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Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee: A legacy looking for a worthy recipient

Dr Mukherjee was elected to the Constituent Assembly by the West Bengal Legislature and was the Industries Minister in Nehru’s Cabinet but resigned on April 15, 1950, protesting the terms of the agreement with Pakistan, popularly known as Nehru-Liaquat Pact.

In fact, Dr Mukherjee’s political thinking was independent of the thought process of the Hindu Mahasabha of which he was the president or that of the Congress. He was unhappy over Nehru’s handling of the Pakistan issue and the first cabinet’s callous attitude towards Hindu minority in Pakistan, especially the then East Pakistan. He discussed the idea of floating a political party with some of his colleagues in Hindu Mahasabha but was firm on his views of a “non-Hindu” party, very much as a parallel to the Congress and not a political party “exclusively for Hindus”. His original idea was to convert Hindu Mahasabha into a broad-based political party which would include non-Hindus as well, as members and desist from appeasement of Muslims under the garb of protecting the religious minorities. An independent India with a democratic Constitution that adopted adult franchise and rejected the idea of the separate electorate has no place for a Hindu party or Minority Commission, he felt. But his own organisation rejected his appeals and as a result, he quit Hindu Mahasabha in 1948.

Speaking at the founding ceremony of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh on October 21, 1951, Dr. Mukherjee reiterated his views that the Partition on the basis of religion was a grave error and that Partition must be annulled to firmly establish the Indian identity. But he refused to make the annulment of Partition a party agenda saying it should be a national resolve and not merely the agenda of one political party. Long after his martyrdom and the dissolution of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the Parliament of India passed a unanimous resolution on February 22, 1994, resolving to get back Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK).

The Bharatiya Jan Sangh was formed just a few weeks before the first general elections and had very little time or resources to fight all the seats. Dr. Mukherjee contested and won the South Calcutta seat securing 45 percent of votes against his Congress rival Mriganka Sur. During this brief period, he made his mark as a parliamentarian, brought together MPs from Ganatantra Parishad of Orissa, Akali Dal of Punjab, Hindu Mahasabha, three Jan Sangh members and several independents to form National Democratic Front. In order to strengthen parliamentary democracy, Dr. Mukherjee went many steps ahead and floated the idea of united opposition irrespective of ideological differences eschewing political untouchability. His party, Bharatiya Jan Sangh kept up this tradition. BJS won one third of seats in Delhi Municipal Corporation in 1957 and the next year elected a Leftist Com. Aruna Asaf Ali as Mayor with the help of Communists. BJS member Kedar Nath Sahani became the Deputy Mayor.

Dr. Mukherjee represented the highest form of fundamental Hindu ethos at its best—respect for all forms of worship (sarva panth samadhar), liberalism and humanness. In spite of his serious differences of opinion with Jawaharlal Nehru, it was Dr. Mukherjee, as Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, who invited Nehru to speak on “The discovery of India”. Nehru in his prison diary note of November 26, 1941, writes, “He (Dr. Mukherjee) has written again a very decent letter and I have agreed (to speak at Kamala Lectures). The subject I have suggested—Syama Prasad made a similar suggestion—is The Discovery of India”.  Dr. Mukherjee had written to Nehru that, “…all of us believe that India through her ages contributed an imperishable message of the freedom of the soul of man, which alone can save civilisation from destruction and elevate it to a higher and nobler order. At this critical time, you are one of the limited few who can worthily rise above narrow party considerations, appreciate different standpoints and hold out, amidst the crumbling heaps of modern civilisation the picture of a future India worth living in.”

Two years later Nehru, accompanied by Asaf Ali and Diwan Chaman Lal, went to Kashmir, without a permit, in June 1946 to defend Sheikh Abdulla against a sedition charge and was detained in the Uri Dak Bungalow. The British Viceroy in Delhi brought Nehru back to Delhi to join the negotiations for the transfer of power. Seven years later, after another transfer of power in J&K, Syama Prasad Mukherjee went to Jammu without a permit and was detained by Sheikh Abdulla but unlike British Viceroy, Nehru let Mukherjee meet whatever fate awaited him. Dr. Mukherjee had said at a public meeting in Jammu in August 1952, “I will get you the Indian Constitution or lay down my life for it.” The words proved tragically prophetic.

Can all political parties, especially the BJP and the Congress to ponder over their larger national agenda, bury differences and work as a united force to realise the collective vision of their icons? Sounds like a tall order? Not if someone can inherit the legacy of Syama Prasad Mukherjee.

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