By Bhupendra Kumar Bhattacharyya
Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee (1901-1953) had an eventful life although it was cut short early under mysterious circumstances while he was in detention without trial, in Kashmir.
In a brief span of life, he held important assignments in the country'spublic life, such as the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University (1934-1938), Finance Minister of Bengal (1941-1942), Minister of Industry in independent India'sfirst national government (1947-1950), founder-president, Bharatiya Jana Sangh (now BJP), leader of the Opposition in Parliament (1952-1953) where he left an indelible mark.
It is intended to discuss here a little known but historically important letter of Dr Mookerjee. In this letter of August 12, 1942 to Lord Linlithgow, then India'sViceroy, he made ?certain tentative proposals? for an honourable Indo-British settlement? and to break the political deadlock. The background in which he wrote this letter was the tense political situation in the country, discontent over the failure of the Cripps Mission to arrive at a political settlement with the Indian leaders, launching of the Quit India movement on August 9, 1942 by the Congress and imprisonment of most of the Congress leaders, including Gandhiji. On the other hand, world War II was in full swing, both in Europe and South-east Asia. By this time Burma (now Myanmar) had fallen to Japan. Three or four places in the country, including Calcutta were bombed by Japan. And there was a lurking fear that Japan would overrun Bengal.
On June 23, 2004 it will be 51 years since Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee died in mysterious circumstances in jail in Kashmir. His 103rd birth anniversary falls on July 6. In a brief span of life, he held important assignments in the country'spublic life such as the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University (1934-1938), Finance Minister of Bengal (1941-1942), Minister of Industry in independent India'sfirst national government (1947-1950), founder-president, Bharatiya Jana Sangh (now BJP), leader of the Opposition in Parliament (1952-1953), where he left an indelible mark.
As mentioned earlier, Syama Prasad'sletter is of great historical value as it showed his patriotism, pragmatism, sagacity and above all, statesmanship of a high order. The letter, however, did not receive due attention in the country'spolitical circles nor was it discussed by our intelligentsia. The proposals contained in the letter in a nutshell were:
- ?The British government should declare that India'sfreedom is formally recognised.?
- ?The Viceroy or anyone deputed by the British cabinet will be authorised to negotiate with the Indian political parties regarding the formation of an Indian national gover-nment to whom power will be trans-ferred. The national govern-ment will be composite in character and will include representatives of important parties and groups in the country. It will set up provincial governments also on a similar basis.? The economic development of the country was uppermost in his mind and he proposed that the ?Indian national govern-ment will concentrate on an active policy of industrialisa-tion and economic uplift of India so that India may effectively prosecute the war.?
- He was fully conscious of the country'sdefence needs and suggested the raising of ?an Indian army whose aim will be to help in the maintenance of internal security and also to defend the country against foreign aggression.?
- ?The Indian national government will declare its determination to fight the Axis powers and it will not conclude a separate peace with the enemy.? He further proposed that ?the war policy of India will be in accordance with the policy as determined by the Allied War Councils on which India will be represented.?
- He further suggested that during the prosecution of the war ?the Commander-in-Chief will remain in charge of the operational control of the war in India and will carry out the common policy of the Allied War Councils.?
About the future Constitution of India, Syama Prasad suggested that ?the Indian national government in due course will take necessary steps for the formation of a Constituent Assembly for the purpose.? Being conscious of the right of the minorities and in order to safeguard them, he proposed that ?there will be a treaty between Great Britain and India, which will specially deal with minority rights. In any case, any minority will have the right to refer any proposal regarding the future Constitution to the arbitration of an international Tribunal in case it considers such a step to be necessary for the protection of its just rights. The decision of such Tribunal will be binding on the Indian Government and on the minority concerned.?
About the Quit India movement, Dr Mookerjee was forthright and told the Viceroy quite bluntly: ?The demand of the Congress as embodied in its last resolution virtually constitutes the national demand of India as a whole.? He deprecated that ?a camp-aign of misrepresentation is now being carried on in some sections of the foreign press, characterising the Congress demand as a virtual invitation to Japan and a surrender to chaos and confusion.? He also asserted that ?the movement has not been started by the Congress but it is the British policy which has accelerated the crisis.?
Syama Prasad Mookerjee'sletter of August 12, 1942 to Lord Linlithgow then British Viceroy in India.
In order to create a congenial climate for having a fruitful Indo-British dialogue, he requested the Viceroy for release of ?the Congress leaders and ask for a truce from every side.?
Before concluding the letter, Syama Prasad told Lord Linlithgow that ?all parties will do everything that is possible to arrive at a settlement, which will be honourable to all and will help us to win the war that aims at crushing the finest fruits of human civilisation? and entreated him ?to rise equal to the occasion and contribute your worthy share in solving the deadlock.?