The Life and Times of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Tathagata Roy, Prabhat Prakashan, Pp 418, Rs 900.00
THIS biography of the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh or the BJP, as we currently know of it, shows what a truly multi-faceted personality Dr Mookerjee was – he was a politician, educationist, a bit of a religious and social reformer and a humanitarian! His forte in politics was as a parliamentarian who has had few equals to this day. As an educationist, he rose to dizzy heights at a very early age and if he had pursued with this career, he could have surpassed his illustrious father, Sir Asutosh Mookerjee. He founded not only a party but also led a political movement and all this within a life span of only 52 years.
The book begins by presenting the atmosphere at that time in Bengal. Talking of the ancestry of Syama Prasad, the system prevailing at that time was called the kulin system, wherein multiple marriages and a child-bride getting married to an old man, much married earlier, were a common phenomenon. She would undoubtedly become a widow soon. One such child widow was Saraswati, who had a son named Biswanath, who got married and had four sons. His third son named Ganga Prasad studied despite utter penury and rose to become a doctor, whose eldest son Asutosh later was knighted as Sir Asutosh Mookerjee after a brilliant career. Asutoh’s second son was Syama Prasad, the protagonist of this biography.
Syama Prasad grew up to be “an introvert, rather insular, a reflective person; also an emotional person”, who needed someone else by his side to give him emotional support. He was seriously affected by the early death of his wife Sudha Devi and never remarried or sink in grief. He succeeded in drowning his sorrow in public work. He had a sense of honour and propensity for playing practical jokes. He was a person with a very deep and abiding belief in the omnipotent, the Universal God; he was very attached to his Madhupur house; he went on to do post-graduation and was married while doing MA in 1922. He enjoyed only eleven years of married life and had five children – the last one, a four-month old son, died from diphtheria. His wife was heartbroken after this and died of pneumonia shortly afterwards.
He did Bar-at-Law from London in 1927 and became Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University at the age of 33. He entered politics in 1939. He did not subscribe either to the dominant political line of the Hindus, namely Gandhism, nor to the violent politics of the Bengal revolutionaries, nor to Marxism, nor even to the pro-Axis, anti-British militarism of Subhas Chandra Bose. It is said that his “basic beliefs, ideology and political methods were distinctly, fundamentally and decidedly right-wing, Indo-centric and constitutional. He was a constitutional politician at heart, the very anti-thesis of a revolutionary,” says the author.
Then the author describes the Noakhali carnage of 1946 and the Calcutta killings due to Direct Action by Premier Suhrawardy of Bengal. Then came the Partition of the country and Dr Mookerjee was given the portfolio of Industry and Supply by Prime Minister Nehru. By now Dr Mookerjee began to feel that Mahasabha could no longer play the part of a staunchly Hindu party as it did before Partition.
Subsequently the pogrom in East Bengal where Hindus were butchered angered Dr Mookerjee so much that he resigned from the Cabinet. The reasons he cited in his resignation letter to Nehru make for valuable reading. He had differences with Nehru over the plight of the Hindus in East Pakistan and wanted India to launch a war against Pakistan or ask it to “cede one-third of its territory in its eastern wing, so as to enable rehabilitation of the Hindus.” But the Nehru-Liaquat pact was signed.
Mookerjee wanted to go to Jammu & Kashmir but because of the prevailing permit system, he was not given permission. He went still and how he was put under house arrest near Nishat Bagh and how he had to walk up to the house, despite his troublesome varicose veins in his leg and how he spent his last days by being given streptomycin injections which did not suit him, is very heart wrenching. It goes to show how much he had to suffer due to Sheikh Abdullah’s leadership in Kashmir.
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