Mamata Banerjee has promised that her government will do its bit to preserve the legacy of Netaji Subhas Bose, the charismatic and peerless leader who had raised and army and launched a military offensive against the mighty British Empire during the heydays of World War II and had made significant inroads into the British territory. His abortive attempts are perhaps best studied in military history books but his show of valour is indisputable. He was a great leader of the people and true patriot of colonial India. But Bose’s legacy is not just about being a military leader of a colonised nation but also as a civil leader, a civil organiser, a former Mayor of Calcutta and a visionary who had dreamt big for the to-be independent Indian state. But unfortunately at the national level, his legacy has been largely muted thanks to the prevalence of the Congress party against which he had rebelled after initially leading it and the Gandhi family with whom Bose’s relation has historically been complicated.
Banerjee’s initiative, which was announced during the celebrations of Bose’s birth anniversary on 23 January is hence much welcome. She has announced that Bose’ ancestral house in Kodalia in South 24 Parganas will be given a heritage status on an emergency basis. The government is also looking at the possibility of erecting a monument to him on a piece of land, a landmark dedicated in his name and his stature. She also announced that the restoration of the house, currently in a despicable state, will be taken up soon and completed in a year, to let the government mark the great man’s next birthday on 23 January, 2014. This is commendable.
These initiatives may not immediately contribute to changing the nature of Bose’ reception outside Bengal, where he has always been a hero, but can contribute towards a better awareness of the man’s indefatigable dedication to the cause of the country and why unlike the Congress who believed in negotiating the nitty-gritties of power sharing with English, Bose was keen to give the British a taste of its own medicine.
While Mamata’s plans are welcome she could also think if the new monument could be dedicated to contribute to greater awareness and study of the man. Instead of creating a landmark frozen in silent appreciation of his deeds, there could be established an buzzing institution of reckoning built to study the man, his work and larger geopolitics of the region. That would be a true gift to the memory of Bose.