G. L. Batra, ST Guest Columnist, Writer & formerly Addl. Secretary, Indian Parliament and Chairman, Public Service Commission of the Indian State of Haryana
Born to educated and illustrious parents belonging to an upper-class and educated Brahmin family in Bengal in 1901, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee went on to take a place of prominence in the galaxy of founding fathers of our nation. Indeed, Dr. Mookerjee was a multi-faceted personality, and served the nation fearlessly through various significant roles, as an ardent patriot, far-sighted educationist, statesman, ceaseless striver for national unity and integrity, and most importantly as a humanitarian.
Dr. Mookerjee was a brilliant student throughout his educational career. Having secured his degree in law, he was called to the bar from Lincoln’s Inn in England. However, wishing to contribute to the reform of education in India, he left England without practicing law and went on to represent the Calcutta University at the Conference of the Universities of the British Empire, going on to become one of the leading educationists of India. Having been elected to the senate of the Calcutta University in 1924, he became its youngest Vice-Chancellor in 1934, at the young age of only 33. Dr. Mookerjee had a close insight into the problems and difficulties of education in India, and tried his best to implement his aims and ideals regarding the education of the masses, and to bring about reforms.
In 1924, Dr. Mookerjee was elected to the Bengal Legislature for the first time and in 1937, he was once again returned to the Legislature as a representative of the Calcutta University. It was during these stints as a legislator that he got an opportunity to take a close look at the functioning of the legislatures in India. This also marked the beginning of his political career. Dr. Mookerjee forged an alliance of all the non-Congress Hindu forces with the Krishak Praja Party, under the banner of the Progressive Alliance, which went on to form a coalition ministry in the province, in which Dr. Mookerjee served as the Finance Minister under the leadership of Fazal-ul-Haq. It was during this period that Dr. Mookerjee came under the influence of V. D. Savarkar, the great revolutionary and Hindu Nationalist, and joined the Hindu Mahasabha. Mahatma Gandhi acknowledged Dr. Mookerjee’s stature by observing that he was filling the void in Hindu leadership left by the demise of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. Recognising Dr. Mookerjee’s patriotism, nationalism and universal outlook, Gandhiji is said to have told him, “Patel is a Congressman with a Hindu mind, you be a Hindu Sabhaite with a Congress mind.”
Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee distinguished himself as a social worker and humanitarian during the great famine of Bengal in 1943, and worked tirelessly to bring together industrialists and philanthropists to collect huge sums of money for relief work, which ultimately saved thousands of lives. It was primarily due to his efforts that the nation became united for the cause of helping those afflicted by this great natural disaster.
The unity and integrity of India was the of primary importance to Dr. Mookerjee, and he strove hard to prevent the partition of India during independence, organizing a nation-wide movement against the move. However, his efforts did not bear fruit, and the decision to partition the country was taken. Thereafter, Dr. Mookerjee concentrated his efforts to safeguard India’s interests, and put forth a scheme for the partitioning of the Country, as a result of which half of Punjab and half of Bengal could be retained with India. This was truly a great feat, and Dr. Mookerjee is known to have remarked, “Congress partitioned India, and I partitioned Pakistan.”
Dr. Mookerjee’s contribution as a member of the Constituent Assembly is well recognized, and his impressive oratory, penetrating intellect and impeccable statesmanship during the debates in the Assembly, influenced the form and substance of several important provisions of our Constitution. Dr. Mookerjee, on Gandhiji’s invitation, also served as the Minister for Industries and Supplies in the cabinet of the National Government formed in 1947, and was instrumental in setting up three of free India’s largest Industrial projects, namely, the Chittaranjan Locomotive Factory, the Sindri Fertilizer Corporation and the Hindustan Aircraft Factory, thus laying the foundations for a progressive and industrialized India. Dr. Mookerjee’s stint in the ministry however, was short lived, and he resigned over differences with Jawaharlal Nehru regarding the Nehru-Liaquat pact of 1950.
After his resignation from the cabinet, Dr. Mookerjee devoted himself with zeal, to the creation of a political platform which truly reflected his views and ideology, and formed a party which he named the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in 1950. He wished the Jana Sangh to be a broad-based movement covering the nationalist forces in the country, open to all citizens irrespective of religion, caste or creed, and worked hard towards achieving this aim. In the first general elections held in 1952, Dr. Mookerjee was elected to the Lok Sabha, but his party managed a total of only three seats. Inspite of all this, he brought together myriad small parties to form a National Democratic Party in Parliament, of which he became the leader, and his stature and eminence ensured that he became the illustrious voice of the opposition in Parliament. Dr. Mookerjee’s astuteness, erudition and firm adherence to his convictions earned him the respect and regard of political friends and opponents alike, and he proved a major restraining influence on the government. The Times of India acknowledged his role as leader of the opposition by declaring that the mantle of Sardar Patel had fallen on Dr. Mookerjee. Dr. Mookerjee was the sole moving force behind the founding of the Jana Sangh, which later on went on to become the Bharatiya Janata Party. It can be said that at that time, there were only two stalwarts in Indian politics – Pandit Nehru and Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee.
In the ending years of his life, Dr. Mookerjee became enthusiastically interested in the Jammu-Kashmir problem, and the full integration of that state into India. Such was his passion and commitment to the cause, that despite failing health, Dr. Mookerjee insisted on traveling to Jammu, in order to gauge the situation there for himself. He was arrested in Jammu and died a martyr’s death in prison, working till his last breath for the causes he fervently believed in. Dr. Mookerjee will truly go down in history for his immense contributions to the independence movement, and to the movement to create a truly developed, united and strong India.