Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerji, whose 115th birth anniversary is on 7 July 2016, was the founder of the Bhartiya Jan Sangh and the first Indian to lay down his life for the full integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India.
His illustrious father, Ashutosh Mookerji, was a judge of the Calcutta High Court and Vice-Chancellor of the Calcutta University. His mother, Jogmaya Devi was a devout Hindu and a devoted wife. Shyama Prasad inherited from his father the rich legacy of erudition, patriotism and fearlessness. Dr Mookerji became the Vice Chancellor of the Calcutta University at the young age of 33. In 1937, he was also elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly from Calcutta University Constituency.
Dr Mookerji’s strong resolve to fight anti-national, separatist elements in the country made him join the Hindu Maha Sabha led by Veer Savarkar. He was appointed its working president in 1939. In 1937, as a member of the Bengal Legislative Assembly, he successfully foiled the Muslim League’s plan—led by S.H. Suharawardy—to jeopardise the social, cultural and educational life of Bengal by Islamising and dominating secondary education through legislation.
With his deep understanding of the educational needs and problems of the province, he attacked the bill with such ferocity that even Fazal-ul-Haq’s own supporters were compelled to reconsider it. Thus, he not only succeeded in turning the tables on the Muslim League but was also able to cash in on the growing differences between Fazal-ul-Haq and his Muslim League partners. Fazal-ul-Haq, who was not prepared to bow to the dictates of Jinnah, decided to break with the League and submitted his resignation on 7 December 1941. Thus, with his supreme oratorical skills, forceful logic and, above all, strong uncompromising commitment to the nationalist cause, Dr Mookerji was able to outwit the British and the Muslim League and succeeded in forming a nationalist alliance in Bengal to oust the Muslim League from power. One wonders, if he were alive today, would he have allowed the burning issue of J&K’s full integration with the rest of India brushed under the carpet at the altar of political expediency?
Similarly, Dr Mookerji worked hard to thwart the Muslim League’s plan to acquire the whole of Punjab and Bengal. He successfully campaigned for the partition of the then would be Pakistan and prevented half of Punjab and half of Bengal from going to Pakistan. He thus saved West Bengal and East Punjab for India.
He was elected to the Constituent Assembly of India from Bengal in 1946. Later, he joined the first national government of India led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. As Minister of Industries and Supply, Dr Mookerji formulated the industrial policy of free India. The Sindri fertilizer factory, Chittaranjan locomotive factory and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited were his gifts to the country.
However, he did not continue for long in the Nehru Cabinet as differences over the government’s Pakistan policy in the context of continuous genocide and exodus of the Hindu minority from East Pakistan began to grow. The Nehru-Liaqat Pact that barred Government of India from taking interest in the Hindu minority in Pakistan finally made Dr Mookerji resign from the Union Government in April 1950. In 1951, Dr Mookerjee became the founder president of the Bhartiya Jan Sangh with Professor Bal Raj Madhok as its co-founder and national-secretary. Madhok, who hailed from an Arya Samajist background and belonged to RSS, wrote Jan Sangh’s first manifesto that advocated a reciprocal policy towards Pakistan. Dr Mookerji was quite concerned about the developing situation in Jammu and Kashmir that had been given a special status through the addition of a temporary Article 370 in the Constitution. He wanted the state to be an integral part of the country with equal rights and obligations for which he visited Jammu in July 1952. He was greeted by the people of Jammu with the slogan, “Ek desh mein do vidhan, do nishan, do pradhan—nahin chalenge, nahin chalenge.”
His repeated pleas to Nehru on Kashmir’s full integration fell on deaf ears. He again visited Jammu in May 1953 to lend his support to a peaceful satyagraha by Jammu-Kashmir Praja Parishad led by Pandit Prem Nath Dogra. The Praja Parishad was founded by Prof Madhok in November 1947 in Jammu for the cause of Jammu and Kashmir’s full integration with the rest of India and the abrogation of Article 370. Dr Mookerji was detained and put in detention at Srinagar in a small cottage or safe house. He spent the last 40 days of his life in that “safe house” and finally died on 23 June 1953, under mysterious circumstances. The failure to probe his untimely demise has only deepened the mystery.
“Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerji’s martyrdom will go down in history as one of the most tragic and poignant episodes in the political life of free India. It is a sad commentary on democracy as it functioned in India under Pandit Nehru and on the character and behaviour of men who masqueraded as democratic rulers of the country in the most formative period of her life as a free nation,” wrote his close associate Prof Madhok in his biography of Dr Mookerji entitled Portrait of a Martyr. “He was not merely a politician of which India is having a rich crop since freedom. He was a statesman who could see ahead and had the courage of conviction to put forth his views without fear and favour,” he added.