t we show this much respect to him? The state had announced public holiday on January 23 years ago. If the ruling dispensation cannot honour Netaji, then it is best not to keep any expectation from them. The people of the country want to know what happened to him. There is a version which only a section believes. The truth should come out. If there is nothing to hide, why is the centre not declassifying (the files),” the chief minister has said.
Banerjee used the occasion of disbanding the Planning Commission by the centre to hit out at the Modi government and said: “Netaji had envisaged the formation of the Planning Commission but it was disbanded (by Modi government).”
Chandra Kumar Bose, state BJP vice president and Netaji’s grand nephew, on his part, raises some pertinent points questioning Banerjee on her focus on Netaji. While conceding that it was the chief minister who had taken the initiative in declassifying the Netaji files, Bose says: “There was some political twist in her acts and gestures. Out of the 64 files that she declassified, there is one file which only has a cover and nothing inside. This, according to my sources, is Biju Patnaik’s file which could have revealed so many interesting facts including how the then Orissa government used to spy on Netaji’s family members. She did it keeping in mind a possible political alliance with the Biju Janata Dal in the name of Mahagathbandhan. Had she been genuine in her intents to bring out the truth about Netaji, she would have released all the files in their entirety.”
Interestingly, a candidly outspoken Bose also demands that the Modi government should pressure and ensure that the Japanese government and the Russian government release all the Netaji files in their possession. “The Japanese government admitted that it has five files but they have declassified only two of them. What is there in the remaining three files? Indians would like to know that. The erstwhile KGB brass mentioned to the Mukherjee Commission that if the Indian Prime Minister writes to the Russian president and asks for the Netaji files, they would release all the files with them. If the government of the day wants to appreciate contribution of Netaji, it should do this without any further delay,” says Bose.
While the Bose family is happy over the way the Prime Minister has moved to respect Bose’s legacy, it would like the government to make a formal announcement that the Netaji mystery is yet to be resolved. And that would put to rest various speculations, interpretations, explanations and so many fictitious Netajis to emerge.