Prime Minister Narendra Modi bowed in solemn reverence, Mamata Banerjee clamoured his birthday be declared a national holiday, but their competing claims over Subhas Chandra Bose's legacy Saturday left an election-bound West Bengal bitterly cleaved and disquieted.
The day began with colourful events where children donning the Indian National Army's (INA) uniforms lustily sang its anthem 'Kadam, Kadam Badhaye Ja' to mark the beginning of the year-long 125th birth anniversary celebrations of the legendary freedom fighter.
It ended in abject bitterness when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee refused to deliver her speech at the main 'Parakram Diwas' celebration at the forecourt of the Victoria Memorial after 'Jai Shri Ram' slogans greeted her, claiming she was insulted.
Bose, who Mahatma Gandhi once referred to as the "prince among the patriots", is one of the foremost icons of Bengal whose legacy the ruling TMC and challenger BJP have been trying to claim in the run up to the assembly elections.
TMC supremo Banerjee kicked off the celebrations with a grand procession in Kolkata, while Modi flew down to the city where he recalled the sacrifices of the leader, who went looking for support "embassy to embassy and country to country" to wage a war against the British rule.
Both declared their faith in Bose's ideology, but the commonality vanished into thin air over a matter as trivial as the name his birth anniversary should have.
The Centre and the BJP celebrated the day as "Parakram Diwas", while the TMC observed it as "Desh Nayak Diwas". "We do not celebrate Netaji's birthday only in the years when elections are scheduled. We are celebrating his 125th birth anniversary in a grand fashion.
"Rabindranath Tagore described Netaji as Deshnayak. That is why we have decided to celebrate this day as Deshnayak Diwas," Banerjee said, as she led a 7-km foot march from Shyam Bazaar to Netaji's statue on the Red Road.
Paying glowing tributes to Bose, who marshalled all his resources as he engaged in a military and diplomatic offensive against the British rule during World War II, Modi asserted Netaji would have been proud of how India is protected from its enemies from "LoC to LAC".
The LoC divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan, while the LAC separates India and China.
"I sometimes wonder how Netaji would have felt if he had seen how a new and strong India is taking shape. From LAC to LoC, the world is witnessing a strong India that Netaji envisioned. India today is giving a befitting reply wherever attempts are made to challenge its sovereignty," he asserted at the Victoria Memorial event.
"Each drop of every Indian's blood owes a debt to Subhas Chandra Bose. Will we ever be able to repay that debt?" Modi said.
Lauding Bose for his indomitable courage and perseverance in pursuit of India's independence, Modi said his assertion that "I will not humbly seek but snatch freedom" exemplified his determination.
Modi visited 'Netaji Bhavan', the iconic leader's ancestral home, and was shown the 'Wanderer' car he had used in 1941 for his great escape from British surveillance on way to Japan and Germany through Afghanistan to mobilise diplomatic and military support for India's freedom from colonial yoke.
Mamata Banerjee, however, used the occasion to excoriate the Centre for scrapping the Planning Commission, which she claimed was conceptualised by Bose. "Why the national Planning Commission, which was conceptualised by Netaji in independent India, dissolved? Why the demand for a national holiday on Netaji's birthday by our government has not yet met?" she said in her brief speech at Netaji Bhawan. The Planning Commission, a government institution which formulated India's Five-Year Plans besides performing other functions, was set up in March 1950. The Narendra Modi government disbanded it in 2014 and formed Niti Aayog.
Banerjee said that she would ask the prime minister why the plan panel was replaced with NITI Aayog. She had said earlier this year that her government would come up with a Planning Commission-like body to take ahead the national hero's ideas and vision. "A monument named after Azad Hind Fauj (INA) will be erected at Rajarhat. A university named after Netaji will also be set up which shall be funded entirely by the state, and will have tie-ups with foreign universities," she tweeted.
Modi, who also paid homage to Bose on his birth anniversary, said a grateful nation will always remember his sacrifice and dedication for its independence. "Tributes to Netaji Suubhas Chandra Bose, a great freedom fighter and a true son of Mother India, on his birth anniversary," the prime minister said in a tweet.
Hours later, both sat on the landing on the steps of Victoria Memorial, the imposing 20th century structure built between 1906 and 1921 in the memory of the British queen Victoria.
BJP's battle cry 'Jai Shri Ram' was heard from the crowd.
A visibly agitated Banerjee, who was called to deliver her speech, fulminated over the "insult" and declared she will not speak.
"This is a government programme and not a political programme. There has to be some dignity. I thank the prime minister and the union culture ministry for holding this event in Kolkata.
"But it doesn't behove you to invite somebody and insult them. I protest against this...I won't speak. Jai Bangla, Jai Hind," she said, wrapping up her swift and stinging indictment of the prime minister and the central government.
Modi kept quiet and made no reference to her angry outburst, and began his speech soon thereafter, while Banerjee remained seated on stage.
Later the two were seen seated in the front row while a light and sound programme went on, beaming Bose's remarkable journey of life--in military uniform and meditating in a saffron robe--by a river on the colonial era building. PTI SUS/SCH/AMR/PNT SK SK 01232149 NNNN