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From cover up to conspiracy to murder: Some unanswered questions about Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s death in Kashmir

Many people allege that the then Nehru government had colluded with the Sheikh Abdullah government in Jammu and Kashmir to bury the secrets of Dr Mookerjee's death.

Sixty-eight years ago in 1953 on this day, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee – one of the country’s tallest leaders – was mysteriously found dead while he was under detention by the government of Jammu and Kashmir.

Dr Mookerjee, a former minister in undivided Bengal and later a minister in Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet, was a prominent opposition leader and a fierce critic of Nehru and his so-called secular politics. Dr Mookerjee, the founder of Bhartiya Jana Sangh that later evolved into the BJP, was a champion of Hindu nationalism and expectedly became a target for “liberal-secular” leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru.

Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee was the first to demand the full integration of Jammu and Kashmir into Indian territory and had launched the famous “Ek Vidhan, Ek Pradhan, Ek Nishan” movement in the early 1950s. He had led a nationwide campaign against the Nehru government over the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir.

Dr Mookerjee was arrested illegally by the police on the orders of Sheikh Abdullah’s government on May 11, 1953. A month later, the Hindu leader died during his detention in June 1953 at a prison in Srinagar.

However, many believe that there was a conspiracy behind Mookerjee’s death. The circumstances of his death were mysterious and though many questions were raised the then political powers never launched a detailed, impartial investigation into his death.

The journey, the illegal detention and the death:

Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee and his followers had set out on a journey to Jammu from Delhi railway station at 6.30 AM on 8 May 1953. Along with Dr Mookerjee, his aides Guru Datt Vaid, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Tek Chand, Balraj Madhok and a few journalists had travelled to Jammu and Kashmir.

Dr Mookerjee had decided to visit Kashmir in 1953 to observe a hunger strike to protest the law that prohibited Indian citizens from settling in Jammu and Kashmir. As per the special status granted to J&K by Nehru, no one, including the President of India, could enter into Kashmir without the permission of Kashmir’s Prime Minister. Essentially, Indians were barred from entering the state of J&K and had to carry a mandatory permit card to be allowed inside the state.

To protest this flawed arrangement, Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee had decided to visit Kashmir in 1953 and observe a hunger strike demanding the cancellation of the controversial provision that prohibited Indian citizens from settling in a state within their own country. Dr Mookerjee had intended to launch a civil disobedience movement against the Indian National Congress-led government by entering Jammu and Kashmir without the mandatory permit.

He had launched a protest to oppose the Indian National Congress’s decision to grant Kashmir a special status with its own flag and Prime Minister. “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur Do Nishan nahi chalenge,” said Dr Mookerjee that later went on to become a battle cry for many nationalists to oppose Nehru’s policies on Kashmir.

As he entered Jammu and Kashmir, the Sheikh Abdullah-led government arrested him without any warrant on May 11, and thereafter he was jailed in a dilapidated house. Dr Mookerjee was detained in a small cottage converted into a sub-jail almost in the middle of nowhere, near Nishat Bagh, far away from Srinagar city. It was situated on the slope of the mountain range flanking Dal Lake.

It is worth mentioning Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee was suffering from health complications such as dry pleurisy and other coronary troubles for a very long time. Despite these health-related issues, the Jammu and Kashmir government, led by Sheikh Abdullah, treated him like a petty criminal and put him in an old guesthouse situated far away from the city.

Strangely, the Jammu and Kashmir government had placed him in such a place that it was difficult for anybody to reach. To reach the cottage-turned-jail, one had to climb a steep flight of stairs. It is intriguing to know why was Dr Mookerjee, who was suffering from a grave leg injury, was jailed in such a place.

Mookerjee was not given proper medical care during his detention

According to Tathagata Roy, in his book, “Shyama Prasad Mookerjee: His Life and Times”, a biography of the Jana Sangh leader, in early June, Dr Mookerjee’s health suspiciously deteriorated. On June 20, at around 3:30 PM, he was administered streptomycin despite having informed the doctors that he was allergic to the drug. However, the physician Dr Mohammed said that the advice given to him by his doctor was a long time back, and claimed a “lot of new facts” had come to light regarding this drug. Assuring the safety of the drug, Dr Mohammed administered the drug to Dr SP Mookerjee saying he need not worry.

In addition, he was also administered some powder, alleged to be a painkiller. The doctors advised Dr Mookerjee to take the powder twice a day till the pain existed. According to Guru Datt Vaid, Dr Mookerjee requested the superintendent of the jail to inform the news of illness to his relatives. However, no such intimation was sent nor any bulletin issued by the government till after his death.

The next day, only the jail doctor visited him, and the doctors who treated him did not even visit him. The jail doctor administered another one gram of streptomycin, resulting in an increase in temperature and pain throughout the day. On 22 June, Vaid was informed that Dr Mookerjee wanted to see him immediately. Vaid rushed to his room and found that his temperature had gone down to 97° F and his health was deteriorating.

At 5.15 AM, the aides informed the jail superintendent about his deteriorating health. Soon, Dr Ali Mohammed reached the jail at 7.30 AM, who suggested to the superintendent that Dr Mookerjee should be immediately removed to the nursing home. Shockingly, the jail superintendent asked him to get an order from the district magistrate.

Dr Mookerjee’s aides Guru Datt and Tek Chand requested him to get the required permission to take him to the hospital. But Dr Mohammed refused to do so and is said to have remarked, “I understand your anxiety, but you don’t worry. He will be in better hands there.”

At about 11.30 AM, the jail superintendent reached there with a taxi. Dr Mookerjee was soon taken to the gynaecological ward in the state hospital about 10 miles away, not to any nursing home. On 23 June 1953, the police superintendent informed Datt and Chand that Dr Mookerjee was in a bad state. As they hurried to the hospital and reached there at 4 AM, the hospital authorities informed them that Dr Mookerjee had breathed his last at 3.40 AM.

Following his suspicious death, the government did not carry out any post mortem in total disregard for the rule. Maulana Azad, the acting Prime Minister in Nehru’s absence who had travelled to London, did not even allow the body to be brought to Delhi. Instead, it was directly flown to Calcutta.

The shocking and sudden death of Dr SP Mookerjee in police custody raised wide suspicion across the country. Dr Mookerjee’s mother, Jagmaya Devi, who received a condolence letter from Jawahar Lal Nehru, promptly asked him to initiate a detailed probe into the suspicious death of his son. However, Nehru declared that he was satisfied with the opinion of several persons who were privy to the facts and ruled out any mystery behind Mookerjee’s death.

Dr Mookerjee was killed in a conspiracy between Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah govt: Former PM Atal Bihar Vajpayee

Decades after his death, former Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former private secretary to Dr Mookerjee, had alleged that the Jan Sangh founder did not die of health complications but was killed as part of a conspiracy between the then Jawaharlal Nehru-led central government and the Jammu and Kashmir government.

In 2004, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said that Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s death was part of a major conspiracy hatched by Delhi and the Kashmir government. Talking about his association with Dr Mookerjee, Vajpayee had recalled how his efforts and sacrifice had ensured the border state was not separated from the country.

“When Mookerjee decided to violate the permit rule by entering J&K without a permit, we thought the Punjab government would arrest him and prevent him from proceeding further. However, that did not happen,” recalled Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had accompanied the Jan Sangh leader on his mission.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who started his political career under Dr Mookerjee’s leadership, said they were informed about their leader’s arrest by the Jammu and Kashmir government. It was known to them that the Nehru government had entered into a conspiracy with the Sheikh Abdullah-led government, as per which it was decided that Dr Mookerjee would be allowed to enter Jammu and Kashmir but not be allowed to leave.

Former PM Vajpayee had alleged that then Nehru had entered into the “conspiracy” with Abdullah as it feared that if Mookerjee was not allowed to enter J&K, there would be serious questions raised on the integration of the state with the country. Hence, the Nehru government told the J&K government that Dr Mookerjee should not be allowed to come back, the former prime minister alleged, adding Mookerjee was deliberately arrested only when he entered J&K and not anywhere else.

Nobody knows or maybe will ever know what caused the death of Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. However, a sense of satisfaction exists in the hearts of every Indian today that the sacrifices of Dr SP Mookerjee’s to integrate Jammu and Kashmir into Indian territory has not gone in vain.

The sacrifice of Dr Mookerjee has lived in the hearts of people for decades now and continue to remain so. The dreams that Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee had envisioned for Kashmir was finally fulfilled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 5, 2019, when he withdrew the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir by scrapping the controversial Article 370.

Since the historic decision, Jammu and Kashmir has been moving in the path of total integration with India, and any Indian can now freely travel and reside in the J&K as Dr SP Mookerjee had envisioned.

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