Harvard professor, Netaji grandnephew pitches for education (Election Special)

Kolkata, March 26: Blending a lineage of erudition and nationalism, Harvard University history professor Sugata Bose, grandnephew of Indian revolutionary Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, envisions a globally competent India in terms of education as he joins the political battle for the Lok Sabha elections.

Attired in cotton kurtas and churidars, the standard attire of Indian politicos, the Trinamool Congress candidate presents a picture of unassuming ease in both urban and rural Bengal as he sets about attending workers’ meetings in the Jadavpur constituency. His mother Krishna, an eminent writer and educationist, is a three time parliamentarian from the constituency.

“I will continue to write and read books…I have come from the world of education to try and make a contribution in the field of parliamentary politics,” Bose told IANS in an interview here at his leafy Sarat Bose Road residence in south Kolkata.

“We have to spend at least six percent of our GDP on education, central and state governments combined, and that will be a demand that I will raise in parliament. “We have to compete globally, we have to aim high, there is no reason why we should be satisfied with mediocrity,” he contended.

The 57-year-old, self-confessed “man of scholarly pursuits”, who has the Gardiner Chair of Oceanic History at Harvard University at Cambridge, US, and who has authored Netaji’s biography “His Majesty’s Opponent”, iterated that he agreed to join politics in view of the present situation in India.

Speaking like a seasoned politician, he brushed aside contradictions of his role as an educator and his political ambitions.

“First as a historian, I believe the 2014 election is a historic election. It is probably the most important general election after Independence. The Congress will lose badly, the BJP is rising in the north and the west of the country but they believe in religious majoritarianism, while we believe, in the east and the south, in federal unity,” said Sugato.

Secondly, with 50 percent of the population below 25 years, Bose talks about demographic dividend, but prophesies it could turn into a demographic disaster in the absence of good education for the young generation.

“So I would like to place education at the very top of our political agenda,” said the authority on modern south Asian history, who also doubles as chairman of the Mentor Group for Presidency University, Kolkata.

A soft but assertive speaker, Bose invoked his grand uncle’s famous call “Delhi chalo” to begin his election campaign for the Jadavpur Lok Sabha seat, recently.

Countering the argument that he is banking on Netaji’s name for gains, he pointed out that the leader “belongs to the nation”.

“Netaji used to say that family and his country is co-terminus, so I believe every Indian is a member of Netaji’s family. I claim no special privilege at all in that respect,” he said.

Responding to a query on dynastic politics, the historian maintained that the Bose family, unlike the Gandhi clan that has held sway over Indian politics for decades, has “never abused” the privilege.

“You can’t compare us with the family that has been prime minister for 40 years…I would say 50 years because even the last 10 years de facto was being run by the family…there is no comparison there…we have not been in power, nor enjoyed or abused the fruits of power ever.

“No, Bose has never been a minister in post-Independent India…my grandfather was in the interim government in 1946 before Independence, but post-Independence no member has been a minister,” he said.

Pragmatic in his approach, Bose pitched for studying the best experiments in the world in the field of education and applying it in India, including going for corrective measures such as “combining teaching and research”.

Admitting that he was “coaxed and cajoled for a while” by Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee into joining politics, Bose in his new avatar of a “public servant” will be running a “positive campaign” sans any political attacks.”She (Mamata Banerjee) said ‘that’s fine, you can be yourself’ and that allayed my concerns,” said Bose, familiar with the masses in rural areas in the state, courtesy his PhD work on agrarian economy and society of colonial India.

“I will simply ask the people in my constituency to compare the 34 years of stagnation under the CPI-M rule and the new work culture introduced in 34 months by the Trinamool government, by Mamata Banerjee.”

(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at sahana.g@ians.in)

IANS