Away from public events and high-voltage election rallies, the battle for Bengal now includes the legacy of iconic freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, with the ruling Trinamool and the opposition BJP squabbling over what to call and how to celebrate his 125th birth anniversary.
On Saturday morning, 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 took a swipe at the centre over its decision to call the day ‘Parakram Diwas‘; the Bengal government wanted the label ‘DeshnayakDiwas‘ – a nod to the Rabindranath Tagore connection.
“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.
“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 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 also 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”.
A grand padyatra will be held today. This year’s Republic Day parade in Kolkata will also be dedicated to Netaji. A siren will be sounded today at 12.15 PM. We urge everyone to blow shankh at home. Centre must also declare January 23 as a National Holiday. #DeshNayakDibas (3/3)
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) January 23, 2021
Over one lakh people are expected to take part in today’s 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.
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 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“.