Politics of tokenism


The West Bengal Chief Minister has demanded that the Central Government declare Netaji's birthday (23 January) a national holiday. The Centre has turned down the request, and rightly so. Announcing a holiday is not the way to show respect. There are better alternatives. And it is here that the Congress-led Governments have always confused the people of the country with its strange ways of showing respect or remembering past greats.

When the All India Forward Bloc proposed that 23 January be celebrated as Deshprem Divas, the UPA Government refused it on the ground that Netaji was not the only patriot or freedom fighter. Fair argument, but not honest. The question then arises as to what led the UPA Government to announce a Central holiday on BR Ambedkar's birthday in 2011. The Government may also like to explain why Teachers' Day is celebrated on 5 September (was Dr Radhakrishnan the only teacher in India?), why Children's Day is celebrated on 14 November (was Pandit Nehru the only one who loved children?), was Mahatma Gandhi the only martyr in India, or was Raiiv Gandhi the only symbol of Sadbhavna?

If the Government so wills, the best tribute to Netaji would be to accord him the rightful place of being the first Prime Minister of India's first free Government. But that probably would be asking too much from a political party that cannot think beyond the ruling dynasty. It is not difficult to understand the main reason behind the Congress Government's refusal to honour Subhas Chandra Bose. And that is unlikely to change. It is therefore up to the ordinary citizen of the country to thumb his nose at official hypocrisy and to remember the first Prime Minister of India's first Free Government, and what he stood for.