New Delhi: “Till BJP and RSS are in power they will strive to abolish Article 370 and special status for Kashmir. The motto of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of the ruling party, ‘Ek desh mein do nishan, do pradhan, do vidhan nahi chalega’ (A country can’t have two emblems, two PMs and two Constitutions) is a cardinal ambition of the BJP,” Anirban Ganguly, director, Syama Prasad Mookerjee research foundation, told ThePrint.
Ganguly also alleged that Mookerjee was killed for his stance by a “nexus” of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah, then chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, and this is something, “which can never be forgotten,” said Ganguly.
To protest against special status granted to Kashmir and the then permit system in the state, Mookerjee went there in 1953. But, he was arrested on 11 May in Lakhanpur. He was put under house arrest in Srinagar during which he fell seriously ill due to his cardiac complications on 22 June and was admitted to a nursing home. He was then allegedly given an injection to which he was allergic.
Mookerjee subsequently died at 2:30 am on 23 June. His mother, Jogmaya Devi, wrote to Nehru for an inquiry commission to look into her son’s death, but her request was rejected.
Ganguly said: “Nehru visited Kashmir for a week, but didn’t go to meet him (Mookerjee) in detention. The vindication was such that his body was not even allowed to be flown to Delhi so that party workers could not pay their tributes and give him a decorated crematorium that he deserved as the former cabinet minister and head of a national party.”
When the BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014, Mookerjee was reinstated politically. The party observes 23 June as ‘martyrdom day’.
BJP president and Home Minister Amit Shah had visited Jammu and Kashmir on 23 June last year and released a book titled “A saga of Sacrifices: Praja Parishad movement in Jammu & Kashmir”.
Echoing Mookerjee’s stand on Article 370, Shah, in an election rally in Chamba on 12 May this year, had said: “Article 370 that gives special powers to Kashmir will be scrapped if Narendra Modi is elected as prime minister again.”
On his birth anniversary, ThePrint remembers Mookerjee, his contribution to politics, academic achievements and more.
Born on 6 July 1901 in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Mookerjee completed his early education from Mitra Institution, Bhawanipur. His father, Ashutosh Mookerjee, was an eminent educationist.
After completing matriculate (Class X) from Mitra Institution, Mookerjee went to Presidency College to complete his Intermediate in 1919. He studied English literature in his graduation in 1921. The next year, he got married to Sudha Chakraborty.
After graduation, Mookerjee did Bachelor in law from Calcutta University and registered himself as a lawyer in Calcutta High Court. In 1926, he went to the United Kingdom and got a Barrister’s degree.
During his time in the UK, he joined the Lincoln’s Inn Society, one of the four Inns of Court in London to which barristers of England and Wales belonged. He also represented Calcutta University at the Conference of Universities of the British Empire.
In 1934, Mookerjee earned the rare distinction of becoming the youngest vice-chancellor of Calcutta University at the age of 33. For his outstanding academic record, he was awarded with the Doctorate of Literature by the Calcutta University and LL.D (Doctor of Law) by Banaras Hindu University in 1938.
Foray into politics
Mookerjee marked his political journey with Congress only to stand against the party for the rest of his life. He got elected to the West Bengal assembly as a Congress member in 1929. But, he resigned from the Congress a year later because the party decided to boycott the British legislative process.
In 1937, he was re-elected to the assembly as an independent candidate. The same year, Mookerjee became the Leader of the Opposition when Krishak Praja Party and Muslim League joined hands to come to power in the state.
In 1939, he joined the All-India Hindu Mahasabha in Calcutta when V.D. Savarkar was its president. In a very short span, he rose to prominence in the outfit and became its working president and later the president — he held the post from 1940 to 1944.
As the member of the Hindu Mahasabha, Mookerjee formed the government in Bengal with Fazlul Haque of Krishak Praja Party. In this government, he was allocated the finance portfolio.
In 1942, Mookerjee, however, quit the Bengal government in protest against then Governor’s move to suppress agitations by some Hindus against the Quit India Movement. Though he later wrote to Governor outlining tentative proposals for an Indo-British settlement, it is for this reason that he is targeted by the Congress even today.
Support for division of Bengal
Though Mookerjee was a staunch advocate of the integrity of the country, but when the division of India became imminent, he campaigned for the division of Bengal. He demanded West Bengal for Hindu Bengalis.
He had opposed a bid to form a united, but independent Bengal in 1947 that was pushed by Sarat Bose, brother of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, former Pakistani prime minister.
Dissent with Nehru
Mookerjee had several disagreements with Nehru, but nonetheless he was inducted into the Interim Central Government in 1947 as a minister for industry and supplies. During his tenure, he laid the foundation of India’s industrialisation by introducing some flagship factories across the country — one of which was Bhilai Steel Plant.
He resigned from the union cabinet on 6 April 1950 after the Delhi Pact was signed between Nehru and then Pakistani PM Liaquat Ali Khan. Mookerjee was against the joint pact that sought to establish minority commissions and guarantee minority rights in both the countries.
Mookerjee wanted to hold Pakistan accountable for the huge influx of millions of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan, who were fleeing due to communal violence.
Formation of Bharatiya Jan Sangh — BJP’s precursor
Shortly after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, Mookerjee made an attempt to revamp the Hindu Mahasabha by allowing entry of people from other religions.
After consulting with then RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar, he founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh on 21 October 1951 in Delhi and became its first president. This was a win-win deal for both Golwalkar and Mookerjee as RSS was desperately looking for a political front, while Mookerjee wanted to abandon Hindu Mahasabha after Gandhi’s assassination. Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse was a member of Hindu Mahasabha.
The Jan Sangh was founded on some basic principles — promotion of Uniform Civil Code, ban on cow slaughter and ending the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
In the 1952 general elections, Jan Sangh won three seats and Mookerjee was elected as an MP from south Calcutta. Jan Sangh was renamed as the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980.
Although the life of the BJP’s founder came to an abrupt end in a very short duration, his ideas reverberate in Parliament debates even now.
This article has been updated to reflect the correct spellings of Syama Prasad Mookerjee. The error is regretted.