Patriots > Cultural Inspiration and Nationalism > Mookerji,Shyama Prasad (Dr.)
Mookerji,Shyama Prasad (Dr.) (1901-1953)
Born at Calcutta on 6 July 1901, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerji inherited a rich tradition of erudite scholarship, fervent nationalism and fearlessness from his illustrious father, Sir Asutosh Mookerjee. His mother, Shrimati Jogamaya Devi, was a typical Hindu lady, devoted to her husband, family and Dharma.

Being an upper-class Brahmin family with a high social status, the Mookerji house in Bhowanipur, Calcutta, was known as much for its “Poojas” as for its cultured and scholarly atmosphere. It was the rendezvous of literary and political luminaries of Bengal, who gathered there to get guidance and inspiration from Sir Ashutosh, who as the Vice-chancellor of the Calcutta University and a Judge of the Calcutta High Court occupied a unique position in the life of Bengal.

Shyama Prasad Mookerji, together with his elder brother, Rama Prasad, and younger brother, Bama Prasad, was brought up by Sir Ashutosh with filial care and affection, tempered with severe discipline and austerity befitting Brahmacharins. He got his early education at the Mitra Institution, from where he passed his Matriculation examination at the age of sixteen with a scholarship and joined the Presidency Collage, Calcutta, in 1917.

He stood first in the University in Inter Arts examination at the age of sixteen with a scholarship and joined the Presidency Collage, Calcutta, in 1917. He stood first in the University in Inter Arts examination in 1919 and passed the B.A. examination with Honours in English, securing a first class in 1921. But for his M.A., he took Indian Vernaculars instead of English. This was in keeping with Sir Ashutosh’s policy of giving Bengali and other Indian languages their rightful place in the University education which was till then dominated by English alone.

The high idealism which characterised Shyama Prasad Mookerji’s entire life began to find expression through actions and words from his student days. Writing to Professor Percival in London on 2 September 1920 for an article for the Presidency College Magazine, of which he had been appointed the Editor, he requested him to “bless me from your innermost heart that I may live a pure and manly life”. “Pure and manly life” was the ideal he set before himself while still in his teens, and he lived up to it right till the end of his crowded life in 1953.

While studying for his M.A. he was married, in April 1922, to Shrimati Sudha Devi who bore him four children-two sons and two daughters- before she died in 1934. Shyama Prasad refused to marry again and decided to devote the rest of his life to the service of the nation with single-minded devotion.

He did his B.L. in 1924, once again standing first in the University, and was called to the English Bar in 1927 from the Lincoln’s Inn, England, which he joined in 1926. But he never practiced law. The death of his father in 1923, whom he had been assisting from his student days in the work of running the Calcutta University, brought him into the educational filed even while he was still a student.

He was known to have the closest insight into the educational plans and policies of Sir Ashutosh. The well wishers of the University, therefore, considered his association with the University administration as essential for its healthy growth on the lines laid down by Sir Ashutosh. He was elected to the University Senate and Syndicate in 1924 and became its youngest Vice-Chancellor in 1934.

He began his political career in a small way as early as 1929 when he was elected to the Bengal Legislative Council as a Congress candidate from the University Constituency. It was in a way a necessary adjunct to his educational work. He was supposed to act as a watchdog of the Calcutta University in the Legislature. He resigned his seat in the Council in response to the Congress call for boycott of Legislative Councils, but soon after re-entered it as an independent to be able to safeguard the interests of his University.

The training that he got in parliamentary life and the insight he acquired into the working of the Muslim League and the Congress mind during this period stood him in good stead in later life and helped him to chalk out his political course with an open mind. He was again returned from the University Constituency to the Bengal Legislature in 1937 when it was first constituted on the basis of the Communal Award. In a house of two hundred and fifty, Hindus had been given only eighty seats for which mostly Congressmen were returned.

The rest was divided between the Muslims and the British interests which both had been given heavy wightage. The Muslim members were divided between the Muslim League and the Krishak Praja Party led by Fazlul Haq. Had the Congress Party formed a coalition with the Krishak Praja Party, Bengal could have got a non-Muslim League stable Government. But the British interests wanted the Muslim League to form the Government. The Congress leadership also played the game of the British and the Muslim League by refusing to form a coalition with the Krishak Praja Party.

This came as a rude shock to Shyama Prasad, who was amazed at the utter bankruptcy of statesmanship in the Congress and its cowardly policy of appeasing the Muslim League at the cost of the country as a whole.

The Muslim League Ministry, as soon as it was formed, decided to strike at the educational structure which Sir Ashutosh and Shyama Prasad had so assiduously built up by passing the Secondary Education and the Calcutta University Bills. After having failed to persuade the Congress leadership to change its suicidal policy of allowing the Muslim League a safe spell of power, he decided to go ahead single-handed to topple the Muslim League Ministry.

The way he rallied round himself non-Congress and non- Muslim League nationalist forces in Bengal, ousted the Muslim League Ministry and formed the coalition ministry with Fazlul Haq as Chief Minister in which he became the Finance Minister, established his position as a practical and far-sighted political leader.

During the same period he came under the influence of Veer Savarkar who after his release in 1937 refused the Congress offers of power and position and put new life in the Hindu Maha Sabha, of which he was elected the President. The pure nationalism and patriotism of Veer Savarkar coupled with his realism came to Shyama Prasad as a refreshing contrast to the utopian idealism and pseudo-nationalism of the Congress. He joined the Hindu Maha Sabha and became its acting President in 1939.

Soon after he joined the Bengal Cabinet, Gandhiji started the Quit India Movement and the British Government let loose a reign of terror in the country. The rapid advance of the Japanese armies through Burma added new dimensions to the situation. The British Government, instead of taking the people into confidence, began the policy of scorched earth in the Eastern region of the country. Since all the Congress leaders were in jail, there was no one to take up the national cause against the British. Shyama Prasad even though he was a member of the Government decided to take up the cudgels with the British Government on behalf of the nation.

His correspondence with Lord Linlithgow, in which he urged upon him to release the leaders, trust the people and permit the raising of a National Defence Force to meet the Japanese threat, is a classic example of persuasive firmness in the national cause. Having failed to persuade the Central Government, he decided to quit the Bengal Cabinet and lead the nationalist forces against the British unshackled by the strings of office.

The man made famine of 1943 brought the humanitarian in Shyama Prasad to the forefront. The massivescale on which he organised

the relief work and the ready response that his appeals for funds evoked in all parts of the country went a long way in saving lakhs of lives from the clutches of sure death.

No sooner had the people overcome the rigours of famine than the shadow of partition began to overcast the sky. The Muslim League, encouraged by the British and fortified by the appeasement policy of the Congress, decided to have its full pound of flesh in the form of Pakistan before the British left India for good. Shyama Prasad Mookerji organised a countrywide campaign against the partition of the motherland.

But the ground slipped under his feet when the British Cabinet Mission, before which he was arguing against partition, confronted him with the Poona resolution of the Congress Working Committee which said that the Congress would not coerce any unwilling part to remain in India. It came as a shock and surprise to him. He had supported the Congress in 1946 elections because he was assured by Sardar Patel that the Congress would never accept Partition. He never knew till then that the Congress working Committee had already conceded the right of the Muslim Majority Provinces to opt out of India.

Thereafter Shyama Prasad Mookerji bent his energies to partition Pakistan. Had Congress and Muslim League had their way, the whole of Punjab and the whole of Bengal would have gone to Pakistan. It was primarily due to the efforts of Shyama Prasad Mookerji that half of Punjab and half of Bengal was saved for India. That explains Dr. Mookerji’s famous retort: “Congress partitioned India and I partitioned Pakistan.”

Shyama Prasad was invited by Gandhiji to join the first National Government in August 1947. He accepted the invitation in the hope that he would be able to influence the policies of free India in its formative period and safeguard the interests of crores of Hindus who had been left back in Pakistan much against their will.

His performance as Minister for Industries and Supplies in the first Government of free India was truly prodigious. He laid the firm foundations of the industrial development of the country by setting up the Chittaranjan Locomotive Factory and the Sindri Fertilizer Factory.

But on broad matters of policy, particularly regarding Pakistan, his differences with Pandit Nehru came to the surface quite early.The Nehru-Liaqat Pact of 1950 brought those differences to a climax. Having failed to prevent that ignominious pact being signed, Dr. Mookerji decided to leave the Cabinet and organise opposition to Nehru’s policies from outside the Government. He thus became the first member to sit in the opposition in the Parliament-cum-Constituent Assembly of India.

The statement he made in Parliament about his resignation on 19 April 1950 has proved to be prophetic. It is the most realistic assessment of Indo-Pak relations that has ever been made. The reasons he enumerated why the Nehru-Liaqat Pact would not solve any problem are as valid today as they were in 1950.

The history of Indo-Pak relations since then, the fate of the Tashkent Agreement and the continued genocide of Hindus in Pakistan are eloquent testimony of his foresight and realism.

After quitting the Cabinet, Dr. Mookerji concentrated his energies on creating a political platform through which the ideology and policies he stood for could be projected. He had already said goodbye to the Hindu Maha Sabha because it refuses to accept his suggestion to open its doors to all Indians, irrespective of caste and creed. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh was the concrete result of his efforts. He became its founder President in October 1951 and spent the rest of his life in building up this organisation as a nationalist democratic alternative to the party in power.

He was returned to the first Lok Sabha from North Calcutta in the general elections held in 1952. Jana Sangh could return only two other members. But Dr. Mookerji was not the man to despair. He brought together a number of small parties including the Ganatantra Parishad of Orissa, the Akali Dal of Punjab, the Hindu Maha Sabha and a number of independents to form the National Democratic Party in the Parliament, of which he was elected leader. This made him the virtual Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament and alternative Prime Minister of the country.

His role in the Parliament as Leader of the Opposition earned him the title “lion of Parliament”. Parliament has yet to see his equal as a parliamentarian. Soon after he entered the Parliament the secessionist activities and policies of Sheikh Abdullah drew his attention. He decided to take up the cause of Jammu and Kashmir Praja Parishad which had been demanding that Jammu and Kashmir State be fully integrated with the rest of India and that it should have the same flag, Constitution and President as the rest of the country.

During his visit to Jammu in August 1952, he told a mammoth meeting: “I will get you the Indian Constitution or lay down my life for it.” His words proved prophetic. When he decided to visit Jammu again in May 1953, to study on the spot the situation created by the reign of terror let loose by Sheikh Abdullah against the people of Jammu, the Government of India first decided to arrest him at Gurdaspur in Punjab but later changed its mind and allowed him to enter the State to be arrested there so that the Supreme Court of India, which till then had no jurisdiction over Jammu and Kashmir State, might not set him free.

It was part of a conspiracy to remove him from the earthly scene. The way he died as a prisoner at Srinagar and the refusal of Pandit Nehru to hold an inquiry about his death in spite of the universal demand for it strengthened the doubts that he did not die a natural death. He thus became a martyr to the cause of Indian unity.

Dr. Shyama Prasad had a well-built stately body and an alert and analytical mind. He was an intellectual giant. His habits were simple. He usually wore dhoti and kurta. He led an austere life and was an embodiment of simple living and high thinking.

He was a nationalist to the core of his heart. “Country comes first” was his watchword. His approach to all problems, internal and external, was uninhibited by any consideration of left or right. He stood for a reciprocal policy towards Pakistan, closer cultural and economic relations with the countries of South-East Asia and bilateral arrangements with other countries including the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. on the basis of mutuality of interests.

In the economic field he stood for market economy but did not rule out the entry of the State in the economic field in exceptional circumstances.

His views regarding education and language were clear-cut. He wanted to reorientate the entire system of education with stress on vocational education and greater attention to moral and national content in the curricula. He was a great advocate of regional languages and accepted Hindi as the language without any reservations. He continued to take a keen interest in the educational and cultural life of the country even when he became totally engrossed in politics.

As President of the Mahabodhi Society, he acted as a link between India and the Buddhist world. His visit to Burma and Cambodia in 1952 with the remains of Sariputta and Maha Moggalana was a great essay in revival and strengthening of cultural ties with these countries.

His death created a void in the cultural and political life of the country as a whole and particularly of Bengal which still remains to be filled.

Author : Balraj Madhok