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Mamata's 'NETAJI' Card
Subir Bhaumik former BBC Correspondent
Mamata's 'NETAJI' Card
PHOTO : Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee with Netaji files in Kolkata. TIWN

The BJP's decisive triumph in 2014 parliament polls stumped Mamata Banerji's 'Dilli Chalo' call. Her considerable army of sychophants had started projecting her as a 'future PM' , but in 2014, India did not think the way Bengal throught. It went saffron as Bengal went green.

Narendra Modi did not need numbers to form a government -- he had got enough. 
 
Mamata's hope of influencing government making in Delhi was over. 
 
 Her plan to put together a 'Federal front' of regional , lower-caste and minority parties , one that would not only  keep out the BJP and the Congress but also the Left parties, had already been dashed before take-off. . 
 
Like Netaji's Dilli Chalo' with a hurriedly put-together Azad Hind Fauj did not work because of wrong timing , Mamata's drive for power in Delhi with uncertain allies just did not work.
 
Thereafter, she focussed on what she had -- Bengal. As the countdown on the 2016 Bengal state elections begin, Mamata is now all focussed on retaining Bengal and returning to power in the state a second time. 
 
A bird in hand for her is better than ten in the bush.
 
Faced with growing criticism over performance -- from law and order to development to failure to seek investments -- Mamata has now decided to play the ' Netaji card' to win the 'Battle for Bengal." 
 
Despite Mamata's restrained performance at the declassification of the Netaji files , it was clear she was trying to push the BJP , the Congress and the Left to a corner.
 
"Didi will tell Bengal what she has done for Netaji," said Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP Sukhendu Sekhar Ray. 
 
And then Ray, in Congress not until long ago, let the cat out of the bag.
 
" She will tell the people that she has achieved what successive governments at the Centre and the state could not achieve. It will be a major talking point in her campaign for the assembly elections next year," Ray was quoted by the media as saying.
 
So Netaji will help Mamata's ' Nabanna chalo'  if not 'Dilli Chalo' for sure.
 
In a way, the politics of the Netaji files has ended up reducing the great hero of India's freedom struggle to a regional entity -- atleast insofar as his political relevance is concerned.
 
Mamata's hurried decision to declassify the 64 files has only helped that happen.
 
In her 2016 'battle for Bengal', Mamata faces the BJP, the Congress and the Left singlehandedly . 
 
In all her previous state poll battles , she had either the BJP or the Congress in alliance. 
 
So this surely will be a tough battle, specially if the Left and Congress can reach some electoral understanding.
 
Needless to say, Mamata has to cash bigtime on 'Bengali pride' and play on its history of challenging Delhi and the High Command.
 
In a way, she belongs to that strong Bengali political lineage (Gharana) of defying the High Command and challenging the Centre-- the lineage starts with leaders like Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das or Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and goes right down to Mamata Banerji . 
 
Veteran Congress leader Ajoy Mukherji and Pranab Mukherji had challenged the Congress High Command and formed regional parties -- like Deshbandhu or Netaji . 
 
Mamata is however the only one in the long line of Bengal Congress leaders who challenged the High Command, broke away to form a new party and then could make her party first the strongest opposition and then the ruling party of Bengal. 
 
Parties started by Deshbandhu Chittaranjan or Ajoy Mukherji , not to speak of the one started by Pronob Mukherji and Netaji grand-nephew Sisir Bose , sank without a trace.
 
Netaji's Forward Bloc does survive -- but as a junior partner in the Left Front that ruled Bengal for three decades.
 
Clearly, the Trinamul is the only breakaway party born out of the Congress in Bengal that has been so succesful in electoral politics. 
 
But its success has been largely restricted to Bengal -- so it would not be wrong to say its success has been in some measure a success story for Bengali regionalism.
 
If performance in government cannot sustain this new Bengali regionalism , the fall back on emotions as political capital is inevitable.. 
 
That is what explains Mamata's decision to declassify the Netaji files .  
 
She has been part of many coalition governments at the Centre and her party had leaders from the Netaji Bose family, but can we recall she ever raised the demand in parliament to declassify the Netaji files !
 
But now she takes the decision to declassify the 64 Netaji files with less than a year left for the elections.
 
India's best street fighting politician that Mamata is, she knows what works on the streets -- at the grassroots as her party is called.
 
But in the process, the Netaji legacy , though it is all about India's liberation struggle,  has been 'regionalised' .
 
That first happened in neighbouring Bangladesh and Mamata may only have taken the clue from across the border.
 
Leaders like 'Sher-e-Bangla' Fazlul Huq always had a soft corner for Netaji and his elder brother Sarat Bose.  
 
Huq and the Bose brothers had tried for an alliance between the Congress and the Krishak Praja Party that represented the largely Muslim peasentry of undivided Bengal.
 
Stumped by the Congress High Command, Huq drifted towards the Muslim League and that , many historians feel, was the beginning of the end of an united Bengal.
 
Years later, Huq's successor H S Suhrawardy even tried to work out an 'United Socialist Republic of Bengal' with Sarat Bose. That did not work as well.
 
But Sarat Bose had batted for an 'united Bengal' if united India was not going to happen.
 
Bangabandhu Shiekh Mujibur Rahman accepted Huq and Suhrawardy as his political gurus, but never failed to acknowledge Netaji Subhas as his 'main political inspiration'.
 
He often said that as he fought doggedly for Bengali rights in Pakistan.
 
It is now emerging that Netaji diehards like Samar Guha had even advised the Bangabandhu on the Awami League 6-point demand for regional autonomy in Pakistan.
 
Netaji picture started appearing in the Awami League posters and banners at protest rallies .
 
The 'liberator of India', as grand-nephew Chandra Bose describes Netaji these days,  had become the 'main inspiration' for Bengali struggle against an unjust Pakistan.
 
Now one can often see Netaji's picture in Awami League events -- alongside the likes of Fazlul Huq, Suhrawardy, Maulana Bhashani and of course Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib.
 
Mujib also had a great respect for the Bengal revolutionaries of 'Agni Yug' -- he would often say : "What people like Bagha Jatin and Masterda Surjya Sen had started, we finished that in 1971 by liberating Bangladesh."
 
No wonder his daughter Prime Minister Hasina gave considerable backing for observing the centenary of Bagha Jatin's martyrdom in his ancestral Kishtia village. 
 
 The 100-member national committee also went down to Balasore where Jatin had died fighting the British to organise a local event. Strangely, the West Bengal did precisely little to observe the Bagha Jatin martyrdom .
 
In any case, these bravehearts who fought for India's freedom have slowly been reduced to local Bengali icons, because India's national history-writing offered no space for them, no recognition for their stupendous efforts and sacrifice -- something that had inspired Mujib and the freedom fighters to fight Pakistan and not to surrender . 
 
Despite the fact that revolutionaries like Rashbehari Bose and 'Bagha Jatin' and later Netaji Subhas represented the alternative front of our freedom struggle -- one that focussed on working for another 1857 style Sepoy Mutiny -- our Gandhi-Nehru obssessed historians only saw them as anarchists or even nihilists.
 
If the British Indian army was the biggest strength of the British in running a global empire, it was but natural for some to plan a revolt in it like 1857 and bring the Empire fall .
 
2015 is the centenary of the first Indian government in exile set up in Kabul by the likes of Mahendra Pratap and Barkatullah , the centenary of the Bagha Jatin matyrdom-- all that can remind us of a parellel strain of Indian freedom struggle that ceaselessly worked for ending British rule by fomenting a Sepoy rebellion. 
 
Jatin had wanted to capture Fort William , his comrades Kartar Singh and Vishnu Ganesh Pingle were hanged for fomenting rebellion in barracks like Meerut.
 
But though Narendra Modi tries playing up the 'Netaji card' as an alternative to the Gandhi-Nehru narrative , he reveals his real intentions by talking of the likes of RSS founder Hedgewar and Deendayal Upadhaya in the same breadth.  
 
He just wants the historical rehabilitation of the pioneers of Hindutva politics and wants to place them at par with the likes of Netaji as as alternative to Gandhi and Nehru.
 
That became clear when Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, a self confessed RSS Swayamsevak, said they planned to put Hedgewar and Upadhyay alongside Netaji and other 'national leaders' in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. The strategy of collective historical rehabilitation  is what this is all about.
 
But Modi , after his usual initial big talk about declassifying the 130-plus Netaji files with the Central government, seems to have developed some cold feet. 
 
That is why his PMO replied to a RTI query recently that such declassification may harm India's relations with some countries and trigger law and order problem in Bengal.
 
In a way, Modi provided this window of opportunity for Mamata Banerjee.
 
He raised the chances of declassfication and brought up the issue in the political realm by meeting Netaji relatives and discussing this with them -- surely with an eye on Bengal and also to fight the Nehru legacy at the national level. 
 
Mamata, like an American cowboy, has been faster on the draw than Modi -- though some like CPI(M) MP Mohammed Salim feel the BJP has tested the waters with Mamata. 
 
Without nothing to lose and much to gain in Bengal , she has pulled out the Netaji card  before the war hero is dragged into the saffron fold by Modi and Amit Shah. 
 
(Mr. Subir Bhaumik is a veteran journalist, former BBC correspondant and author of  two well acclaimed books ‘Insurgent Crossfire’ and ‘Troubled Periphery’ )
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