Sunday, 9 March 2014

Syama Prasad Mookerjee-The Forgotten Legend

Syama Prasad Mookerjee
Shyama Prasad Mukherjee

Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee (6 July 1901 – 23 June 1953) was an Indian politician, who served as Minister for Industry and Supply in Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet. After falling out with Nehru, Mookerjee quit the Indian National Congress party and founded the nationalist Bharatiya Jana Sangh party in 1951.
Mukherjee was born in a Bengali Hindu family on 6 July 1901 in Calcutta (Kolkata) . His father was Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, a well-respected advocate in Bengal, who became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta, and his mother was Lady Jogmaya Devi Mookerjee. Syama Prasad grew up to be “an introvert, rather insular, a reflective person; also an emotional person”, who needed someone else by his side to give him emotional support. He was seriously affected by the early death of his wife Sudha Devi and never remarried.Mukherjee obtained his degrees from the University of Calcutta. He graduated in English securing the first position in first class in 1921 and also did MA in 1923 and BL in 1924. He became a fellow of the Senate in 1923. He enrolled as an advocate in Calcutta High Court  in 1924 after his father had died shortly after losing to Syed Hasan Imam at Patna high court. Subsequently he left for England in 1926 to study at Lincoln's Inn and became a barrister in 1927. At the age of 33, he became the youngest Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta (1934), and held the office till 1938.He enjoyed only eleven years of married life and had five children – the last one, a four-month old son, died from diphtheria. His wife was heartbroken after this and died of pneumonia shortly afterwards.
Syamaprasad started his political career in a small way in 1929, when he entered the Bengal Legislative Council as a Congress candidate representing Calcutta University. He was elected as member of the Legislative Council of Bengal, as an Indian National Congress candidate representing Calcutta University but resigned next year when Congress decided to boycott the legislature. Subsequently, he contested the election as an independent candidate and got elected. He was the Finance minister of Bengal Province during 1941-42.
He became the opposition leader when Krishak Praja Party - Muslim League coalition was in power 1937-41 and joined the Progressive Coalition Ministry headed by Fazlul Haq as a Finance Minister and within less than an year resigned. He emerged as a spokesman for Hindus and shortly joined Hindu Mahasabha and in 1944, he became the President.
Mookerjee was a political leader who felt the need to counteract the communalist and separatist Muslim League of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who were demanding either exaggerated Muslim rights or a Muslim state of Pakistan.
Mookerjee adopted causes to protect Hindus against what he believed to be the communal propaganda and the divisive agenda of the Muslim League. Mookerjee and his future followers would always cite inherent Hindu practices of tolerance  and communal respect as the reason for a healthy, prosperous and safe Muslim population in the country in the first place. His views were strongly affected by the Noakhali genocide  in East Bengal, where mobs belonging to the Muslim league massacred Hindus in large numbers.
Dr.Mookerjee was initially a strong opponent of the Partition of India,but following the communal riots of 1946-47, Mookerjee strongly disfavored Hindus continuing to live in a Muslim-dominated state and under a government controlled by the Muslim League.On 11 February 1941 S P Mookerjee told a Hindu rally that if Muslims wanted to live in Pakistan they should "pack their bag and baggage and leave India... (to) wherever they like".Dr.Mookerjee supported the partition of Bengal in 1946 to prevent the inclusion of its Hindu-majority areas in a Muslim-dominated East Pakistan, he also opposed a failed bid for a united but independent Bengal made in 1947 by Sarat Bose, the brother of Subhas Chandra Bose,and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, a Bengali Muslim politician.He wanted the Hindu Mahasabha not to be restricted to Hindus alone or work as apolitical body for the service of masses. Following the assassination of Mohandas K. Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, the Mahasabha was blamed chiefly for the heinous act and became deeply unpopular. Mookerjee himself condemned the murder.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru  inducted him in the Interim Central Government as a Minister for Industry and Supply. Mookerjee was widely respected by many Indians and also by members of the Indian National Congress, and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, one of its chief leaders.
But on issue of the 1950 Delhi Pact with Pakistani Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan, Dr.Mookerjee resigned from the Cabinet on 6 April 1950. Mookerjee was firmly against Nehru's invitation to the Pakistani PM, and their joint pact to establish minority commissions and guarantee minority rights in both countries. He wanted to hold Pakistan directly responsible for the terrible influx of millions of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan, who had left the state fearing religious suppression and violence aided by the state. Mookerjee considered Nehru's actions as appeasement, and was hailed as a hero by the people of West Bengal.
After consultation with Golwalkar of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Mookerjee founded Bharatiya Jana Sangh on 21st Oct. 1951 at Delhi and he became the first President of it. In 1952 elections, Bharatiya Jana Sangh won 3 seats in Parliament of India including his seat. He had formed National Democratic Party within the Parliament which consisted 32 members of MPs and 10 of members of Rajya Sabha which however was not recognised by the speaker as an opposition party.The BJS was ideologically close to RSS and widely considered the political arm of Hindu Nationalism. It was opposed to appeasement of India's Muslims. The BJS also favored a uniform civil code governing personal law matters for both Hindus and Muslims, wanted to ban cow slaughter and end the special status given to the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir. The BJS founded the Hindutva agenda which became the wider political expression of India's Hindu majority. His legacy still remains influential among the conservative members within the Congress.To voice his opposition he turned outside Parliament and on Kashmir he termed the arrangement under Article 370, as Balkanisation of India and three nation theory of Sheikh Abdullah. Bharatiya Jana Sangh along with Hindu Mahasabha and Ram Rajya Parishad launched a massive Satyagraha to get removed the pernicious provisions. Mookerjee went to visit Kashmir in 1953 and was arrested on 11 May while crossing Kashmir Border at Lakhanpur. Dr.Syama Prasad Mookerjee opposed the Indian National Congress’s decision to grant Kashmir a special status with its own flag and Prime Minister. According to Congress's decision, no one, including the President of India  could enter into Kashmir without the permission of Kashmir's Prime Minister. In opposition to this decision, he once said "Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur Do Nishan nahi challenge" (A single country can't have two constitutions, two prime ministers, and two National Emblems).Dr. Mookerjee went to visit Kashmir in 1953 illegally, and observed a hunger strike to protest the law that prohibited Indian citizens from settling in a state within their own country and mandated that they carry ID cards. Mookerjee wanted to go to Jammu & Kashmir but because of the prevailing permit system, he was not given permission.He was arrested on 11 May while crossing border into Kashmir. Although the ID card rule was revoked owing to his efforts, he died as detenu on 23 June 1953 under mysterious circumstances. However, before his death, he had agreed to a formulation of autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir with further autonomy to each region of Jammu, kashmir and ladakh. In a letter on February 17, 1953 to Nehru in which he suggested. (1) “Both parties reiterate that the unity of the State will be maintained and that the principle of autonomy will apply to the province of Jammu and also to Ladakh and Kashmir Valley. (2) Implementation of Delhi agreement—which granted special status to the State—will be made at the next session of Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly.”
Mookerjee went to visit Kashmir in 1953, and observed a hunger strike to protest the law that prohibited Indian citizens from settling in a state within their own country and mandated that they carry ID cards. He was arrested on May 11 while crossing border into Kashmir.
Thereafter, he was jailed in a dilapidated house. Shyama Prasad had suffered from dry pleurisy and coronary troubles, and was taken to hospital one and a half months after his arrest due to complications arising from the same. He was administered penicillin despite having informed the doctor-in-charge of his allergy to penicillin, and he died on May 23, 1953.His death in custody raised wide suspicion across the country and demands for independent enquiry were raised, including earnest requests from his mother, Jogmaya Devi, to Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru declared that he had enquired from a number of persons who were privy to the facts and, according to him, there was no mystery behind Mookerjee's death. Jogmaya Devi did not accept Nehru's reply and requested the setting up of an impartial enquiry. Nehru however ignored the letter and no enquiry commission was set up. Mookerjee's death therefore remains a matter of some controversy. Atal Bihari Vajpayee claimed in 2004 that the arrest of Mookherjee in Jammu and Kashmir was a "Nehru conspiracy".
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