Shyama Prasad Mukherjee is among those valiant voices of contemporary India, who was planned to be forgotten. A tendency has pre-occupied itself after Nehruvian era that whosoever didn’t endorse or stand by the Nehruvian nationalism narrative was moved out from the regular discourse. For school going children, their NCERT textbooks will name Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose or Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in two paragraphs, along with many other nationalists who are not in the books at all. Dr Mukherjee is not an exception here. Though one may argue that he lived merely for six more years after independence, and thus his influence over contemporary Indian history has its limits. But, it is significantly urgent to let children and people know that what he died for in 1953. Why a certain political group today name his as the father of Hindu Nationalism along with Vinayak Damodar Savarkar? What were his other contributions, regarding struggle for the independence, drafting of the constitution, towards society, education, institution builder and a political ideologue? These are some of the pressing questions which must be answered and remembered on his 114th birthday on 6th July, 2015.
Dr Mukherjee ( 6th July, 1901) was born in a Bengali Brahmin family to a celebrity father Dr. Ashutosh Mukherjee and mother, Jogmaya Mukherjee. His father Dr. Ashutosh Mukherjee was a judge of the High Court of Judicature at Fort Williams, Calcutta. He later became the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University. When one takes birth with a silver spoon in mouth, it also comes up with a burden of responsibilities. Many accounts reveal that Dr Mukherjee grew up to be an introvert and emotional person. He suffered a huge personal setback, when he lost his wife Sudha Devi at a very early age, never to marry again. He was one of the highest qualified people among his contemporaries. He completed his BA (Hons.) English in 1921 and MA in Bengali in 1923 from Calcutta University. He left for England in 1926 to study at Lincoln’s Inn and became a barrister in 1927. A patriot and nationalist, he deeply understood the links of language and nationalism. During his regime as the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University (1934-1938), which was the youngest appointment in office, he invited Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore to deliver the convocation address first time in Bengali.
Dr Mukherjee took the ladder of council politics to make a sober entry into Bengal Legislative Council in 1929 as a Congress representative. With this beginning, he carried on being a part of council politics and also led to many protests in Bengal when called for through Gandhian mass movements. The rise of communal separatists under Muslim League, and Congress’ failure to disown and displease them alienated Dr Mukherjee. By mid 1940s, this process was almost complete and he emerged as a strong leader of the Hindus. He joined Hindu Mahasabha and became its President in 1944. He strongly believed that Hindus should have a stronger voice to counteract against the Muslim communalists led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He didn’t want to present the Hindu Mahasabha as a Hindu dominated party, and appealed continuously that the party belonged to people from all the religious groupings.
Dr Mukherjee was a very vocal member of the Constituent Assembly for drafting the Constitution of India. He always protested on issues, whenever he felt that they are not in the interest of the overall interest of the nation. Despite being a member of Hindu Mahasabha, he was inducted as a Minister of Industry and Supply in the interim government of Jawaharlal Nehru. However, he parted ways with Pundit Nehru soon after the Delhi Pact of 1950, also called Nehru- Liyaqat Pact. This was an agreement between the governments of India and Pakistan regarding security and rights of the minorities. This was paradoxical, as reports had flocked in that more than one million refugees have migrated to West Bengal, seeing the tyrannical and exploitative regime in East Bengal. Dr Mukherjee felt disgusted with Pundit Nehru having invited Liyaqat Ali Khan, then Prime Minister of Pakistan to Delhi to sign a treaty about rights and security of minorities when such a mass exodus has taken place. He was also in favour of providing alternative political choices to people of India, and with aid and advice of M S Golwalkar founded Bhartiya Jan Sangh on 21st October 1951. The BJS favoured the notions of Hindu Nationalism which covered many aspects under its ambit. The major ones included opposition of Muslim appeasement, dissent against special status to Kashmir, banning of cow slaughter and uniting Hindus under the vast cultural identity associated to the nation.
Dr Mukherjee, from the days of Constituent Assembly debates was opposed to Article 370. He saw it as the Balkanisation of India. As the entry procedure in Kashmir, no one could enter into the region without the permission of Kashmiri Prime Minister. This was the infamous permit system, which the Nehru’s government had endorsed and accepted. For a nationalist such as Dr Mukherjee who oversaw the realisation of hard fought dream of Indian independence, this was not accepted. Once very famously he declared that, “Ek desh mein do vidhan, do pradhan aur do nishan nahi chalega.” (A single nation state cannot have two Constitutions, two Prime Ministers and two National Emblems). To oppose this, Dr Mukherjee went to Kashmir without any permit and demonstrated with a fast unto death. Indians from other territories were not allowed to settle in Kashmir which continues today, and were also asked to carry ID cards with them. However, the ID card blockade was removed but while crossing the Kashmir border without any permit on 11th May, Dr Mukherjee was arrested. He died on 23rd June, 1953 under mysterious circumstances with claims that after his health complication arose in the central jail, he was admitted to a local hospital which administered him medicines which he was allergic off.
Former Prime Minister and Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee had time and again spoken in finer details about his association to Dr Mukherjee. In those days Shri Vajpayee was an independent journalist and had accompanied Dr Mukherjee on the Kashmir visit. The sudden demise of Dr Mukherjee under mysterious circumstances inspired Shri Vajpayee to join active politics and devote his life to the service of the motherland. Once in 2004, Shri Vajpayee claimed that the death of Dr Mukherjee was a ‘Nehru Conspiracy’. It seems true because not a single inquiry commission was formed to look into the mysterious circumstances of his death. The close alliance of Pundit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah, then Prime Minister of Kashmir is well known and need not be elaborated further. However, noting concrete can be state due to paucity of sources for a corroborative analysis.
Dr Mukherjee was a legend in him. An educator, humanist, freedom fighter, nationalist and a awaken activist, he always dissented for the reasons right for the nation. Unlike so called mushrooming social and political activists who sense an ‘Azadi’ in Kashmir, Dr Mukherjee always felt that the nation cannot be balkanised in the name of self determination. It is very unfortunate that a handful of secessionist attempt to over emphasize their political propaganda on the mighty Indian state and they are allowed to do so. It is a sorry affair that unfurling the national tricolour meets with dissent from extremists in Kashmiri Lal Chowk. It is high time in the seventh decade of the independent India, when the government of the day should re-consider the utility of Article 370. By abdicating it, along with moving towards a more modern civil uniform code this nation can pay its tribute to the sacrifices of Dr Mukherjee and many others like him.
By Shaan Kashyap