In an apt demonstration of its political posturing and strategy, on 21 October, 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wore the Indian National Army (INA) cap at the Red Fort in Delhi when he hoisted the Tricolour to mark the 75th anniversary of Subhas Chandra Bose's proclamation of the Azad Hind provisional government. The cap was a signal of intent.
Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi hoists the national flag at the Red Fort to mark the 75th anniversary of the proclamation of 'Azad Hind Sarkar', today. pic.twitter.com/m17Jr46sz9
" ANI (@ANI) October 21, 2018
On Thursday, Bose's grand-nephew, Chandra Kumar Bose, was named the BJP candidate to fight the South Kolkata seat, a seat of immense pride and prestige in West Bengal.
By doing so, the saffron party has further underlined its tactical plan to lay claim and appropriate the legacies of leaders who exhibited an aggressive brand of nationalism. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri and now Subhas Chandra Bose form part of the plan. Sri Aurobindo may well be the next¦
The saffron party has been helped in its quest by recent Indian historical thought that have sought to redefine the importance and significance of the role of the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) ratings mutiny (1946), Bhagat Singh or of Subhash Chandra Bose " and the fact that those roles had been undermined.
The effort is in keeping with the BJP's assertion that many past freedom fighters did not get what they deserved while the Gandhi-Nehru school of political thought dominated and overwhelmed the narrative on the freedom struggle and that there were several other strands that made up for the rising nationalism during the freedom struggle years.
In his 21 October, 2018 Red Fort address during the INA event, Modi made it clear: "In an effort to highlight the role of one family, efforts were made to deliberately ignore and forget contributions made by others in the independence struggle and later in creating a new India¦But our government is changing all that."
But there is a problem with BJP's appropriation of Bose as his legacy is a little complicated. First, Bose's family is politically divided. For a Chandra Kumar Bose, there will be another family member holding an equally-strong alternative political worldview.
Second, Bose remained an avowed socialist throughout. While his party, the Forward Block, opposed the Communists before Independence, after Independence though it became a part of the Left movement in West Bengal. The Indian communists looked at askance at Forward Block dalliance with the fascist forces of Germany and Japan during WWII. For the Indian communist, fascism was but a more exploitative form of capitalism.
But before Bose left for the foreign lands to take charge of the INA from Rash Behari Bose, his role, that of a very dynamic and assertive leader, although within the Congress, is ever without doubt.
On the other hand, the Sangh's uncertain ties with the freedom struggle and its contribution or the absence of it, have often been an issue of stringent criticism by its political opponents. And that is where the BJP comes in with its direct focus on the INA.
Therefore, the across-Line of Control surgical strikes in September 2016, air strikes inside Pakistan territory after crossing Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, aggressive military postures, a bellicose attitude when it comes to internal security in the three troubled regions of Kashmir, Naxal-dominated stretches of central India and the Northeast¦ are fitting into a new carefully-crafted format of uber nationalism. And that is the space the BJP hopes to fill in.
But at the same time, the strategy also suffers from the pitfalls of militarisation of the political discourse of the day.
Coming back to Bengal, while the Subhas Chandra Bose legacy may stir emotions, it is expected to be so only in urban areas. In rural Bengal, Hindu and Muslim agriculture peasants share too much of a symbiotic and filial tie to think otherwise. But having said that, from the BJP point of view, a parliamentary seat in West Bengal is (literally) worth more than that in other states. The party's push for the Citizenship Amendment Bill is a testimony to that. Anything that enables the BJP to steal a march over Mamata's Trinamool Congress in her own bastion.