The ruling party must try and imbibe Dr Syam Prasad Mukherjee’s ideals if it wants India to become a stronger nation in the future
The current ruling party must try and imbibe Dr Mukherjee’s ideals if it wants India to become a strong state in the future. He was among the leading intellectual academicians and educationists of his time. It is not very often that we come across a person who lives for 52 years and remains in politics only for 14 years but within that short period rises to great heights and makes history. He was born on July 6, 1901, in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and breathed his last on June 23, 1953, in captivity in Srinagar under mysterious circumstances. His lifespan and matter of death bear uncanny resemblance to his dearest disciple Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay.
His engagement with education was not coincidental. He came from a family of educationists. His Father, Ashutosh Mukherjee, was Vice Chancellor of the University of Calcutta, and had earned the sobriquet “the lion of Bengal”. Incidentally, like his father, Mukherjee served as the youngest Vice Chancellor of the university from 1934 to 1938. Mukherjee advocated reforming the Indian education system in the light of rich Indian intellectual and cultural traditions. He did not take the easy road of just critiquing the colonial education system, but as a critical thinker, he provided reasons for doing so from a larger Indian historical perspective and prepared a blueprint and implemented it in his capacity as the Vice Chancellor.
During this period, Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee ( 1864-1924), father of Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee, revolutionised the higher Indian education by changing the character of Indian universities from mere college affiliated academic bodies to post graduate departments of teaching and research. Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, who had multifarious talents as a lawyer, mathematician and educationalist, had groomed his eldest son, Rama Prasad for the legal profession and his second son, Syama Prasad for the field of education.
After a brilliant career at the University of Calcutta and securing the first position in his graduation and post graduation, he studied law to become a member of the Indian Bar in the Calcutta High Court, and there after set sail for England to become a Barrister and enter the English Bar. But his principle intention of going to England was to study the working of the universities in Britain. After accomplishing what he had in mind, he returned to India to become a member of the syndicate of the University of Calcutta.
At the age of 23, he was the youngest member of this syndicate. At that time, the Diarchy system had recently been introduced in India by the MontagueChelmsford Reforms ( 1919 ) and education was one of the transferred subjects, which simply means that Indians had some say in it. In 1929, Syama Prasad disagreed with this and resigned his seat in the Council in order to come back as an independent candidate. At this juncture in his life, he was purely concerned with education and not with politics.
Every human being is unique with infinite possibilities. Exceptional are those who leave inedible imprints on history with their vision, voice and accomplishments. Syama Prasad Mukherjee was one such personality who played a pivotal role in the Indian political history in the first half of the twentieth century and his ideas continue to hold sway till this day. In fact, the present generation must follow Dr Mukherjee’s life to serve the country.
The challenge of the present day political structure is tremendous wherein the polity is commercialised for personal gains. The thugs and loom pins have high jacked the political scene of the country and fighting popular elections for a common man is just next to impossible. So taking a clue from Dr Mukherjee’s life, we must take a pledge to cleanse the system. We need to bring merit to the political system that lacks a lot in the present political setup, including in the Bharatiya Janata Party, that idolises Dr Mukherjee.
As seen through history, historical beings often get reduced to images. Mukherjee has been a victim of perception, mainly political, and his contribution in the public sphere has been reduced to being known as the founder of Bharatiya Jana Sangh or as a crusader for Kashmir. Consequently, his contribution to the domains beyond politics remain unacknowledged. A serious and vigorous consideration of his educational views and vision still elude us and is not a part of the discussions in the mainstream education system in India today. Mukherjee was an academician at heart who deftly donned the mantle of a politician.
His discontent with the power structures that existed at that time and pressures persuaded him to join active politics, which he perceived to be a potent means of changing the nation in general and its education system in particular. Dr Mukherjee’s principal achievements in the fields of education were during the year of his Vice Chancellorship at the University of Calcutta from 1934 to 1938.
He supported nationalist scholars who wished to undertake serious research in Indian history from an Indian point of view. He encouraged excavations, opened the first museum of Indian history, culture and archaeology in the university and invited international universities to send their students to study the India civilization, culture and Sanskrit. In fact, in 1937, he invited Rabindranath Tagore to deliver the convocation address in Bengali – this was the first time ever that a convocation address was delivered in Bengali in the precincts of the University of Calcutta.
Syama Prasad had to face great tragedies. His elder sister, Kamla was widowed and died early. His father, Sir Ashutosh, a guiding light in his life died prematurely at the age of 60 in 1924. Then came the worst tragedy, when his beloved wife of only 11 years, Sudha died. and he was left to take care of his four children.
He remained in the public life only because of the help he received from his sister-in-law, Srimati Tara Devi, wife of his elder brother Justice Rama Prasad. Post the Muslim League conference in 1940, the Hindu’s of Bengal being persecuted were looking for a leader who could look after their interests. Dr Mukherjee was persuaded to leave the field of education and join active politics. His activism in politics came during a difficult time.
The Congress was powerful in Bengal but was always hesitant to speak for the rights of the Hindus, often bowing down to the Muslim League. Vinayak Damodar Veer Savarkar, the All India Hindu Mahasabha leader came to Bengal in August, 1939, and Dr Mukherjee joined him in the Hindu Mahasabha soon. Even Gandhiji welcomed his entry in politics and suggested that somebody was required to lead Hindu’s after Malaviya.
Gandhiji had great respect and admiration for Dr Mukherjee’s abilities. It was on Gandhiji’s insistence that Nehru included Dr Mukherjee in the first Union Cabinet of independent India. As a minister, Dr Mukherjee was credited with pioneering several schemes, namely the Damodar Valley Corporation, the fertilizer factory at Sindri, Chittarajan Locomotive Works and the Hindustan Aircraft of Bangalore. He also established the All India Handicraft Board, All India Handloom Board, and Khadi and Village Industries Board were set up to supply cottage and small scale industries with the much needed finance in order to survive and develop.
(The writer is Editor-in-Chief, Opinion Express Group)
Writer: Prashant Tewari
Courtesy: The Pioneer