Kolkata: It is not just West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who lives in Bhabanipur, the high profile constituency from where she will contest a crucial bypoll on 30 September. Many more illustrious names had once lived here.
One among them was Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the earlier avatar of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The massive ancestral residence where Mookerjee lived still stands on one of Bhanbanipur’s busy roads named after his father Asutosh Mookerjee, an eminent educationist. A heritage building now, it houses the Asutosh Mookerjee Memorial Institute (AMMI), a registered society, which is responsible for the property’s upkeep and maintenance.
The building’s rich legacy keeps drawing interest from political parties, especially the BJP. The party had in 2019 approached Syama Prasad’s nephew Chittatosh Mookerjee, retired chief justice of Kolkata and Bombay High Court, with a proposal to preserve the building. Mookerjee, who is the president of AMMI, declined.
Sitting in his study, in a double-storey house just across the road from AMMI, the 92-year-old retired chief justice told ThePrint that he does not want “any political party to take over.”
“We do not want to lose our identity….the interest in the building is political. I keep away from them, for that matter from any politician…,” he said, adding that AMMI does not accept money from anybody.
“Money that we earn, let’s put it this way… the Asutosh college hall still belongs to us, we are raising funds from there and are able to keep the upkeep of the house going… We do not want any political party to come and take over.”
‘BJP’s present politics different from what Syama Prasad espoused’
Talking about the BJP and Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s vision of nationalism, Chittatosh Mookerjee, who had also served as the acting governor of Maharashtra in 2008, said the party’s present politics is very different from what his uncle espoused when he founded the Jana Sangh.
“The talking of excessive Hindutva, nowhere you will find then. What he (Syama Prasad) did was, he wanted to keep India one, Akhand Bharat as he called it,” he said.
“His thing was to speak for Hindu definitely… Jana Sangh worked for the Hindus but never professed so… that they work for the Hindus.”
Chittatosh Mookerjee said that what Syama Prasad did in his time was not what the BJP is doing today.
“He was in a time where Hindus were a minority in Bengal, they were endangered… Bengal at that time was a Muslim majority province. The Congress was divided. He came into politics in 1939, basically an educationist, running institutions. He was a vice chancellor at the age of 33-34… he was basically an educationist and he came to politics to protect Hindus…”
‘BJP didn’t fulfil expectations’
Chittatosh also said that much was expected of the BJP in Bengal but they have not fulfilled the expectations.
“We expected a healthy opposition… In Bengal, they took over renegades…. that was a wrong move… Even if they could not have won the election, they could have been more sincere… People should believe what you preach… ,” he said.
Asked about what he thinks of the Trinamool Congress, the former chief justice said, “Mamata Banerjee is very popular, trying to be populist, even then she lost in Nandigram…”
He also said he is generally disappointed by the politics playing out today.
“Politics is not what it used to be before.. I am disappointed. It is unhealthy, more on money power and physical force… These are two basic things that matter now,” he said.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)