Economics Nobel laureates Amartya Sen and Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee have suggested to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to highlight Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's role in unifying all sections of society in the state government's plan to celebrate the freedom fighter's 125th birth anniversary celebrations that would start this January 23 and go on for a year.
These suggestions came during the chief minister's virtual meeting with the members of the 125th birth anniversary celebration committee, of which the two Nobel laureates are members.
Other members of the committee include some of the cultural stalwarts of Bengal, including singer Sandhya Mukherjee, writers Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay and Abul Bashar, painters Jogen Chowdhury and Suvaprasanna, theatre legend Rudraprasad Sengupta and the vice-chancellors of Presidency University, Jadavpur University, Calcutta University, and Netaji Subhas Open University.
The archbishop of Kolkata, members from the Sikh community and Hindi and Urdu-speaking politicians are also part of the committee.
"Bengal is a land of people having various opinions and faiths. This has to be brought forward. There are very few in Bengal who is hailed by one and all. If we want to celebrate his life, we should bring together all kinds of opinions, faiths, and creative works," said Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee.
He stressed that the celebration and its conceptualisation need greater involvement from the young generation.
Amartya Sen's views were conveyed by historian and Netaji's grand nephew Sugato Bose, who is also a former Trinamool Congress MP, as Sen could not attend the meeting due to the time difference with the place where he lives.
Bose said that Sen had urged him to convey the message that he wanted the focus to be on Netaji's life, work, and ideals.
"Sen suggested that the state government should try to spread Netaji's ideology of unity and equality among the youths. He stressed the most on the question of Netaji's ideology on unity. Netaji was against all forms of narrow-mindedness and communalism. He ensured equal rights and respect to the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians in his Azad Hind Fauj. He also stood by the interests of the poor. These ideals should continue to inspire us, Prof Sen opined," Bose said while briefing about his telephonic conversation with Sen earlier this morning.
Incidentally, Mamata Banerjee is the first head of a state in India to release classified files on Netaji in September 2015, following which the Narendra Modi government at the Centre decided the next year to declassify Netaji files in its possession.
Modi has since then paid many a tribute to Netaji at the national level, which in many observers’ opinions was his bid to undermine India’s first Prime Minister and Congress icon Jawaharlal Nehru. On December 21, Modi, too, formed a high-level committee, headed by home minister Amit Shah, for a year-long celebration of Netaji's 125th birth anniversary.
However, in Bengal, the Bharatiya Janata Party's biggest icon in Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who after a stint at the helm of Hindu Mahasabha had launched the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the ideological and organisational predecessor of the BJP.
Mookerjee and Bose were ideological rivals and, over the past couple of years, Bose's comments against Hindu Mahasabha's communal politics have been liberally quoted by the BJP's opponents.
Highlighting Netaji's ideology and ideals could help the TMC in countering the BJP's attempts to popularise Mookerjee's brand of politics, political observers felt.
The BJP and the TMC are headed for a high-voltage political clash in the Assembly elections likely to be held in April-May this year. This election is being pegged as one not only of organisational contest but also ideological.
Modi might visit Bengal this month to take part in the 124th birth anniversary, sources in the Bengal unit of BJP said.