Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday questioned the lack of recognition to freedom fighters by the governments after Independence, evoking a strong rebuttal by the Congress.
October 21 marks the 75th anniversary of the proclamation of the Azad Hind government by Subas Chandra Bose in Singapore and to celebrate this Prime Minister Narendra Modi hoisted the national flag at the Red Fort and unveiled a plaque to mark the event. Traditionally, the Prime Minister unfurls the tricolour on the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day only.
In a veiled attack on the Nehru-Gandhi clan, PM Modi said the contribution of several great leaders such as Sardar Patel, BR Ambedkar and Subhas Chandra Bose to the freedom struggle was "deliberately" forgotten to glorify "one family".
Donning the famous Azad Hind Fauj cap, he said it is high time more Indians knew about the historic role these stalwarts played.
"It is unfair that to glorify one family, the contribution of several other great leaders was deliberately forgotten. It is high time more Indians knew about the historic role of stalwarts Sardar Patel, Babasaheb Ambedkar and Netaji Subhas Bose," he said.
Hailing Bose's spirit of nationalism, Modi said as a 16-year old, he was pained at the plight of India under the British rule.
The Congress reacted strongly to PM's attack and accused the BJP-led government of making a "conspiratorial attempt" to appropriate the legacy of Subhas Chandra Bose.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the saffron party was "desperate to rewrite history".
The Congress rejects the "vitriolic and diabolical" design of the Narendra Modi government to defame national icons with the contempt it deserved, he said.
"Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Sardar Patel were completely against the philosophy of sectarianism and bigotry that is espoused by Prime Minister Modi's ideological patriarch -- the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha," Singhvi told a press conference, adding that while Bose had exhorted Indians to fight against the British, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) icon Vinayak Damodar Savarkar had exhorted the countrymen to join the British Indian Army.
"A desperate BJP is trying to rewrite history and create an imagined rivalry between Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru and between Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Nehru. It has used auspicious occasions for these cheap political tricks," he said.
Singhvi said Patel, in a letter to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, had stated that the "activities of the Hindu Mahasabha were a clear threat to the existence of the government and the activities had not died down, despite the ban".
He also pointed out that Nehru was one of the lawyers for Bose during his Indian National Army (INA) trials.
"Was there any person from the RSS to support Netaji?," Singhvi asked, adding, "The Prime Minister and the BJP are desperately trying to appropriate every national legacy."
He alleged that while the RSS and the BJP were praising Bose for his military endeavours to liberate India, their "ideological ancestors had done totally the opposite".
"When Netaji was revamping the Azad Hind Fauj (or INA) in Japan and Gandhiji had given the Quit India call, the RSS was hand-in-glove with the British.
"We reject this vitriolic and diabolical design of the Modi government to defame national icons with the contempt it deserves," Singhvi said.
Singhvi also said to get political mileage, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was portraying Bose as Mahatma Gandhi's victim and Jawaharlal Nehru's rival, but in reality, Bose always had the highest regard for both of them.
He pointed out that Bose had, in fact, named two INA regiments after Gandhi and Nehru.
It was Bose who first gave Gandhi the epithet of "Rashtrapita" or the father of the nation in a radio address from Singapore in 1944, the Congress leader said, adding that the same year, Hindu Mahasabha member Nathu Ram Godse had made his first attempt to kill Gandhi.
Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala echoed his colleague Singhvi's sentiments.
"As you seek to usurp history, let the Nation remember that as Netaji Bose lit the fire of freedom from British by military aggression, BJP's icons like Veer Savarkar acted as British stooges! A sectarian BJP plays the same game of division today! (sic)", he tweeted.
Earlier, speaking at the Red Fort PM Modi lamented that post Independence, India's policies were based on the British system as "things were seen through British glasses".
"Policies, including those related to education, had to suffer because of this," he said, adding that "Subhash babu always took pride in India's history and our rich values. He taught us that not everything must be seen from a non-Indian prism."
He said in the later decades of independent India, "if the country had got the guidance of personalities like Subhash Babu, Sardar Patel, the conditions would vary greatly".
Modi said that his government is changing that now.
Speaking about Bose, the PM said "His ideology was nationalism ... He lived by it. All over the world, people took inspiration from Netaji Subhas Bose in their fights against colonialism and inequality. We remain committed to fulfilling Netaji's ideals and building an India he would be proud of."