As the rejection of West Bengal's tableau for the Republic Day parade snowballed into a major row, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday wrote to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee informing her that the Central Public Work Department's float for the occasion pays homage to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on his 125th birth anniversary but her Trinamool Congress was implacable, saying the state's "dignity has been hurt".
In his letter, Singh hinted since the Central Public Works Department's tableau already featured Bose, West Bengal's float was not included for the parade, without saying it in so many words.
"Our government had celebrated in 2018 with great fanfare the 75th anniversary of the government Netaji formed in exile in 1943. It was our government which included the living soldiers of the Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army) in the Republic Day Parade and felicitated them," Singh said.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, Banerjee had expressed "shock" at the rejection of the state's tableau, themed on Bose and his Indian National Army. It also featured other Bengal icons like Rabindranath Tagore, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo.
Banerjee, while urging the prime minister to reconsider the decision, said it will cause "pain" to the people of West Bengal if not retracted. She had said no reason was put forth for rejecting the tableau.
Anita Bose Pfaff, the only child of Bose, had said on Monday the legendary freedom fighter's legacy has often been "partly exploited" for political reasons.
She minced no words while acknowledging the fanfare that marked the start of the 125th birth anniversary year celebrations of Bose in 2021 in Kolkata had something to do with the elections in West Bengal.
".....the opening of the anniversary year was celebrated in a bigger way, of all places in Kolkata, had something to do with election and election prospects in Bengal. The fact that nothing happened this year....certainly the issue is not as important as last year," she had told PTI in an exclusive interview.
TMC secretary general and West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee reacted sharply to Singh's letter and tweets by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman highlighting that an expert committee of eminent personalities shortlists the tableau proposals sent by states, central ministries and public sector units.
"The Centre has hurt the dignity of Bengal, which has been the frontrunner of the freedom movement and is the birthplace of Netaji....So much effort and research went behind the tableau but it has been summarily rejected without any reason because of political considerations. They have ignored the history of freedom struggle which is incomplete without Bengal," he said.
A ministry of defence official's comments in New Delhi that the decision to not include the tableaux of Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu at the Republic Day parade will not be revised further angered the TMC, which called the decision an "insult" to the people of West Bengal. All three states have non-BJP governments.
"Existing criteria and proposals for selection were scrupulously followed. Since @narendramodi became @PMOIndia : 2018 & 2021: Kerala's tableau selected. 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020 & 2021: Tamil Nadu selected 2016, 2017, 2019 & 2021: West Bengal selected," she wrote on Twitter.
"Incidentally, this year the tableau of @CPWDGOV includes Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Stop seeing bad politics in a display that celebrates India," she added.
All India Forward Bloc, the party founded by the fabled freedom fighter, also reacted angrily to the exclusion of West Bengal's tableau highlighting the contributions of Bose.
"Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's legacy should not be seen through the prism of centre-state politics. The Centre should have a clear policy regarding the representation of states at the Republic Day parade. It can't be whims and fancies of the BJP leaders and some bureaucrats," Debabrata Biswas, its general secretary, said.
Bose had launched the AIFB in 1939.
"It seems the Centre doesn't want to propagate the ideal of the Netaji and that is why it was not keen on allowing West Bengal's tableau. We had earlier demanded that Netaji's life and struggle should be included in the school texts but the Centre did nothing," he said.
Netaji's grandnephew Chandra Kumar Bose, however, thanked the Centre for its decision to include CPWD's float on Bose at the Republic Day parade.
"People of our great nation appreciate Government of India is making a Netaji tableau for the Republic Day parade 2022. But there was no harm in allowing the state government's tableau too. However, the real tribute to Netaji would be to follow and implement his inclusive ideology to unite all communities as Bharatiyas to take the country forward,� he said.