Amid BJP-TMC contest over Bengali icons, Centre forms panel to plan Netaji anniversary celebrations

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The Centre on Saturday announced a high-level committee, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to plan and decide on activities to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary celebrations of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, starting January 23.

The 85-member committee, which has as many as 10 central ministers, seven chief ministers and several parliamentarians, also includes distinguished citizens, historians, authors, experts, family members of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, as well as eminent persons associated with Azad Hind Fauj (INA), according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Culture. It also features actors Kajol and Mithun Chakrabarty, musician A R Rahman, cricketer Sourav Ganguly, and Medanta chairman Ravi Kasliwal. Raghvendra Singh, Secretary (Culture), is the convenor of the panel. Chief Ministers Naveen Patnaik (Odisha), Neiphui Rio (Nagaland), Biren Singh (Manipur), Zoramthanga ( Mizoram), Biplab Kumar Deb (Tripura) and Conrad Sangma (Meghalaya) are also included.

With the BJP preparing for a tough battle in the upcoming Assembly elections in West Bengal, the committee assumes political significance too. It features several BJP leaders from Bengal, including those in the Centre, such as Babul Supriyo and Debasree Choudhury, BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh, and MPs Roopa Ganguly, Raju Bista, Sunil Mondol, Jagannath Sarkar, Jayanta Kumar Roy, Saumitra Khan, Khagen Murmu and Jyotirmay Singh Mahato. With an overwhelming presence of BJP leaders, it also has Rajya Sabha members Swapan Dasgupta and Rajeev Chandrasekhar. Suvendu Adhikari, who resigned as TMC MLA to join the BJP, is also included.

While the ruling TMC in Bengal is represented by Sudip Bandhyopadhyay, apart from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee , Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury are included in the panel.

Ever since it started efforts to make inroads in West Bengal, where politics was once dominated by the Left and Congress, and later by the TMC, the BJP has been trying to appropriate Bose and his legacy. The party criticises the Congress for sidelining leaders like Bose and B R Ambedkar to project the Nehru-Gandhi family. It is now in a contest with the TMC to appropriate the legacies of Bengali icons ahead of the Assembly polls in the state, with the BJP-led Centre and TMC-led West Bengal government vying with each other to mark Netaji’s anniversary in a grand way.

Detailing the TMC government’s plans, Mamata Banerjee had announced setting up of a national university in Bose’s name, Azad Hind memorial, a body like the state planning commission to honour Netaji and books on his life. Banerjee also said that January 23 will be celebrated with a grand parade in Kolkata and the Independence Day parade in the city will be dedicated to Netaji. The CM said she has written to the Centre, demanding that January 23 be declared a national holiday and all records relating to Bose’s disappearance be made public.

The Centre had announced the constitution of this panel more than two weeks ago, initially planned to be headed by Union Home Minister Amit Shah. But sources say the delay in its formation happened as the BJP leadership has been busy tackling the farmer protests and planning the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine.

As per the Ministry’s statement, the committee will lend guidance to the commemoration activities in Delhi, Kolkata and other places associated with Netaji and Azad Hind Fauj, in India and abroad. It is likely to meet soon.

Keen to not miss the bus ahead of the Assembly elections, the Ministry of Culture is finalising its own schedule of activities. Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patel — also part of the central panel — told The Sunday Express, “The Ministry of Culture has planned several activities to mark this momentous occasion. Even as Kolkata will be a starting point on January 23, the year-long celebrations will spread across the entire country.”

Patel has already chaired a meeting with senior officials from the ministry, besides family members of Bose and a section of historians and Army veterans. As per the deliberations, the Bose museum at Red Fort, inaugurated by PM Modi on Netaji’s 122nd birth anniversary, will be expanded and a dedicated museum will come up in Kolkata. A calendar of important dates associated with Netaji will be drawn up and embassies will be involved in taking the commemoration beyond Indian shores. On January 23, a grand exhibition on Netaji will be held at Victoria Memorial, Kolkata.





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