Syama Prasad Mookerjee – The maker of modern India whom we shouldn’t forget

We must live and die for India and her liberty. This is an article of faith with us and it admits of no compromise.”

These words of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee speak volumes about what he really stood for. Today, India is celebrating the birth anniversary of its leading nationalist leader.

In the annals of Indian history, the historiographers deliberately suppressed the rightful place that Syama Prasad deserves in the making of modern India. A selfless patriot, Mookerjee’s commitment to the democratic spirit of India was unparalleled. He left his mark not only on the history of India, but also on the future of the nation. Mookerjee’s grand vision for India’s national progress could be read in his own words:

“Nations live or die according to the character of the people. Wealth, arms, munitions, disciplined armies and navies and air forces are of splendid service but the character of the people, the character in to which the youth is growing, determines the life or death of the nation.”

Rarely India saw such a leader of Mookerjee’s stature who had left imprints on a galaxy of fields – politics, policy, national interest, education and cultural nationalism. Those who carefully read his life and times could agree with the fact that Syama Prasad had a significant contribution in shaping the modern India.

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As the President of Hindu Mahasabha, Mookerjee united the Hindu voices and protected Hindus against the divisive agenda of the Muslim League. However, he did not want the Hindu Mahasabha to be restricted to Hindus alone, so he used it as a platform to render service to the masses.

Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who was initially a strong opponent of partition of India, had supported the partition following the widespread communal riots of 1946 in Punjab and Bengal. Mookerjee foiled Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s plan of Greater Pakistan which proposed to include the entire West Bengal.

When India got its independence, Syama Prasad joined the interim central government, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, on an invitation from Mahatma Gandhi. He was made Union Minister for Industry and Supply. As the Industry Minister, Mookerjee sowed the first seeds of India’s industrialisation. He laid the foundation for India’s Industrial Policy and prepared the ground for the nation’s industrial development in the years to come. It was during Mookerjee’s tenure as the Union Industry Minister, All-India Handicrafts Board, All-India Handloom Board, Central Silk Board and Khadi and Village Industries Board, Textile Research Institute and Industrial Finance Corporation were set up.

It was the year 1949. The Hindu minorities were brutalised in Pakistan, resulting in flooding of millions of Hindu refugees to India. To address the issue, Nehru invited then Pakistani Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan for talks in New Delhi, which led to the signing of Delhi Pact in 1950. The joint pact, which claimed to ‘alleviate the fears of the religious minorities on both sides’ stated to establish Minority Commissions and guarantee minority rights in both India and Pakistan. But Mookerjee, who was firmly against the invitation to the then Pakistani PM, had strongly objected to the policy of Indian Government towards Pakistan as stated in Nehru-Liaqat Pact and resigned from Union Cabinet.

Along with Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Mookerjee is considered as the godfather of modern Hindutva. He saw Hindutva as an instrument to awake the national spirit. For him, it was a source to India’s rich civilisation and its sacred culture, which carries the message of universal brotherhood. It was Mookerjee who took the first step in applying Hindutva in India politics by forming Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) in 1951 which later became Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Hindutva, cultural nationalism and free-market economy were the edifices on which Bharatiya Jan Sangh stood.

Political independence becomes meaningful only if it is accompanied by realisation of the National Self.”

This was what the first manifesto of the BJS observed. Through Jan Sangh, Mookerjee created an alternate political narrative in India. BJS was the first real opposition to the Congress. In the first general election in 1951, Jan Sangh managed to send only three members, including Syama Prasad Mookerjee to the first Lok Sabha. Jan Sangh, together with other small parties, formed the National Democratic Party (NDP) in Parliament and Mookerjee was unanimously elected as its leader. His role in the Lok Sabha as an Opposition leader earned him the title of ‘Lion of the Parliament’.

Mookerjee will always be remembered for integrating Jammu & Kashmir with the rest of India. He scripted an uprising with his famous slogan — Ek desh mein do Pradhan, do Vidhan, do Nishan nahi chalenge, nahi chalenge. (The country will never accept a system which allows two Prime Ministers, two Constitutions and two National flags).

To protest against the dubious ‘permit raj’ in Jammu & Kashmir, Mookerjee went to Kashmir in 1953 as an Indian citizen without seeking any permission from the State Government. The idea was to prove the point that Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India and thus there is no need for an ‘entry permit’ for an Indian citizen. But, while crossing the border into Kashmir at Lakhaanpur, Mookerjee was arrested by the then Jammu & Kashmir Government and jailed in a dilapidated house. A month after his arrest, his health worsened and the patriot died while in custody paying price for his effort to integrate India.

Mookerjee’s mysterious death in custody raised resentment and suspicion. There were demands for independent enquiry, including earnest appeals from his aged mother Jogmaya Devi to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. But unfortunately no inquiry commission was set by the Nehru government. The event became yet another chapter in history of mysterious political deaths in India.

But Mookerjee’s martyrdom compelled the Nehru government to remove the ‘permit raj’, the post of Wazir-e-Azam (Prime Minister) and Sadr-e-Riyasat (President) in Jammu & Kashmir. His sacrifice forced the Indian government to bring Jammu & Kashmir under the ambit of Indian Constitution, Union Parliament, Supreme Court of India and the Election Commission of India. Till 1953, these institutions did not have any role there.

Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s services were lost to the country at a time when they were required the most. However, his legacy will stay on to guide the nation, nationalism and nationhood. It will inspire the lives and times for generations to come.

Mookerjee was a nationalist to the core. ‘Country comes first’ was his watchword and ‘Live and let live’ was the motto of his life. He lived and died for the cause of the nation.

As a progressive political thinker, Mookerjee will always be remembered for his forward-looking views on education and women’s rights. As a leader with a vision, his opinion on nuclear energy was much ahead of his times. As a philosopher-statesman, Mookerjee had his own vision of establishing strong bilateral ties with the neighboring countries.

Here are some highlights of his speeches on a range of issues. Though the speeches are old, but its content and message are still invigorating and relevant.

  • On education

“Indian universities must play a role in rebuilding a new India. Indian varsities must not regard themselves as exclusive institutions which exist apart from the currents of the country’s life. They must saturate their alumni with the lessons of India’s history and civilisation and instill into them the essence of unity, strength and dauntlessness, and inspire them with skill and knowledge and teach them to apply themselves for the service of the nation.”

  • On foreign relations

“Indians have lived peacefully side by side with her neighbouring peoples and races for millenniums together. When Indian nationals visited foreign lands, they carried with them not arms, not ammunitions, but messages of peace and goodwill.”

  • On Nuclear energy

“India cannot remain a mere spectator, particularly when she has all the raw materials in plenty for the development of atomic energy. Within our own lifetime, we may find the results of atomic energy research affecting all the phases of human life.”

“Nuclear power can create paradise on earth and relieve mankind of much of the drudgery. Atomic energy could be a source of power, limitless in quantity, transportable to every region of the world and usable for every need of mankind.”

***

References:

The life and times of Syama Prasad (By Tathagata Ray)
The Lion of Parliament (By Dr Anita Arya)
Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Indian politics (By Prashanto Kumar Chatterji)
Portrait of a Martyr: Biography of Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerji (By Bal Raj Madhok)

Political writer, policy observer.

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