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Ex-CMs BC Roy, Kamaraj latest ‘neglected’ Congress stalwarts BJP looks to claim ahead of polls

BJP is playing up the contributions of former CMs B.C. Roy and K. Kamaraj while slamming previous govts for ‘ignoring’ poets like Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay.

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New Delhi: On 19 February, while addressing a political gathering in Hooghly district of West Bengal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a scathing attack on the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) for “ignoring” the home of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, the novelist and poet who composed Vande Mataram. 

The neglect, Modi said, was reflective of the TMC’s politics that focussed on “vote-bank” and “appeasement” rather than patriotism. 

“I came to know that Vande Mataram Bhawan, where Bankim Chandraji lived for five years, is in a dilapidated state,” Modi said. “…It is an injustice to Bengal’s pride. I see a huge politics behind it (ignorance towards Bengali icons), which focuses on vote-bank politics and tushtikaran (appeasement) and not patriotism.”

The PM’s invoking of the poet isn’t incidental — the BJP has been looking to appropriate a host of personalities, from poets, politicians to social reformers, in the poll-bound states of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam. 

Last week, Modi, while inaugurating a slew of projects in Kerala, quoted Kumaran Asan, a prominent Malayalam poet and social reformer of the 19th and early 20th century. 

On 14 February, while paying homage to the Pulwama attack victims, Modi recited a verse of Tamil writer and poet Subramania Bharati. 

“Let us make weapons, let us make paper, let us make factories, let us make schools, let us make vehicles, let us make ships,” the PM said, adding that inspired by Bharati’s vision, India has undertaken a massive effort to become self-reliant in the defence sector.

Also read: Revive jobs in Bengal, promote phuchka, push tourism — report by BJP think tank ahead of polls

‘Culture important to politics’

BJP leaders say that highlighting the culture of a place is an important aspect of its politics. 

Over the past two months, Home Minister Amit Shah, who has been taking part in the BJP’s ‘poriborton (change) yatras’ in West Bengal, has visited the birthplace of philosopher Sri Aurobindo, the home of Bankim Chandra Chattopodhyay, the home of Nobel laureate polymath Rabrindranath Tagore and the the house of reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy.  

Anirban Ganguly, director of BJP-affiliated Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation (SPMRF) who is overseeing the party’s cultural outreach, has time and again promised to renovate the homes of these cultural icons if the party is voted to power.   

“Culture is an important part of politics,” Bengal BJP general secretary Jay Prakash Majumdar told ThePrint. “But what have those who claim a copyright on these icons done to protect their legacy? They have only built statues.”  

He added: “We are making a sincere effort to give them their due in history books and to protect their memory. We are linking development and tourist projects to their memory while also ensuring livelihoods.”

The ruling TMC, however, says these are nothing but political moves. 

“This is not a cultural war to protect legacy but one to consolidate the Bengali Hindu vote by invoking nationalism and its assimilation with Bengali culture,” former TMC MP and Harvard professor Sugata Bose said. 

According to experts, this is right out of the BJP playbook. “The BJP first used Ram, Krishna and Buddha for religious consolidation. At the next level, it used medieval leaders from marginalised castes such as Suheldev and Gokul Singh Jat for caste consolidation,” said Badri Narayan Tiwari, a social history professor at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad. 

“The party is now appropriating leaders from the freedom struggle and cultural icons for its larger narrative of betrayal and neglect of ideologies,” Tiwari added. “Whether it’s Bengal or UP or any other state, they are doing the smart thing by creating infrastructure, linking it with livelihood and the icons while also incorporating them in history books.”

Appropriating Congress leaders

Apart from highlighting cultural icons, the BJP is continuing with its tried-and-tested strategy of appropriating ‘neglected’ Congress stalwarts. The latest Congress leaders in its sights are two former chief ministers of the two poll-bound states — Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy of West Bengal and K. Kamaraj of Tamil Nadu. 

On 26 February, the BJP stirred up a row in Tamil Nadu when the PM’s rally in Coimbatore featured a cutout of K. Kamraj, the third chief minister of the then Madras state.  

A staunch Congressman and its one-time president, Kamaraj has been credited as the man responsible for anointing Lal Bahadur Shastri as the prime minister of India after the death of India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964 and then Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi in 1966.

But while its flirtations with Kamaraj’s legacy has been more recent, the party has been looking to claim Bidhan Chandra Roy, who served as the West Bengal CM between 1948 and 1962, for a while now. 

On 1 July 2019, Roy’s birth anniversary, the prime minister paid tribute to doctors and the former CM who was a decorated medical doctor himself. The first of July, which also happens to be Roy’s death anniversary, is observed as Doctor’s Day every year. 

Last year, West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh had hailed Roy as the one who ushered in development in West Bengal. 

“Like Gandhi and Patel, we are grateful to B.C. Roy for his approach to development,” Ghosh told ThePrint. “We want to take a leaf out of his vision, which has been destroyed by the TMC rule.”  

The BJP has also been citing Roy’s proximity to Syama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of the Jan Sangh, the precursor to the BJP. 

Party MP Subhas Sarkar told ThePrint that there is another reason that the Sangh has a soft spot for Roy. According to Sarkar, Roy had written to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to probe Mukherjee’s death in Srinagar in 1953. 

During his Rajya Sabha speech earlier this month, PM Modi also mentioned C. Subramaniam, the agriculture minister in Shastri cabinet who along with M.S. Swaminathan was instrumental in implementing Green Revolution.

The PM was speaking about the resistance to farm reforms when he mentioned how then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri also faced opposition from “Left forces” during the Green Revolution and appointed C. Subramaniam as agriculture minister as other politicians “feared” that taking over the portfolio would antagonise farmers and affect their political careers.

Subramaniam was also from Tamil Nadu.

Roy, Kamaraj and Subramaniam join Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose and former PM Narasimha Rao as the Congress leaders who the BJP has sought to appropriate in recent times. 

Sanjay Kumar, political expert at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), blamed the Congress for this BJP strategy. 

“This is a monumental failure of the Congress, which has not protected the legacy it has inherited from the freedom struggle. The BJP has been able to convince people that the Congress has not given due respect to Patel, Bose, Shastri and Rao,” he said. “The Congress has not even celebrated Bose jayanti, Patel anniversary or even Shastri jayanti when it was in power, forget about Narasimha Rao who was humiliated during his lifetime and after his death. What is Modi’s fault if he is usurping these icons when the Congress has not associated with them in the past? It has centered around the Gandhi family,” Kumar added.

“Forget about our legacy, the Congress ruled for 60 years and has not been able to build even a Nehru memorial and an Indira memorial,” BJP spokesperson R.P. Singh said. “They should go to see the Gandhinagar museum and the Patel statue project. They humiliated their own Narasimha Rao who was their best prime minister. If they have forgotten national heroes, it is our duty to give them the pride and prestige they deserve.” 

Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate, however, said the BJP and the prime minister know nothing of history. “He (Modi) is claiming the legacy of everybody from Kabir to Guru Nanak but has ended up naming the Sardar Patel stadium (in Ahmedabad) after himself. This shows double standards,” Srinath said. “All of this is only for votes; it has nothing to do with legacy.” 

Also read: ‘Ashamed to see BJP involved in sale, purchase of MLAs’ — party veteran Shanta Kumar in book


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  1. Why the PM is thinking of these people now and talking about them now at the time of only Elections to sway the Public towards BJP? It is not known why he eulogises past Congress Leaders when he has too much animosity towards anything Congress. Why he is not talking about Shama Prasad Nana Deshmukh
    deen dayal atal vajpayee lk advani etc.

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