Friday, 20 May 2016

BENGAL MUST WIN

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee

BENGAL MUST WIN

By Biswadip Mitra
As expected, it's a 'green storm' in West Bengal. But frankly speaking, it doesn't matter which party wins to form the government. It is the state that needs to win. Bengal has been a loser on many fronts for years and that must change.

What matters is whether the ruling dispensation understands that governance cannot be replaced with thuggery of lumpen elements. By simply flaunting a few welfare measures, a government cannot expect to always earn public approval when law-and-order is in shambles. Jobs must be created and the youth must not feel suffocated. If the scourge of unemployment is not addressed, then more and more young people will take desperate measures, even if it means breaking the law.

That's exactly what happened in West Bengal over the last five years. The Mamata Banerjee government came to power in 2011 riding on negative votes against the misrule of the Left Front. Mamata's Trinamool Congress had promised 'poriborton' (change) but that remained just a promise. In reality, it is the much-vaunted 'Maa-Mati-Manush' (mother, land, people) approach of the Trinamool which changed into a 'money-lumpen-mafia' regime.

For 34 years, people of West Bengal suffered the atrocities unleashed by the Communist Party of India-Marxist and its allies in the Left Front. Through the decades hundreds of thousands political murders were orchestrated by the sinister elements in the state. Under the Left rule there was no economic development. Endemic labour unrest, backed by the Leftist policy, forced industrial houses to leave the state. There were job loses, chronic unemployment and violence. The state's economy took a massive beating and the pathetic Communists blamed it all on the Centre, saying the state suffered due to the central government's “conspiracy”.

During its 34-year rule, all that the Left Front bragged about was the 'Operation Barga' -- a land reform movement. To be fair, it did help a lot of farmers that formed the bulk of Left vote bank. But for the educated young people, especially in the urban centres, there was no hope. Life seemed bleak without jobs and a stable, peaceful future.
The lucky few managed to escape the grime of Communist misrule, but the millions who couldn't had to bear the brunt.

However, there was Mamata Banerjee. Young and unyielding, she fought the Communists on the streets and remained firm in her opposition to the CPI-M. A lot many people saw a ray of hope in her. They supported her, prayed for her success and gradually rallied around her. The rest, as they say, is history.

But as chief minister of West Bengal Mamata has forgotten all of that. The hope she raised among the million hearts died as she veered away from governance and did nothing when her marauding cadres plundered the state. The hydra-headed monster of corruption engulfed her administration, but Mamata was nonchalant. The good works she initiated in the shape of welfare programmes and development suffered due to the bad deeds of her party leaders, many of them her close confidant.

There was opposition. From commoners to civil society, they all raised voices. However, it didn't change anything and Mamata remained defiant, terming all dissenters as “conspirators”. In other words, she failed to realise that even if the opposition parties are vanquished, there will always be voices opposing the rulers if they go wrong. She didn't accept that in a democracy there will be different ideas and no criticism should be dismissed as an “attempt to malign”.

Mamata often talks of her personal integrity in the face of corruption allegations, but there's no doubt that her outfit is corrupt. From scamsters to goons, Trinamool Congress is now a party of dubious people. The perception is that criminal elements once attached to the Left Front have been welcomed in the Trinamool fold just to gain more control. While Mamata stays silent, these people exploit their political connections to the hilt. The police in Bengal are spineless: anyone flaunting links with the Trinamool can get away. It's exactly a mirror image of what people faced under the Left rule.

Now that Mamata Banerjee has stormed back to power in West Bengal with a massive mandate, it will be a tough challenge for her to maintain discipline among the cadres of her Trinamool Congress. They could go on a rampage and each element in the party, big or small, will claim his pound of flesh. Mamata herself could become more aggressive and arrogant. Without any credible, strong opposition to red-flag the ruling party's wrongdoings, Bengal may go through yet another cycle of scams and high-handedness. That's the worry.

So as the celebrations continue after Trinamool's victory in Bengal assembly election, let's pause and think what lies ahead for the people of this state. For decades people of Bengal have been forced to walk on the road to perdition. Will that change now?


We sincerely hope that it does. Or else, the 'bhadrolok' and 'bhadromohila' of Bengal -- the gentler, cultured Bengalee -- will not survive. That won't do rest of India any good. 

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

AMMA POWER: ON A FIRM FOOTING


AMMA POWER: ON A FIRM FOOTING

By Biswadip Mitra

Dishevelled hair, tears in her eyes --- Jayalalithaa Jayaram must have vowed that day in 1989 to avenge her humiliation during the Budget Session of Tamil Nadu Assembly. She was targeted by the ruling party --- Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of M Karunanidhi --- indicating that the outrageously sexist political landscape of Tamil Nadu was not willing to let a woman oppose dominance of men. They unleashed their brute power against Jayalalithaa who had questioned the moral authority of Karunanidhi to rule the state. And DMK had thought that it would be able to ‘suppress’ Jayalalithaa and she won’t be a factor in the state’s politics.

But they were wrong. People of Tamil Nadu didn’t approve of Jayalalithaa’s humiliation. They responded overwhelmingly: the mighty lady of AIADMK was voted to power in 1991 as the state’s chief minister.

Jayalalithaa knows better than anyone that life is not a rosy affair. It’s not a silver screen which she dazzled through the decades. Life is tough and rugged, more so for a woman who wants to make a mark. Yet, Jayalalithaa decided that she would take a plunge into politics. Over the years, she has proved that nothing can stop a strong-willed woman like her from becoming one of the top politicians of world’s largest democracy.

Contrary to the popular perception that it was superstar-turned-chief minister MG Ramachandran who motivated her, the decision to join politics was entirely Jayalalithaa’s own. It was because of her sheer grit that from being MGR’s co-star on screen Jayalalithaa became his propaganda secretary in political affairs. It was not liked by many --- there were poison tongues that tried to influence MGR against Jayalalithaa. They did it earlier and they did it again in the 1980s. The end result was not sweet for Jayalalithaa, who felt forsaken and forgotten. However, by the time MGR died in 1987 it was unto Jayalalithaa to step into his shoes, to lead the party (AIADMK) which was known for its anti-Brahmin sloganeering. Interestingly, Jayalalithaa is a Brahmin herself, a Srirangam Iyengar to be precise. But she had managed to bring the party under her control and everyone looked up to her as MGR’s real heir.

Through the years Jayalalithaa’s political graph has seen changes. She has been in and out of office. She was voted out and hounded by the rivals. There have been allegations of scams and that did adversely impact Jayalalithaa. But each time she was written off, Jayalalithaa proved everyone wrong. Each time she returned to power, Jayalalithaa came back much stronger, with vengeance. Her appeal among the masses soared, who believed in her poll promises and in the strong sentiments that were expressed in her speeches.

In recent times there were questions whether she would return to power when Tamil Nadu goes to polls in a few months. There have been criticisms of the state government’s relief efforts during the recent floods in Tamil Nadu that prompted such speculation. However, despite such a negative perception, it is likely that Jayalalithaa will outsmart the DMK and her detractors, to retain grip over the southern state. Talk to the common people and the sense would be that they would much rather trust Jayalalithaa than the scam-tainted lot. 

So why is Jayalalithaa popular with the Tamil masses, no matter what her rivals say and do? People say that as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa has proved her mettle as a skilled administrator. There are no serious governance issues and she has launched several welfare measures --- like the Amma canteens and Amma health check-up schemes --- that have been super hits like her films of yore. Law and order in the state is better than what it used to be; several extremists have been nabbed. Moreover, she has certainly made efforts to put the state high on the growth graph --- Tamil Nadu is now a major hub of automobile industry. Add to that the clean chit she got from the court in the disproportionate assets case.

Keeping all that in mind, and considering Jayalalithaa’s clout in terms of numbers in the Rajya Sabha --- AIADMK has 12 members in the Upper House, Prime Minister Narendra Modi may require a helping hand from his good friend of Poes Garden time and again. Not surprisingly then, the Bharatiya Janata Party is mulling options: the Modi dispensation seems to be in favour of an alliance with AIADMK in the next Assembly election. However, it remains to be seen whether Jayalalithaa decides to ally with the Bharatiya Janata Party or marches ahead alone on her own strengths.

No matter what she does, it’s clear that Amma is on a firm footing now. She’s someone who draws strength from hostility and never gives up. And in the days to come she would have a greater say in the national politics. In other words, there will be no end to speculation whether Jayalalithaa has a national ambition. We have to wait and watch.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

KEJRIWAL'S IMAGE MAKEOVER

KEJRIWAL'S IMAGE MAKEOVER

By Biswadip Mitra

February 14 --- yes it’s the Valentine’s Day. But there’s no love lost between Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung. Or for that matter, between Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government and the Union government. And that’s the bitter reality which marks the one year of Kejriwal government which entered office on February 14, 2015.  But it’s just one part of the story. There are positives as well.

In the last one year Arvind Kejriwal has done what he is good at: to push the ‘system’ which is otherwise like a clogged drainpipe. Sometimes his tactic worked, at other times it didn’t despite publicity blitzkrieg. But he did try, to be fair, to nudge the government officials to take their job seriously and serve the people for which they have been employed in the first place.  


As he tried to make a difference, Chief Minister Kejriwal faced fierce opposition from the rival parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party. And it seemed that the Delhi lieutenant governor (read Centre) will not let the Kejriwal government breathe easy. At every step of the way, the two sides were at loggerheads --- they still are. Kejriwal voiced his concerns and utilised the perception of being wronged to the hilt, particularly after the CBI raid on Delhi Secretariat in December, 2015. He accused the prime minister of meddling into the affairs of Delhi government. However, the words Kejriwal used to describe the prime minister --- “coward” and “psychopath” --- didn’t go down well with many, including some AAP sympathisers. 

Away from that, the Kejriwal government has taken some populist decisions which seem to be working in its favour. The Delhi government has lowered the tariff of electricity; free water is being provided; and illegal settlements have been regularised. The mohalla clinics are all set to take off, which will offer affordable diagnostic treatment to the poor at doorstep. But more importantly, the Aam Aadmi Party government is working on a universal health insurance scheme, with a ceiling of Rs 3 lakh per person, for all Delhi residents. This will certainly benefit all those who cannot afford quality healthcare now.  

The Kejriwal government is also taking on the education system --- the management quota in private schools was scrapped. The entrenched interests in these schools did complain and the Delhi High Court ordered a stay on the AAP government circular. But one must appreciate that the Kejriwal government tried to clean up the system.  

This is the difference between the previous city governments and the Kejriwal administration --- the poor is in focus. Kejriwal definitely knows that his core constituency in Delhi will remain the poorer lot and if he can do his best to serve them, then the party’s vote bank shall be intact in the future. The more the poor get access to better healthcare and education, the more they will root for the Aam Aadmi Party. This is calculated politics no doubt, but if it helps the needy then one must appreciate the effort. 

However, the middle class too has not been kept out of the government’s ambit. The way the Delhi government implemented the odd-even scheme to curb air pollution showed that even the better off citizens are ready to cooperate with Kejriwal. It proved that the Aam Aadmi Party government, powered by the younger generation, is always keen to do the unconventional thing and engage citizens. A lot of credit goes to Delhi residents no doubt for making the scheme successful, but it also proved that Kejriwal’s appeal can transcend class and make people conscious about the urgency of a matter.  

The strike of MCD workers over non-payment of their salaries was a major issue. While Kejriwal offered a loan of over Rs 550 core to MCD to mitigate the problem, it seemed that the tussle between AAP-ruled Delhi government and BJP-ruled civic bodies held the city to ransom. It is in this regard Kejriwal has to be careful: he cannot be seen as someone who tries to gain political mileage out of rival’s ineptitude. Governance cannot suffer because of petty politicking. 

Beyond Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party is now eyeing the Punjab elections. It seems that AAP will be able to garner enough support of people who are tired with the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine. People are seeing hope in Kejriwal’s promise of a corruption-free Punjab which will be rid of the grotesque drug menace too. If Kejriwal has got the ‘system’ in Delhi to run a bit, then he perhaps can do it in Punjab as well. It’s a tough task, but if others have got chances then why not the maverick? 

So after one year in power, Kejriwal may feel good that there’s been a considerable image makeover --- he’s no longer considered “an anarchist” that his rivals wanted us to believe. He is focusing on governance and his ability to motivate people to support government schemes is commendable, no doubt. But Kejriwal must always remain wary of the corrupting influence of power. And he’s got the absolute power. He has to be careful on that count. Power has to be wielded judiciously, like a people’s leader. Not with the arrogance of a monarch. 

Kejriwal also needs to realise that his style of running the party needs to change a bit. He must accommodate diverse opinions. Democratically-elected Kejriwal has to understand that he cannot run an outfit just by sidelining dissenting voices. He didn’t spare Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and Anand Kumar, but such dictatorial tendencies can harm the Aam Aadmi Party in the long run. If Kejriwal is sincere about intra-party democracy, then he must not muzzle opinions.

Friday, 5 February 2016

DEFEAT TRUMP CARD OF HATRED

DEFEAT TRUMP CARD OF HATRED
 
Donald Trump doesn’t care about political correctness. He knows that being politically incorrect will always have a market. He’s a super marketing guy after all, who’s now peddling hatred because that kind of racist rhetoric will find acceptability among those who either live in perpetual paranoia or whose views about the “other” are vitriolic. 

Trump talks about banning Muslims from entering the United States, in case he becomes the US President. He is anti-immigrant, his views bordering on supremacist ideas. 
For me he’s like a Klu Klux Klan member trying to gatecrash the White House. And as he does so, he conveniently forgets that about 5,800 members of the US forces are Muslims, defending a largely Christian nation. 

For him, it is not important that most of the terror plots are reported by alert members of the Muslim community in the US. He is not concerned that his negative views about Muslims and immigrants have been condemned across the world. He continues with his diatribe, negating the idea of America being the land of immigrants, where diversity is welcomed. He’s trying to push back USA to its shameful past when race of an individual mattered.

But it does matter even today as Trump has shown: the focus has just shifted from colour of skin to religion. Barack Obama may have been US President for two terms, but fearful perceptions about the “other” haven’t changed much. A lot many people in the US are resentful of the political correctness of their leaders; many are disappointed with President Obama’s muted response to the Islamic State terrorists. The hesitation of leaders across parties to call a spade a spade --- they worry even to utter the world ‘Islamist’ --- has angered those who were looking for robust leadership in the face of global terror unleashed by fanatics who malign Islam. And it is this anger which Trump is exploiting, just to get votes.

When Trump entered the US presidential race, he was not taken seriously; he was like a comedy show on the sidelines of the campaign for the White House. But look where he is now: Trump is a Republican front-runner and his words are taken note of across the world, evoking reactions of all hues. Whether or not Trump wins the Republican nomination, he has certainly waged a war of ideas, between pluralism and exclusion.  

It is this mainstreaming of negative views that is worrisome for a diverse country like the US and the world in general. People like Donald Trump --- and there are many like him around the world --- make the minority communities defensive. The minorities are made to feel that their desire to be citizens with equal rights is of no value, even in a democracy. They are told that because of their religion, race or inclination, they are not welcome. And that stifles those in these minority communities who wish to contribute to the nation. Because of hateful public figures like Trump, people tend to forget that minorities too are human beings who deserve respect and opportunities to excel. It’s dangerous, because Trump and his ilk feed to fanaticism and butchery that terrorists promote. In that, there’s not much of difference between Donald Trump and the Islamic State terrorists.

In a way Trump is like Enoch Powell, the British politician who was anti-immigrant and spoke about the non-Whites in apocalyptical terms. One would recall how Powell in his infamous 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech had spoken about the immigrants. Speaking in Birmingham, Powell had said: “We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents.” His vituperative words found support in many White Britons, who feared job loss and being outnumbered by the immigrants, mostly Blacks and Asians. However, Powell got sidelined in politics over the years and the United Kingdom today is a proud multi-ethnic nation; the economy is powered by the sizeable minority communities. Yes, there have been debates on integration and multiculturalism, but the UK is marching ahead with people of different faiths and races.

I expect Trump to be trumped likewise and the US to reject him, keeping the hope alive that as a democracy that country will protect everyone, irrespective of their background. A democracy cannot be propelled by means of brute majoritarianism. Trump may be spewing venom now, but it is for the sake of the United States and the values it cherishes that regressive ideas must be defeated by sane people. It’s time to call Trump’s bluff and unite against such divisive politics. And in that there shall be a lesson for us in India.

Friday, 29 January 2016

THE SAFFRON SHAH

THE SAFFRON SHAH

By Biswadip Mitra

During the Bihar Assembly election in 2015, all posters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) carried photographs of Amit Shah, the outfit’s national president. Local leaders were hardly visible. Nothing wrong, one may say. But there was a time in the BJP when several leaders steered the party. It was not like the Congress party where there’s overt dependency on a single family. But with Shah’s ascendancy, it seems to have changed in the BJP. The power duo of Narendra Modi and Shah is calling the shots, whether the RSS likes it or not.

So what have been Shah’s plus points? He’s a super strategist who can mobilise local leaders and cadres in the party, and understands caste equations quite well. He has a perfect acumen in selecting the winnable candidates. An excellent election manager, Shah is often called “modern-day Chanakya”. Proving that point, Shah guided the party to massive electoral victory in Uttar Pradesh: BJP won over 70 seats in the state out of a total 80 Lok Sabha constituencies in 2014. The party also won in the assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana, besides partly succeeding in Jammu and Kashmir.

Not surprisingly then, Shah, as BJP’s national president, became increasingly powerful in the saffron party. And he was sufficiently backed by Prime Minister Modi, who felt that Shah could engineer the party’s victory in Delhi Assembly election.

But that was not to be. The BJP lost the Delhi election badly---just three of its contestants managed to win, while the Aam Aadmi Party wrested power. It led to murmurs within the BJP about Shah’s style of leadership. Observers pointed out that the veterans in the party have been sidelined and there seemed to be no space for dissenting opinions in the party.   
Despite such adverse views, Shah continued as one of the three pillars in Modi dispensation---the other two being Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

Shah possibly took Delhi debacle as an aberration. And he was certain that things would be different in the Bihar Assembly election in 2015. With Modi as the principal campaigner for the BJP, Shah was confident that the party would win handsomely in the state. However, in Bihar the Grand Alliance or the Mahagathbandhan of the Janata Dal-United, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress forced him to deviate from the standard RSS line on caste and Dalits. So Shah tried to win the caste formula by reaching out to the lower castes. He banked on a mix of Mahadalit Jitan Ram Manjhi and Ramvilas Paswan, hoping that they would do wonders. But in the end, despite playing all the cards---caste, personal barbs and Pakistan---in the high-octane election campaign, Shah failed to win Bihar for the party. It was the Nitish-Lalu combine, along with the Congress, which won.

Observers point out that what are the strengths of Shah can also be his weakness. In case of Bihar he failed to understand that the typical caste formula he relies on, may not work in Bihar. Shah needed to mobilise the local resources in the party, rather than making the prime minister the star campaigner. Shah’s approach of one-size-fits-all is unlikely to work in every state election. He has to be flexible while strategising and listen to different voices within the party. He has to accommodate diverse opinions.   

Shah has become the BJP president again for three years. So, all eyes are now on him. With elections slated in several states in 2016, one has to wait and see what approach he takes---alliances with regional outfits, caste strategies, activating local leaders in the party and the RSS, and above all not sidelining party leaders who differ with him.

Be in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala or any other state, Shah will face tough challenges. He has to understand the local equations and be a practitioner of realpolitik, rather than sticking to a rigid formula. The BJP and the RSS can only hope that their Chanakya will do his best.

Monday, 25 January 2016

A NOTE ON COOPERATIVE FEDERALISM

A NOTE ON COOPERATIVE FEDERALISM

By Biswadip Mitra
 
No one knows better than Prime Minister Narendra Modi how important it is to give more powers to the states. He was, after all, the chief minister of Gujarat for 13 years. So once he took over as the prime minister of the country, Modi wanted to change the way things worked between the Centre and the states; he wanted all the sides to work in the true spirit of “cooperative federalism”.

India, though with a strong Centre, is essentially a federation. The Constitution clearly defines the powers and relations --- executive and financial --- between the Centre and the states. And, it worked well when the single party was in government at both the Centre and the states. But with different political parties occupying power, the concept of cooperative federalism somewhat looked fragmented. There were frictions and the states often complained that the Centre was trying to impose its writ on them, especially in cases of Centre-funded schemes. Certain states objected that some of these schemes were not appropriate for them; the one-size-fits-all approach was wrong.

Prime Minister Modi has been trying to do it differently. He understands that the states have a vital role to play in the nation’s development. And so the government has accepted the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission. The government is working on the recommendation on how to give more power to the states, on how they want to utilise the Central grants for welfare schemes.

In a country as diverse as India, it is important for the Centre to act like the benevolent head of the family, rather than a bullying big brother. Therefore, the right approach should be to respect the mandate; the states, even if ruled by rival parties, must be made partners in the country’s journey to progress. The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog should be an effective tool for that, and not just a clone of the erstwhile Planning Commission.

As we know, under Article 263 of the Constitution, the Inter-State Council was set up to facilitate investigation, discussion and recommendation for better coordination of relation between the Centre and the states. If the cooperative federalism has to work, then this particular institution has to be revitalised. We have seen that over the decades, the Inter-State Council has not been utilised properly. That is not a good thing for any federation. The prime minister, who wants to usher in a new era, should ensure that the Council is not ignored.

Many states have long been demanding that certain Central ministries should be pruned or abolished because they deal with matters that are essentially in the State List. The prime minister, hopefully, will have a serious look at this demand as well.

While talking about cooperative federalism, the prime minister also mentioned competitive federalism --- which means that states would compete with each other to get more investments and in turn offer better services. However, we have to remember that not all states are equally equipped in this regard. Therefore, the Centre will have to ensure that there’s a level playing field for all the states. A government which talks about cooperative federalism cannot ignore this aspect.

In the end, it is important for the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre not to act on the basis of its brute majority. India is a parliamentary democracy and it is the responsibility of the government of the day to ensure equity, putting aside partisan considerations.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

WHY CONGRESS AVOIDS NETAJI

WHY CONGRESS AVOIDS NETAJI

By Biswadip Mitra

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

In these times when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is appropriating the national icons, the Congress party is desperately trying to play up its decades-old narrative of the freedom struggle. Which is understandable: the Congress doesn’t want to lose the hallowed status it has claimed all this while. With not much achievement to its credit in recent years, the Congress keeps falling back on Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who played important roles in opposing the British rule in India. No one can deny that. But was it because of the Congress that India became independent?  

The Congress wants us to believe that it was due to them that the British left India. If we have to go by the Congress version then India became free because of their leaders. But we all know that’s not the accurate picture. The British would not have exited India just in fear of non-violent movements. That was not enough to shake the stranglehold of the colonial power. The British rule in India was not a decent affair and colonial power didn’t care much about the decent, civil movements. They responded with brute force.  

So what was the reason behind British exit from India?

Due to the Second World War the British economy was in bad shape and there was a constant fear that the British Indian Army, mostly comprising Indians, would not tolerate the British rule any more. The War left the British exasperated. And the British were scared that there could be another massive revolt like the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. This fear stemmed from the fact that there was a lot of sympathy among the Indian soldiers in the British Indian Army for the Indian National Army or the INA of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

Though defeated in the end, the INA’s heroic efforts to challenge the British might militarily was one of the catalysts behind the 1946 mutiny of Royal Indian Navy sailors. We all know that the trial of INA officers General Shah Nawaz Khan, Colonel Prem Shagal and Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon led to  massive public discontent that spread among the Indian sailors and soldiers as well. There was also the revolt in the Royal Air Force over the slow demobilisation of the airmen which acted as a precursor to the naval mutiny.

In February 1946, several British MPs met the then British Prime Minister Clement Attlee who flagged him about the popularity of INA. To the prime minister they said: “… (a) We should arrange to get out, (b) that we should wait to be driven out. In regard to (b), the loyalty of the Indian Army is open to question; the INA have become national heroes…”

In 1955, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, in an interview to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), had analysed the British exit in unequivocal terms. In that interview Ambedkar had said that it was the “national army that was raised by Subhas Chandra Bose” which made the British realise that sooner or later they have to leave India.
“The British had been ruling the country in the firm belief that whatever may happen in the country or whatever the politicians do, they will never be able to change the loyalty of soldiers. That was one prop on which they were carrying on the administration. And that was completely dashed to pieces. They found that soldiers could be seduced to form a party --- a battalion to blow off the British,” Ambedkar said.

It is this reality which worried the Congress party and its leaders for decades. How can they give up their claim of being India’s saviour? So they had to bury the valiant role of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army. It wasn’t an easy task though. The collective consciousness soon after Independence was fresh and Netaji was very much alive in people’s minds. So now we know why a wary Congress government snooped on Netaji’s family. And we also understand why the Congress never invokes Netaji who was the party’s president till he was forced to resign. It’s such a shame!

Therefore, with the West Bengal government declassifying the Netaji-related files and the Narendra Modi government all set to follow suit, a clutch of so-called scholars have been propped up who are now questioning Netaji’s credibility.

They link Netaji with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini; they say he would have welcomed Japanese rule in India once the British were kicked out. They also say that he wanted to be the country’s supreme leader after independence. These elements want us to believe that Netaji was megalomaniac. But students of history would know none of it was true. Netaji was a visionary and a strong-willed leader, ahead of his times.

He was the jewel among the freedom fighters. He was an Indian first; more secular than any secularists of modern times. And that’s why all of us still revere him.

It’s a fact that Netaji did seek German help against the British. It’s a fact that he got the Japanese to back him in his armed struggle. And neither the Germans at that time or the Japanese had the best of human rights record. But these two forces were opposed to the British and that’s all mattered then. The world then was polarised between the Allied and the Axis powers. It was unlikely that any of the Allied powers would have helped the Indian struggle for freedom. The only help that was possible then was to come from the Axis powers. Netaji was clear about one thing: ‘enemy’s enemy is my friend’. So, he didn’t want to lose out on this count by getting stuck in a morass.

And that’s where Netaji was different from the leaders of his time. He understood realpolitik better than anyone else. With a clear vision of freedom for India, he strategised, moving away from the comfort of his home. He took the rugged path to freedom --- Bengal to Afghanistan, Russia to Germany --- rather than begging for dominion status. It is in Netaji’s courage that the Congress saw defeat of its mawkish ways in those heady days. Even today the Grand Old Party cannot swallow the fact that its movements had a better competitor in Netaji.

To be fair, it may not be proper to cast aspersions on Pandit Nehru when we question what happened to Netaji after the reported plane crash in 1945. But there is no denying that the Congress party, even during Nehru years, repeatedly denied Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose the glory he deserved. That shameless denial continues even now. So if today the Congress is crying foul over the Modi government’s appropriation blitzkrieg, then it has only itself to blame. Netaji has always been a national hero. But the Congress just didn’t accept that.