Author: Shubhendu Anand is an advocate practicing at the Supreme Court of India
Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee was one of the Founding Fathers of the Indian Republic. A truly multifaceted personality, Dr. Mookerjee encapsulated with himself a politician, an educationist, a social reformer and a humanitarian. His forte in politics was the parliament or other legislature, and as a parliamentarian he has had rather few equals to this day. As an educationist, he had risen to dizzy heights at a very early age. He not only founded a party, but also led a political movement that swam against the prevailing current of the times and much of subsequent times. And all this in a life span of fifty-two year of which only the last fourteen years were devoted to politics. Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee was a person totally devoid of any religious or communal bias, and a patriot par excellence.
Dr. Mookerjee was also elected as a member of the Legislative Council of Bengal representing Calcutta University. He became the opposition leader when Krishak Praja Party – Muslim League coalition was in power 1937-41 and played a key role in forming the Progressive Coalition Ministry headed by A. K. Fazlul Haq and served very successfully as the Finance Minister. He joined the Hindu Mahasabha in 1939 and became its President shortly thereafter. In 1946, he was elected as a member of the Constituent Assembly of India.
Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee served as Minister for Industry and Supply in Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet who framed the first Industrial policy of the new Government of India after independence. As a Minister, he laid foundation of industries and ensured that they flourish.
Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee was born to Sir Asutosh Mookerjee, a prolific Bengali educator, jurist, barrister and mathematician. The second Indian Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta for four consecutive two-year terms (1906–1914) and a fifth two-year term (1921–23), Sir Mookerjee was responsible for the foundation of some of the notable educational and research institution in Calcutta. He was often called “Banglar Bagh” (Tiger of Bengal) for his high self-esteem, courage, academic integrity and towering administrative ability.
His son, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, became the world’s youngest Vice-Chancellor of the Calcutta University at the age of 33 and held the office till 1938. Dr. Mookerjee studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and was admitted to the Bar in 1926 and received the D.Litt from Calcutta University in 1938. During his tenure, he introduced a number of constructive reforms and was active in Asiatic Society of Calcutta as well as was a member of the Court and the Council of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and Chairman of the Inter-University of Board. During his term as Vice-Chancellor, Rabindranath Tagore delivered the University Convocation Address in Bengali for the first time, and the Indian vernacular was introduced as a subject for the highest examination.
Dr. Mookerjee founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which later metamorphosed into the Bharatiya Janata Party of today, on 21 October 1951 becoming its first President. In the 1952 elections, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh won three seats in the Parliament of India, including Mookerjee’s. He had formed National Democratic Party within the Parliament which consisted 32 members of MPs and 10 of Members of Rajya Sabha. Dr. Mookerjee was regarded as the unofficial leader of the opposition in free India’s cabinet.
Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee became the President of Mahabodhi Society in 1942 and continued to serve the Society as its President till his death in 1953. He initiated and promoted a number of activities inspired by the ideals and message of Buddha.
During the Bengal Famine in 1943, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee organised large scale non-governmental relief work. Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee stood firmly behind the people during the great Calcutta Killings and Noakhali Riots and formed the Hindusthan National Guard to save the affected people during the communal disturbances.
An ardent believer in the integrity of the country, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee had been a driving force behind the creation of West Bengal. He organised a movement which led to the retention of portion of Bengal (including Kolkata) in the Indian Union during the Partition of India.
On this day in 1953 Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who foresaw the dangers of Nehru’s Article 370, died in the custody of Sheikh Abdullah. Dr. Mookerjee opposed the Indian National Congress’s decision to grant Kashmir a special status with its own flag and Prime Minister. In opposition to this decision, he once said, “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur Do Nishan nahi chalenge”. Dr. Mookerjee went to visit Kashmir in 1953 & was arrested on 11 May while crossing Kashmir Border. He was administered penicillin despite having informed d doctor-in-charge of his allergy to penicillin, and he died subsequently as detenu on 23 June 1953. Dr. Mookerjee’s mother Jogmaya Debi exclaimed, on hearing of his death, “Proudly do I feel that the loss of my son is a loss to Mother India”. Nehru ignored the request by Dr. Mookerjee’s mother to set up an enquiry commission. His death, therefore, remains a matter of controversy. Atal Bihari Vajpayee rightly claimed in 2004 that the arrest of Dr. Mookerjee in J&K and subsequently his death was a “Nehru conspiracy”.
A veteran politician, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee was respected by his friends and foes alike for his knowledge, vision, and forthrightness. Today, an indebted nation pays its sincere tribute to Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, a statesman, a thinker and a great patriot who laid down his life for Mother India.