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Melting Boundaries

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Ideological fluidity seems to be the name of the game these days. The Congress is accusing the BJP of appropriating Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s legacy, claiming it runs contrary to the RSS worldview. Having ignored, even deliberately sidelined, the national icon during its years in power, the Congress is uncomfortable with Prime Minister Modi’s ongoing efforts to acknowledge Netaji’s contribution to the freedom struggle in various ways. These initiatives include installation of the statue at India Gate and declaration of 23 January, Bose’s birth anniversary, as ‘Parakram Diwas’. It hurts the Congress because Bose was considered Pt Nehru’s rival in the party, acknowledged only in passing as a Congress leader who had gone off on a tangent, backing the losing side in World War 2.

Although, Bose was never given his due, his popularity with the people has remained. The BJP is only too willing to cash in on it, particularly as it disrupts the Congress narrative on the freedom struggle, which has been narrowed down to Mahatma Gandhi and the Nehru family. So, the Congress’s efforts to claim Bose as their own, and project the BJP as ‘pretenders’, is proving an uphill task. The usual support from the eco-system, the media and historians, is lacking because any presentation of facts would reveal an uglier reality.

And, of course, Bose is not the only freedom fighter whose contributions have been sidelined. It must be acknowledged that the present government is trying also to honour the memory of numerous heroes – men and women – from every part of India, who led the fight against the colonisers, particularly from among what are described as the subaltern groups. It must not be forgotten that Bose and Nehru, even Mahatma Gandhi, were ‘next-generation’ leaders of the Congress – the earlier lot that shaped the narrative in various ways has also not received its due in terms of keeping their memory alive in the public imagination. Surely, Modi should not be required take on that task as well – it would be truly ironic!

Even as the present Government in its enthusiasm will provide the broad strokes in this more complete presentation of history, it is for the professional historians, scholars, writers and film-makers to provide nuance to the subject. This is because the heroes and villains of history may be associated with movements, successes and failures – they were also individuals. There were forces, more than just their adherence to a cause, which made them do what they did – these need to be examined and presented in the proper perspective, be it a Jinnah, Godse or an Aurangzeb. That would be a true telling of the story, warts and all.