Sunday, August 16, 2020
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Shyma Prasad Mookerjee: another Sardar Patel

K B Jandial

Dr. Shyma Prasad Mookerjee’s meteoric rise in Indian national scene in just 14 years’ of public life, visionary, clarity on critical issues, people-centric ideology, steadfastness on his nationalistic views, courage to take on PM Jawaharlal Nehru on national important issues within and outside Union Cabinet made him the second Sardar Patel. Recognising his courage, abilities and commitments, the Times of India had written that “the mantle of Sardar Patel has fallen on Dr. Mookerjee”.

It is unfortunate that career of one of the greatest scholars, statesmen and parliamentarians of India was cut short on 23rd June 1953 when he died mysteriously in captivity at Srinagar. In no case, he deserved this end in captivity for a crime of entering into Sheikh Abdullah’s ruled J&K state without a permit for which he was put in jail for 44 days without any trial. And more shameful was the fact that no enquiry was ordered in to his sudden death, in fact demand rejected by Pt. Nehru, even when he was a sitting MP, former Union Minister, founding President of a national Party and the leader of the combined Opposition Group in the Parliament. He had symbolically broken the illegal administrative order of no entry in to J&K without a ‘permit’ which was one of many manifestations of the State being separate and different part of India against which he had launched a crusade and became martyr in its pursuit.

Modi Govt fulfilled his unfinished agenda and dream of “aik vidhan, aik nishan aur aik pradan” on 5th -6th August, 2019 with the ‘abrogation’ of the controversial Article 370 of Indian Constitution along with another unconstitutional Article 35A fostering emotional integration of J&K with rest of India and extension of entire Constitution of India and Indian laws.

The entire drama starting from Mookerjee’s arrest, taking him and his two party colleagues direct to Srinagar for detention instead of nearby Kathua or Jammu and death was shrouded with mystery which has been perpetuated till date despite BJP’s Governments at the Centre and even in J&K in alliance with PDP. It is implausible that no effort was ever made, not even by Modi Govt, to set up some Commission or even SIT to unravel the truth of his mysterious death which Balraj Madhok and many others claimed to be a political murder.

The treatment meted out by Sheikh Govt with backing of Pt Nehru to Mookerjee right from his arrest to his death is sufficient to create suspicion. On the request of Jammu’s iconic leader, Pt Prem Nath Dogra, Mookerjee decided to violate “permit system” in vogue for entry into the State. Strong opponent of Article 370 he set out for Pathankot from Delhi in a train on 8th May, 1953 halting en route at Ambala & Jalandhar. The DC of Gurdaspur also boarded the same train and told him that he would have to arrest if he tried to enter J&K without a permit. Surprisingly, at Madhopur, the DC received an order to allow Mookerjee to enter J&K even without permit.

As Mookerjee along with Guru Dutt Vaid & Tek Chand reached the middle of the Ravi Bridge, J&K Police arrested them on the ground of “prejudicial to public safety and peace”. This was the first indication of the conspiracy. Mookerjee was deliberately not arrested for entering J&K without a permit as in that case he would have to be arrested by Punjab authorities. But the plot was different. He was arrested by J&K Police so as to keep him outside the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court due to Article 370. Instead of Jammu, he was whisked away in a jeep to Batote for a night halt and then to Srinagar where he was kept in a Mali hut converted as sub jail. No trial was conducted for his purported offence.

Mookerjee’s death in custody created a nationwide furore with Jammu erupted in protests demanding an independent probe. Syama Prasad’s mother, Jogamaya Devi wrote to Pt Nehru which revealed circumstances leading to his death. In her reply to Pt Nehru for his letter of condolences she wrote on 4th July, 1953: “….My son died in detention- a detention without trial. You based your impression on the assurances and information you have received. What is the value, I ask, of such information when it comes from persons who themselves should stand a trial? You say, you had visited Kashmir during my son’s detention. You speak of the affection you had for him. But what prevented you, I wonder, from meeting him there personally and satisfying yourself about his health and arrangements?”

But Pt. Nehru didn’t budge. In his 5th July reply, he wrote: “I can well understand a mother’s sorrow and mental anguish at the death of a beloved son. …. I can only say to you that I arrived at the clear and honest conclusion that there is no mystery in this and that Dr. Mookerjee was given every consideration”. Why Pt Nehru didn’t agree for a probe to set at rest this controversy? Obviously, he didn’t want to embarrass his friend, Sheikh Abdullah whose words he took as gospel truth. Interestingly, Nehru sacked & arrested his friend just 35 days later in famous “Kashmir Conspiracy Case”.

Born on 6th July, 1901 in Bengal’s well known family of great educationist, Sir Asutosh Mookerjee, he passed out from Calcutta’s Presidency College with MA, LL.B, D.Litt. & Bar-at-Law from Lincoln’s Inn. He became the youngest Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University at the age of 33. His political career started with his election to Bengal Legislative Council on Congress ticket representing Calcutta University, He stitched coalition of Nationalist Party and Krishak Praja Party of Fazl-ul-haq, which ousted Muslim League from power in 1940 and gave to Bengal a nationalist Government of which he was the Finance Minister. He resigned from the Government to take up cudgels against the Governor General of India who had let loose a reign of terror in the wake of Quit India movement. Since all the top Congress leaders had been put in prisons, it fell on Dr. Mookerjee to act as the spokesmen of the nationalist India. His services to the suffering humanity of Bengal in 1943 famine brought him on the national stage.

Dr. Mookerjee then took over the leadership of Hindu Mahasabha and put forward the case for united India before the Cabinet Mission with convincing facts and logic. But he was shocked to know that the Congress had already accepted the partition of the country, in principle.

According to the original scheme of partition, the whole of Punjab and Bengal were to be given to Pakistan. Dr. Mookerjee started working to save the Hindu majority parts of Punjab and Bengal and could be legitimately called that while "Jinnah partitioned India, Mookerjee partitioned Pakistan".

Elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1946, Sardar Patel & Mahatma Gandhi who were impressed by work, got was inducted into the first National Government formed on 15 August, 1947, as Minister of Industry and Commerce. But he had differences with PM Nehru on hordes of issues like treatment to Hindu minority by East Pakistan, unilateral ceasefire of operations in J&K, allowing Pakistan to retain illegal occupation of territory of the State, special concessions to Sheikh Abdullah in Kashmir, Hindu Civil Code etc. He resigned from the cabinet opposing Nehru- Liaquat Ali Pact of 1950 on minorities in India & Pakistan as he felt that Nehru had left minorities (Hindus) in East Bengal at the mercy of Pakistan and wanted exchange of population & property at Govt level between two Bengals. He founded Bharatiya Jana Sangh on 21st October, 1951 and became its first President. BJS won three seats in 1952 elections and formed National Democratic Front in the Parliament with 32 members in Lok Sabha & 10 members in Rajya Sabha.

Pt. Nehru was not comfortable with Mookerjee’s criticism of Pakistan Govt and his advocating Akhand Bharat in Lok Sabha that brought in the first amendment in the Constitution of India. Nehru considered criticism of head of Pakistan as an invitation to war as without it two countries could not be reunited. Mookerjee countered it by saying that restrictions would prevent free debate on issues with Pakistan including treatment to minorities and its role in Kashmir. Brushing aside counseling of many senior parliamentarians, Nehru went ahead with the first amendment of the Constitution (Article 19) to restrict the freedom of speech, inter alia, on "friendly relations with foreign states".

Dr. Mookerjee was strongly opposed to Article 370, treating it as a threat to national unity which became one of the objectives of BJS. In Lok Sabha on 26 June 1952, he termed the arrangements under Article 370 as Balkanisation of India and the three-nation theory of Sheikh Abdullah. BJS along with Hindu Mahasabha and Jammu Praja Parishad had launched a massive satyagraha to get Article 370 removed and fully integrate with India.

Dismantling the argument for Article 370 that the nation was bound by “pledges” given to Kashmir, Mookerjee said that we had given pledges to many on several occasions including on minorities of East Bengal and to Hyderabad. On Kashmir, he said, “we did not give any pledge to Kashmir. Let’s us be clear about it”

On Kashmir developments, Mookerjee had no problems in admitting that it was obvious that as a cabinet Minister he too was party to the cabinet decision to refer Kashmir issue to UNO. “We did not go to UNO with regards to the question of accession, because accession was an established fact.” He demanded withdrawing India’s petition from UNO, saying that “we have enough of the UNO …& try to settle the matter through our own efforts. The only matter regarding which the dispute continues is about the one-third territory of Kashmir which is in occupation of the enemy…. We are peace-lovers, no doubt, but to what extent?” He asked Pt Nehru pointedly, “Is there any possibility of our getting back this territory?” He prophetically said “That mean we lose it, unless we use force which the PM is unwilling to do so. Let’s face the facts-are we prepared to lose it?”

As the historic facts are unfolded, it is clear that PM Nehru’s inaction at that time; we have practically lost PoK to Pakistan even though tactically we continue to say that it is a part of India. And Article 370 injected separatism in J&K for which the nation is paying even after 73 years of Independence and there doesn’t appear to be any end to it.

(Author is a retired IAS officer) feedback: [email protected]

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