Modi Govt Should Stop Crying ‘Conspiracy’ Over SP Mookerjee Death
Earlier this week, a TV reporter while interviewing me for a ‘special’ to mark Syama Prasad Mookerjee's death anniversary asked me the same question four times, albeit worded differently. He voiced the sentiment already articulated by BJP working president, JP Nadda, who suggested that there was a conspiracy in the death of the founder of the Jana Sangh and that Jawaharlal Nehru being part of this, had not even ordered an inquiry into the passing of the Bengal leader.
Whenever the question was put, I provided the same answer, of course, articulated differently. If there was a conspiracy in Mookerjee's death and it had not been natural, why did the BJP government not order a probe into the matter in the six years that Atal Bihari Vajpayee was PM, and the five years that Narendra Modi has already clocked in the high office? Why is it that this year too, while Nadda leveled the accusation against India's first premier, Modi restricted him to a “remembering” Mookerjee on “his martyrdom day”?
Contrary To Popular Belief, Mookerjee’s Last Days Weren’t Traumatic
Furthermore, why is it that a fortnight after his death in 1953, the Jana Sangh’s Central Working Committee passed a resolution stating how India was "stunned by the mysterious circumstances" of Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s death, and alleged "criminal medical negligence" that led to it?
Even Balraj Madhok, the one-time Praja Parishad leader – who later became a national leader of the Jana Sangh before falling foul of the leadership, and who wrote one of the early biographies of Mookerjee – did not accuse the central government of anything more grievous than charging it of not providing better medical care and the timely attention of specialists.
By no counts were Mookerjee’s last few weeks spent under severe circumstances. He was interned in a small bungalow some kilometres away from Srinagar on charges of entering the state without a valid permit. In a letter to a family member, Mookerjee wrote that the "small bungalow" where he was confined, was “situated in a small but lovely garden. I walk on the narrow garden path. When you read this, you will feel how happy I must be. Alas, that is not possible. What physical comforts, what charms of nature, can bring you joy if your freedom is not yours...”
By Highlighting Only One Aspect Of Mookerjee’s Contributions, BJP Is Blurring History
Certainly, the circumstances leading to Mookerjee's demise is flagged every year by the BJP on his death anniversary because it comes as a handy tool to tarnish the posthumous image of Nehru.
By harping on Mookerjee's role in turning the spotlight on Kashmir's incomplete integration into the Indian Union, today’s BJP is obfuscating much more of history in which he had played an exemplary role.
Modi's message – that Mookerjee had "devoted his life to India’s unity and integrity" –is truthful but not the complete or only truth. In fact, it is just the partial truth, but the BJP focuses on this aspect solely because it syncs with its present politics.
This sentiment is that the Congress government initially, and other non-BJP parties thereafter, had gone soft on the issue to placate Muslims by allowing India's only Muslim-majority state to retain its distinct and 'separate' identity. But despite his political shortcomings and questionable posture on several occasions and issues, such portrayal of Mookerjee does not do justice to his memory.
Honours Bestowed Upon SP Mookerjee By Tagore & Lord Brabourne
Much before politics became his calling, Mookerjee spent several years providing leadership in the education sector – Calcutta University. He however, devoted his energy to the university because of discomfort with the Congress party which he had joined. His divergences were primarily with Mahatma Gandhi’s mass mobilisation strategies, particularly the Dandi March and the subsequent Civil Disobedience Movement.
These issues were: the introduction of Bengali medium for several subjects; compilation of technical terms in Bengali; standardising Bengali spellings.
A year later when he moved on from the education sector to a wider public life, Viceroy Lord Brabourne, who bestowed on Mookerjee a honorary law doctorate said that Mookerjee was honoured not because “he is a son of a great father. It is because he is himself. He has earned every bit of it.”
SP Mookerjee: A ‘Major Discovery Of VD Savarkar’
Mookerjee's entry into politics and his decision to join the Hindu Mahasabha was preceded by rising communalism in Bengal, the emergence of the Muslim League as a major political force, and the eventual passage of the Lahore Resolution articulating the two-nation theory and the demand for a separate Pakistan.
With war clouds looming on the horizon, the two leaders confabulated and agreed that Hindus must join war efforts, and communicated to Lord Linlithgow that they were “prepared to cooperate in the policy of militarisation”. Soon, Mookerjee, by giving voice to issues which resonated with Bengal's Hindus, emerged as a credible leader of the community. But he was every bit a pragmatic politician intent on using the Mahasabha as a vehicle to emerge as a political force, distinct from the Congress and the Muslim League.
Fazlul Haq & Mookerjee’s Dalliance
Mookerjee's partners were surprising: on the one hand he once joined forces with Subhas Chandra Bose, and on the other hand he eventually joined the government of Fazlul Haq who once controversially declared that he was “Muslim first and Bengali later”.
The ploy worked and there were no major riots during the time Haq and Mookerjee partnered, the latter as finance minister.
Why Nehru & SP Mookerjee Parted Ways
Yet, this was temporary respite as ideally Hindu and Muslim legislators had missed the bus and delayed coming forces to combat communalism. The Quit India Movement provided an opportunity to Mookerjee and the Hindu Mahasabha to plough the Hindu cart once again, but in the 1946 provincial council, the Mahasabha performed miserably.
But the political Hindu in him propped him into seeking intervention in Pakistan to protect Hindus. However, when this request was turned down by Nehru, the parting of ways between the two became inevitable.
Mookerjee Embarked On A Dangerous Journey
The last few years of Mookerjee's life has several elements rolled into one. He presided over the establishment of the Jana Sangh after quitting the Hindu Mahasabha, and in the process paved the way for RSS’s indirect foray into politics. Although he failed to lead the party to more than a handful of seats, SP Mookerjee became the voice of opposition in Parliament, proving that however minuscule, the voice of dissent can still resound in the House, provided there is a leader willing to take the challenge.
Yet, he embarked on a dangerous journey with a handful of party colleagues collected around him in a second class compartment of a train to Punjab from where they travelled by road to enter Jammu past Pathankot. Months earlier at the first plenary of the Jana Sangh, Mookerjee had taken the lead in coining the slogan:
Ek desh mein do vidhan
Ek desh mein do nishan
Ek desh mein do pradhan
Nahin chalenge, nahin chalenge
(In a nation which is one entity, there can be no room for two constitutions, two heads, nor two flags)
Mookerjee Has Become A Symbol – To Be Flaunted Sometimes, And Underplayed Otherwise
There was no effort to explain why Mookerjee chose to remain silent when he was part of the Constituent Assembly when the resolution to provide special status to the state of Jammu & Kashmir was passed.
This slogan became the motto of the Jana Sangh and later, the BJP. Yet, in March 2015, Modi, like Mookerjee, too made a compromise when the BJP-PDP took oath and rolled out a joint charter that stood for almost everything that the founder of the Jana Sangh had denounced during his lifetime. Shifting positions are however an integral part of realpolitik, but in the process Mookerjee too has become a symbol to be flaunted on occasions, and at times underplayed. The next time anyone broaches the issue of the ‘conspiracy’ surrounding Mookerjee's death, it would be perfectly acceptable to show the person a mirror.
(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. His most recent book is ‘The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right’. He can be reached at @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
(The Quint is now available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)