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Scrapping Article 370 will be the most fitting tribute that BJP can offer to Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee

“Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur Do Nishan nahi chalenge” (A single country can’t have two constitutions, two prime ministers, and two national emblems)

– Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee on concessions to the state of Jammu and Kashmir

In an interview to The Hindu after breaking alliance with the PDP led coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav articulated BJP’s core agenda as below (emphasis added) :

I give you the example of Vajpayeeji’s government, 23 parties came together, did anyone of them agree with our core ideology? No. That is why we had to put aside our core issues like Article 370, Uniform Civil Code and the construction of a Ram Temple for some time.

One might ask as to why Article 370 is a bone of contention for a national party like BJP. The reason for making this issue a national one is because, no union can afford to have two constitutions, that too a partisan one motivated by religious separatism. If this persists and finds a permanent place in the Indian constitution, it will serve as a model for future separatist movements fueled by religious fundamentalism. One of the first opponents of Article 370 was Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of Bharatiya Jana Sangh (which was the predecessor of present-day BJP).

BJP observes Dr Mookerjee’s death anniversary (June 23) as ‘Balidan Divas (martyrdom day)’ to pay respects to its tallest icon Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee who layed down his life in Kashmir. He had been arrested for protesting against the permit system which was prevalent in Jammu and Kashmir. It is, therefore, fitting to remember the contributions of a great unsung leader of India on his death anniversary.

Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s stellar contribution to India

Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee was an educationist who served two terms as vice chancellor of the University of Calcutta. He was elected to the Bengal Legislative Council once from Congress and later as an independent. His initial plunge into politics, as explained by his biographer Tathagatha Roy, was to influence education-related policies in the council.

Later, he provided leadership to address the plight of Hindus in Bengal. Dr Mookerjee came in contact with another patriot, Veer Savarkar and joined Hindu Mahasabha in 1939. He served as its working president from 1940 to 1943 and later as its president from 1943 to 1946. Dr Mookerjee served as the finance minister of Bengal province from 1941-42 under a coalition government.

One of the unsung achievements of Dr Mookerjee in politics is his success in foiling a bid for United and independent Bengal proposed by secularists like Sarat Bose of the Congress. If the proposal of an independent Bengal had gone through, present-day West Bengal would be a part of a separate nation. In the book ‘The Life and Times of Syama Prasad Mookerjee’, Tathagatha Roy, calls Dr Mookerjee as ‘The Architect of West Bengal’.

As chronicled by his biographer Tathagatha Roy, Dr Mookerjee convinced the British and several Hindu leaders of Congress that a 45% Hindu minority in Bengal could not be forced to live in Muslim Pakistan or an independent state under Muslim majority. [1] Having achieved this feat, Mookerjee is said to have remarked to Nehru, “You partitioned India, I partitioned Pakistan.”[2]

For his stellar contribution to Indian politics and recommendation of Gandhi, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee was included as minister of Industries in the first cabinet of independent India under Nehru. [3]

Dr Mookerjee’s resignation and the birth of Jana Sangh

In 1950, the massive genocide of Hindus in East Pakistan led to differences between Nehru and Dr Mookerjee. Dr Mookerjee proposed a population transfer of Hindus or a war with Pakistan over the matter [4]. However, Nehru did not accept either proposal. As a result, Dr Mookerjee resigned from the Cabinet and plunged into opposition politics by starting the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Dr Mookerjee met MS Golwalker of RSS and was assured of support by RSS [pdf]. As a result of this, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, Balraj Madhok, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Kushabhau Thakre, Nanaji Deshmukh, Sundar Singh Bhandari, Jagdish Mathur and several others joined Dr Mookerjee’s fledgeling party.

The formation of Bharatiya Jana Sangh was announced in a meeting held at Delhi at Raghomal Arya Kanya Vidyalaya on 21st October 1951. It was followed by a public meeting in Gandhi Grounds in front of Gurudwara Sisganj in Old Delhi. In his presidential address, Dr Mookerjee said  [ pdf ] :

“Our party must continue to function (even after the forthcoming general election, in 1951- 1952) carrying a message of hope and goodwill to all classes of people and try to draw out from them their best efforts in rebuilding a happier and more prosperous free India…One of the chief reasons for the manifestation of dictatorship in Congress rule is the absence of well organised opposition parties which alone can act as a healthy check on the majority party…Bharatiya Jana Sangh emerges today as an all India political party which will function as the principal party in opposition…we have thrown our party open to all citizens of India irrespective of caste, creed or community. While we recognise that in matters of customs, habit, religion and language Bharat presents a unique diversity, the people must be united by a bond of fellowship and understanding inspiredby a deep devotion and loyalty to the support of a common motherland…While it will be dangerous to encourage growth of political minorities on the basis of caste and religion, it is obviously for the vast majority of Bharat’s population to assure all classes of people who are truly loyal to their motherland “

Thus it is evident that Dr Mookerjee was an advocate for inclusive politics, but an opponent of appeasement politics. This ideology finds credence in BJP’s slogan ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’.

Dr Mookerjee’s mysterious death in Srinagar

Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee was opposed to the Article 370. He found the rules of the permit system for Indian citizens travelling to Jammu and prohibition from settling in the state as abhorrent to the principles of a united nation. In order to protest against this system, he travelled to the state without a permit card. He was arrested near Lakhenpur and lodged in the central jail. Due to his efforts, the permit system / ID card rule was revoked, but he died under mysterious circumstances at a hospital in Srinagar on 23rd June 1953. Demands for independent inquiries were rejected and it was declared that Dr Mookerjee had died due to a heart attack.

The seed that Dr Mookerjee planted has now grown into a huge tree. Dr Mookerjee’s dream is yet to be realised. Though BJP has occupied the pole position in Indian politics today, it has not made any serious attempts to erase Article 370. The soul of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee will find solace only when this abhorrent provision of Article 370 is scrapped and thrown into the dustbin. Therefore, BJP must commit itself to this goal and implement it as soon as the opportune moment arrives.

Notes :

[1] & [2] Chapter 9: The Life and Times of Syama Prasad Mookerjee by Tathagatha Roy

[3] Chapter 4: The Life and Times of Syama Prasad Mookerjee by Tathagatha Roy

[4] Chapter 11: The Life and Times of Syama Prasad Mookerjee by Tathagatha Roy

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