One of the founding fathers of independent sovereign India, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee ways a·great patriot, educationist, parliamentarian, statesman, humanitarian and above all, a campaigner for national unity and integrity. He was born on 6 July, 1901 in Calcutta, in a Brahmin Family.
He had inherited a rich tradition ‘of fervent nationalism and fearlessness from his father, Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee, who as the Vice-Chancellor of the Calcutta University and a Judge of the Calcutta High Court occupied a unique position in the life of Bengal.
Young Syama Prasad grew in an atmosphere where he could watch poojas, religious ceremonies and rituals and also listen to discussions on the most modern and scientific subjects between his father and great scholars coming from all parts of India and abroad. This, in fact, created in him, deep respect for India’s age-old culture and close attachment to western thought and learning. A blending of Hindu spirituality, tolerance and humanity with scientific outlook and broad understanding, characterised the life of Syama Prasad throughout, both as an academician and as a parliamentarian.
The death of his father in 1923, whom he had been assisting in running the Calcutta University from his student days, brought him into the educational field even while he was still a student. He was known to have the closest insight into the educational plans and policies of his Vice-Chancellor father. He was elected to the University Senate and Syndicate in 1924 and represented the Calcutta University as a Congress candi- date in the Bengal Legislative Council. In 1930 when the Congress decided to boycott the legislatures, he resigned his seat in the Legislative Council, but soon re-entered the Council as an independent candidate, with a view to safeguard the interests of his university. His main occupation, however, continued to be service to the cause of education.
In 1934, Syama Prasad became the youngest Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, which gave him the opportunity to put his aims and ideas regarding education of his people in practice. It was under his Vice-Chancellorship that Rabindra Nath Tagore delivered his convocation address in Bengali which marked the beginning of the end of the era of English superiority over Bengali and other Indian languages.
A True Nationalist
Under the influence of Veer Savar- kar, he joined Hindu Mahasabha and made it an instrument to check the anti-national forces. Soon after, in 1939 he became its acting President and declared complete independ- ence of India as the political goal of Hindu Mahasabha. His joining the Hindu Mahasabha was welcomed by Mahatma Gandhi who accepted that “somebody was needed to lead the Hindus after Malviya’jee “. Gandhiji was greatly impressed by the broad and thoroughly nationalistic outlook of Syama Prasad and is understood have told him that “Patel is a Congressman with a Hindu mind, you be a Hindu Sabhaite with a Congress mind.”
In 1943, Syama Prasad resigned from the Bengal Cabinet protesting against the interference of the Governor and the bureaucracy in the ministerial discharge of the affairs of the police and the general administration and characterising the much advertised provincial autonomy as a mere farce. The way he kicked the ministership made It clear to all that here was a man whom no temptation could deflect from the path of duty.
In August 1947, Syama Prasad was invited by Gandhiji to join the first National Government. He accepted the invitation in the hope that he would be able to influence the policies of free India in its formative period and safeguard the interests of crores of Hindus who had been left back in Pakistan much against their will.
On broad matters of policy, particularly regarding Pakistan, his differences with Pandit Nehru came to the surface quite early. His heart bled so much for the refugees that he visibly became very weak during the massacre indulged in by the Pakistanis against the peace loving Hindus of East Bengal. When he found that Pandit Nehru was unwilling to accept his advice to back Sardar Patel’s demand on Pakistan for transfer of land from East Pakistan to India in proportion to that occupied by Hindus forcibly ejected from Pakistan, and to provide adequate rehabilitation facilities for those unfortunate refugees and for satisfactory compensation for their properties lost to Pakistan, his disenchantment with Nehru’s policies also grew. He did not hesitate to press his differences with Nehru to the point of controversy. The Nehru Liquat Pact of 1950 brought those differences to a climax. Having failed to prevent that pact being signed, he decided to leave the Cabinet and organise opposition to Nehru’s policies from outside the Government. This had its impact and the original draft of the Nehru-Liquat Agreement, which was modified .
The statement he made in Parliament about his resignation on 19 April, 1950 is a dignified but pathetic document of Indo -Pak relations. The reasons he enumerated as to why the Nehru-
Liquat Pact would not solve any problem. are as valid today as they were in 1950.
Founder of Jang Sang
After quitting the Cabinet.
Dr. Mookerjee was elected to the First Lok Sabha as a Jan Sangh candidate from South Calcutta. Within a month of his election, he united the Jan Sangh, Hindu Mahasabha, Ram Rajya Parishad, Gana Tantra Parishad and some independent members of the Lok Sabha, on the basis of a common programme, to form a National Democratic Party (NDP). This was the first attempt at polarisation of political forces in the country on ideological basis. As a result of coming into existence of the NDP, which at that time was the largest party in the opposition, Dr. Mookerjee made his mark as an effective leader of Opposition and a potential alternative to Pandit Nehru.
He had a specific point of view on all national and intemational issues. But the issues on which he concentrated most were those pertaining to integration of the State of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India, the Fate of Hindus left behind in Pakistan,” and the plight of Hindu refugees from across the border.
Dr. Mookerjee took up Kashmir issue first and after tackling it, had planned to take up the issue of Hindus of East Bengal. The providence, however, willed otherwise.
He devoted the last fifteen months of his life mainly to the task of integration with India of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah’s separatist policies and the resentment they created among the people of Jammu and Ladakh in particular and all nationalists in general, impelled him to give priority to Kashmir. He visited Jammu and Srinagar for an on-the-spot study of the situation. He met Sheikh Abdullah,Pandit Prem Nath Dogra and the common people. His experience convinced him about the dangerous implications of Abdullah’s policies for the unity of the country and democratic rights of the people of Jammu and Ladakh. He, therefore, decided to take up the matter in a big way, both inside and outside the Parliament.
Dr. Mookerjee made a powerful plea for rethinking about Kashmir in his speech delivered in the Lok Sabha on 26 June, 1952. He began his historic speech with an appeal to Prime Minister Nehru “to have some patience with those who differ from his policy in relation to Kashmir. It is no use our throwing stones at each other. It is no use our calling each other communalist and reactionary. He should realise that on certain points there are fundamental differences between his approach and what we consider to be the national approach regarding this problem”.
Dr. Mookerjee dwelt at length on article 370 of the Constitution in his speeches. He traced the history of integration of the States, how they all had acceded to the three subjects–defence, foreign affairs and communications–in the first instance, and how Sardar Patel had persuaded the princes to accept the federal structure in which all the units would be on par, in all matters and subjects.
He concluded his historic speech with a constructive suggestion which is as relevant today as it was in 1952. The suggestion was: “Prime Minister must fully assert that we do not want this kind of Kashmiri nationalism. We do not want this sovereign ‘Kashmir idea. He suggested: “If Sheikh Abdullah insists upon a limited accession by Kashmir, then at any rate, let us devise a scheme by which the people of Jammu and Ladakh may have the full liberty whether they will or will not integrate fully”.
The Jammu and Kashmir Praja Parishad launched a peaceful satyagraha in support of its demand for full integration of the State with India.
The highest tribute that a nation has payed to Dr. Mookerjee at this juncture when separatist and secessionist forces were on the rampage in Kashmir and a real threat to the national unity was on 5 August 2019 when Article 370 was abrogated by the Parliament.
Dr. Mookerjee was the first martyr in the cause of national unity after freedom of truncated India. He died, so that Kashmir could be fully integrated with the rest of India. Let his martyrdom not go in vain.
(The author is former Minister of J&K and presently Incharge HQ-BJP-J&K)