| 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
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 Ashutoshs
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 Mookerjis 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
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 Lincolns
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
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
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
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
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. Mookerjis 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 Nehrus
policies from outside the Government. He thus
became the first member to sit in the opposition
in the Parliament-cum-Constituent Assembly of
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
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
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