After Centre scraps Art 370, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee resurfaces in Bengal | Opinion
Shyama PrasadMookerjee is being hailed in pamphlets and newspaper columns in his home state where, in the recent decades, he found mention mostly in political speeches, plaques, road signs and books.Updated: Aug 13, 2019 22:58 IST
Three days after the Centre scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370, a far-Right group in Bengal, Hindu Samhati, began collecting signatures from people at 40 railway stations for a petition to ask the Centre to rename Kolkata’s Sealdah station after Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder president of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the forerunner of the BJP.
“Only now we are discussing how Shyama Prasad vehemently opposed a separate constitution for Kashmir and died in the state while in detention. But people have forgotten that West Bengal would not have come into existence without his struggle. We want Seladah station to be named after him since a large number of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan arrived here,” members of the Hindutva group were heard telling passengers and passersby.
As the social media is getting clouded with conflicting opinions, Mookerjee and his critics appear to be silently resurfacing in public space in his home state where, in the recent decades, he found mention mostly in political speeches, plaques, road signs and books.
Surprisingly, most Bengalis seem to remember the son of the legendary jusrist and educator Sir Asutosh Mookerjee as a brilliant student who acquired several university degrees in quick succession, followed the footsteps of his father and became the vice-chancellor of Calcutta University when he was only 33.
Mookerjee started his political career as a Congress legislator in 1929 but left the party a year later when it boycotted the legislature. He continued as an independent. The British Parliament ordered provincial elections in 1937. Mookerjee eventually became the finance minister of the Bengal province in 1941 in Fazlul Huq’s short-lived Progressive Coalition government.
The real conversation starter in Bengal is the fact that in the intervening years Mookerjee embraced the Hindu Mahasabha headed by V D Savarkar and took part in the party’s 1939 Calcutta session. This made Mookerjee a target of the communists and a section of Congress leaders for the rest of his life although he became a member of the Constituent Assembly in 1946 and served as minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet after Independence.
Mookerjee was reported to have said at a public meeting in 1941 that if Muslims wanted a state of their own they would have to leave India lock, stock and barrel. He became president of the Hindu Mahasabha after two years, succeeding Savarkar. In 1946, while he was still leading the party, Mookerjee demanded Bengal to be divided in such a way that Muslim-dominated areas remained in the proposed state of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
The August 1946 communal riots in Noakhali (now in Bangladesh) and Kolkata claimed more than a thousand lives. When Viceroy Lord Mountbatten was overseeing the Partition in 1947, Mookerjee wrote to him, saying Bengal must be divided even if India was not and opposed a proposal from Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s elder brother Sarat Bose and prominent Muslim League leader Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy to have an undivided free state of Bengal.
Suhrawardy had two major handicaps. Hindus accused him of masterminding the 1946 killings and his plan did not clarify how the state he had proposed would be part of the Commonwealth. Mookerjee succeeded and West Bengal was born out of the Partition.
This part of Bengal’s history has now come under maximum focus. Singha Bahini, another Hindutva group has launched a video depicting the life of Gopal Chandra Mukherjee who armed and led Hindus against the Muslims of Kolkata in 1946. Criticising the role of Gandhi, Nehru, Suhrawardy and the Marxists, the video, which has gone viral, mentions Mookerjee as protector of Bengal’s Hindus.
Mookerjee left the Hindu Mahasabha after Gandhi’s assassination, resigned from Nehru’s cabinet in protest against the 1950 Liaquat-Nehru Pact and formed the Bharatiya Jan Sangh in 1951 with help from the Rashtriya Shayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as a nationalist alternative to the Congress.
“Shyama Prasad’s role in politics was never properly evaluated. Now is the time to do so,” BJP’s Bengal unit president Dilip Ghosh said when the party observed Mookerjee’s death anniversary on June 23.
“Shyama Prasad is our pride but BJP and RSS misuse his name to gain mileage,” retorted Sovandeb Chattopahdyay, a senior member in chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet even as his party, the Trinamool Congress, garlanded Mookerjee’s statues across the districts.
“Mookerjee’s success lies in the facts that Nehru’s policies are being debated again while his slogan, “Ek vidhan, ek pradhan, ek nishan” (One constitution, one prime minister, one flag) has been implemented in Kashmir. He created West Bengal, which Bengali Hindus can truly call their motherland. We will carry out a campaign, highlighting his contribution,” says Bengal BJP’s vice president Jay Prakash Majumdar.
While the far-Right considers Mookerjee as its own and the TMC insists that he is Bengal’s pride, the Left’s dominant constituent the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has been severely critical of him, is willing use Article 370 to beat him with.
Md. Salim, a politburo member of the CPI (M), says Mookerjee did not oppose Article 370 or granting of special status to Kashmir although he was member of the Constituent Assembly and the Union cabinet. “Basically he was opposed only to the Liaquat-Nehru Pact,” argues Salim.
Amid the debates, Mookerjee is being hailed in pamphlets and newspaper columns. This, in itself, is a nothing short of resurrection for a man whose surname in English appears in most places as ‘Mukherjee’ and not how he chose to spell it.
Among its 6.97 crore voters, Bengal has 20.6 lakh first-time voters who outnumbered their counterparts in other states and played a crucial role in the recent Lok Sabha elections. BJP and RSS leaders hope that propagating Mookerjee’s ideas may enthuse these youths to see the state’s relevance in the Hindu nationalist movement that their school text books did not focus on.
First Published: Aug 13, 2019 22:58 IST