NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that many of the country’s heroes from World War Two had been deliberately ignored, with his comments interpreted by many as an attack on the opposition Congress Party.
In a speech in front of Delhi’s historic Red Fort, Modi said that Subhas Chandra Bose, one of the key figures in India’s battle for independence from Britain, had been marginalized in modern India.
“In an effort to highlight the role of one family, efforts were made to deliberately ignore and forget others in the independence struggle,” Modi said in a thinly-veiled reference to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has dominated India’s Congress Party for the past seven decades, including its time in power.
Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi is the great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first Prime Minister. Rahul Gandhi’s father, Rajiv, and his grandmother, Indira, have also led the country.
The party disputed Modi’s characterization.
“When distortion of history is the norm, need to put out facts that are sacred,” said Priyanka Chaturvedi, a Congress spokeswoman in a tweet, noting that Nehru and Bose had a strong relationship.
Modi was speaking at an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Azad Hind provisional government, formed in Japanese-occupied Singapore in 1943 with the support of Nazi Germany and its allies in the Second World War. Bose, the leader of that government, played an influential role in ending British rule in India in 1947.
Facing a series of state elections next month before a general election due by May, Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have been reaching back into history to build up heroes other than the Nehru-Gandhi family, many of them within the Congress party.
Modi, the son of a tea stall owner from one of India’s lower castes, said in April that B.R. Ambedkar, one of the founding fathers of the Indian constitution and was drawn from the lowest of the Hindu caste hierarchy, was a personal inspiration.
At the end of the month Modi plans to unveil the world’s largest statue - of another Congress leader, Vallabhbhai Patel.
Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and David Goodman