THE REFORMIST: Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee was an accidental legendary politician with a golden heartby Opinion Express June 6, 2018 0 comments
Syama Prasad Mookerjee was among the leading intellectual academicians and educationist of his time. It is not very often that we come across a person who lives for fifty-two years and remains in politics only for fourteen years but within that short period rises to great heights and makes history. Dr Syama Prasad Mokerjee was born on 6 July 1901 in Calcutta (Now Kolkatta) and breathed his last on 23 June 1953 in captivity at Srinagar under mysterious circumstances. His lifespan and matter of death bear uncanny resemblance to his dearest disciple Pandit Deeendayal Upadhyaya.
His engagement with education was not coincidental. He came from a family of educationists. His Father, Asutosh Mookerjee, was vice chancellor of the University of Calcutta, and had earned the sobriquet “lion of Bengal”. Incidentally, like his father, Mookerjee served as the youngest vice chancellor of the university from 1934 to 1938. Mookerjee advocated reforming the Indian education system in the light of rich Indian intellectual and cultural traditions. He did not take resource to the easy task of just critiquing the colonial education system, but as a critical insider, he provided reasons for doing so in larger Indian historical perspective and prepared a blueprint and implemented it too in his capacity as the vice chancellor.
During this period, Sir Asutosh Mookerjee (1864-1924), father of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, revolutionized Indian higher education by changing the character of the Indian universities from mere college affiliated academic bodies to post graduated department of teaching and research. Sir Asutosh Mookerjee, who had multifarious talent as a lawyer, mathematician and educationalist had groomed his eldest son Rama Prasad for the legal profession and second son Syama Prasad for the field of education. After a brilliant career in the university of Calcutta and securing first position in his graduation and post graduation, Syama Prasad 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 Syama Prasad’s 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 twenty three, 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 one in which Indian had some say. In 1929, Syama Prasad disagreed with this and resigned his seat in the Council 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 multiple selves and infinite possibilities. Exceptional are those who leave inedible imprints on history with their vision, voice and accomplishments. Syama Prasad Mookerjee was one such personality who played a pivotal role in the Indian history in the first half of the twentieth century and continues to exercise influence. In fact, the present generation must follow Dr Mookerjee life to serve the country. The challenge of present day political structure is tremendous wherein the polity is commercialized for personal gains. The thugs and loom pins has high jacked the political scene of the country, fighting popular elections for a simple person is just next to impossible. So taking clue from Dr Mookerjee life: firebrand educated person must take a pledge to cleanse the system. We need to bring merit in the political system that is grossly lacking in the present setup including the very own party that idolize Dr Mookerjee.
Historical being often get reduced to images as seen throughout human history. Mookerjee has been a victim of perception, mainly political, as 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 domains beyond politics remains unacknowledged. A serious and vigorous consideration of his educational views and vision still eludes us and is not a part of the discussions in the mainstream education system in India even today. Mookerjee was an academician at heart who deftly donned the mantle of a politician. His discontent with the then power structures 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 Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s principal achievements in the fields of education were during the year of his vice-chancellorship of the University of Calcutta between 1934 and 1938. Dr Mookerjee supported nationalist scholar who wished to undertake serious research in Indian history from an Indian viewpoint, he encouraged excavations, opened the first museum of In At dian history, culture and archaeology in the university and invited international universities to send their students to study India civilization, culture and the Sanskrit language. He promoted the languages of India. 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, remarried, again widowed and died early. His father, Sir Asutosh, a guiding light in his life died prematurely at the age of sixty in 1924. Then came the worst tragedy, when his beloved wife of only eleven years, Sudha,died. Dr Mookerjee was left to take care of his four children. He remains in public life only because of the help he received from his sister-in-law, Smt Tara Devi, wife of his elder brother Justice Rama Prasad. Post Muslim League conference in 1940, the Hindu’s of Bengal being persecuted were looking for a leader who could look after their interest. Dr Mookerjee was persuaded to leave the education filed and join active politics. Dr Mookerjee’s activism in politics came at a difficult time. The Congress was powerful in Bengal but was always hesitant to speak for the right’s of the Hindus, often bowing down to the Muslim league pressure tactics. Vinayak Damodar Veer Sarvarkar, the All India Hindu Mahasabha leader came to Bengal in August 1939 and Dr Mookerjee joined him in the Hindu Mahasabha soon. Even Gandhiji welcomed his entry in politics and suggested that somebody is required to lead Hindu’s after Malaviya’ Ji .. Gandhiji had great respect and admiration for Dr Mookerjee abilities. It was on Gandhi ji insistence that Nehru included Dr Mookerjee in the first union cabinet of independent India. As a minister, Dr Mookerjee was credited with several pioneering schemes namely Damodar Valley Corporation, fertilizer factory at Sindri, Chittarajan Locomotive Works and Hindustan Aircraft of Bangalore. He established All India Handicraft Board, All India Handloom Board, and the Khadi and village Industries Board were set up to supply the much needed organization and finance required by cottage and small scale industries to survive and develop. In July 1948, the Industrial Finance Corporation of India, a government sponsored institution acting as an investment banker, collecting private saving on government guarantee of repayment and distribution them in forms of advances and long term loans to industrial borrowers, was formed. Within one year in politics, Sarvakar appointed him the president of the All India Hindu Mahasabha, this enabled him to tour entire country. Dr MOOKERJEE became all India leader. His courage, determination, organizational skills, oratorical skills and tireless work propelled him to national fame and he became rallying point for Hindus all over the country. It was in 1940 in Lahore that he addressed a rally of RSS and observed: I see in this organization the one silver lining in the cloudy sky of India. In 1950, the East Pakistan Government launched an anti Hindu program all over the East Pakistan with the intention of de-Hindusing the country. As a result, huge Hindu exodus started in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. Nehru wanted an agreement with Liaquat Ali led government but Dr Mookejee was opposed to an agreement. This led to his resignation from the cabinet. Further, KASHMIR POLICY of Pandit Nehru forced Dr Mookerjee to establish separate way in politics. Now Dr Mookerjee was leader without a party. Sri Guruji Golwalkar, Sarsanhchalak of RSS suggested him to start a political party to be backed by RSS cadre. He finally founded Bharatiya Jan Sangh on 21 Oct 1951. Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee was a proud Indian and great nationalist. He was Indian by heart and advised us to keep our head erect because of the inherent power of assimilation that the Indian mind has shown itself capable of extraordinary abilities. According to Dr Mookerjee, the aim of our culture has been the complete realization of life. Nature, man and God make for life’s entire knowledge and service. He had the firm belief that the cause of Indian advancement is just and righteous and standing at the foot of Himalayas and near holy rivers that have from time immemorial witnessed the mighty career of Indian civilization, which no power can crush, let us draw inspiration from the glorious past, sustain fortitude and strength to face the trials and turbulence of the present and fearlessly contribute our humble share in the rebuilding of a tree and united India of the future. Let us gather in our own voices of India’s oppressed millions and proclaim in the words of our beloved poet our determination to march along the path of truth and justice and to consider no sacrifice, no preparation is great for the emancipation of out Motherland.
Dr Mookerjee and his party BJS had extremely strong view on Kashmir; “Kashmir” is an inalienable part of India and should be treated as any other state. BJS was pro Hindu and propagated ultra nationalism. Referring to Nehru’s threat of crushing Jana Sangh, Dr Mookerjee said: I will crush this crushing mentality of yours. Dr Mookerjee aligned with Pandit Dogra against Sheikh Abdullah and emerged as the most vociferous speaker in the entire opposition. On the request of Pandit Dogra, on 8 May 1953, he set out on a journey by passenger train from Delhi railway station accompanied by Vaid Guru Dutt, Atal Bihari vapayee, Tek Chand and Balraj adhok along with few media persons. He was arrested by J&K police on the grounds that he was about to act in a manner prejudicial to public safety and peace. He was taken in preventive custody and he was kept in a isolated concrete hut in highly cramped and uncomfortable conditions. Dr Mookerjee condition worsen and sadly he died in confinement without proper medical care on 23 June 1953. Several people had sought inquiry to find out background and the conspiracy behind it. Dr Mookerjee untimely and suspicious death on the other hand took place in secret, far away from family and friends in hostile territory which was even beyond the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India. It is therefore natural that Dr Mookerjee family, colleagues, admires, party men and unrelated men who took an interest in public affairs would demand an inquiry into it.
Thus, ended the life of one of the greatest sons of Mother INDIA. The party that Dr Mookerjee founded, the ideals for nation building that he set before the people and workers ultimately found their realisation in the form of commitment to protecting nationalism and to work towards realizing a great and united India. The life of Dr Mookerjee as seen through the prism of ideas of many luminaries, will enthuse generation to come with his ideas and ideals for which he made the ultimate sacrifice. The ultimate sacrifice made by Dr Mookerjee must be put to use in building the modern India. The first and the foremost thing is that we must bring merit and honesty in the public life. India is a continent with varied culture hence to integrate the variables, we need a person like Dr Mookerjee to demolish the barrier of caste and creed and division of languages. The public life must not be treated as a profession to build family businesses but the objective should be to serve over 1.3 billion people living in this great country. Dr Mookerjee was a strong believer in Indian cultural values like service, sacrifice and care for all, among others, and advocated the primacy of social harmony, for he saw internal conflicts as the main cause of India’s plummeting fortunes. On umpteen occasions in his discourse, he stressed the need for harmony and saw education as the main instrument of enforcing it in the country. Mookerjee’s concern for education were integral t his yearning for India’s independence. Free India of his dreams was an able country capable of catering to the needs of all stages of education as part of one comprehensive national system-from primary to university levels. He saw education in India holistically: gender-men and women, area-rural and urban: religion-Hindus, Muslims and Christians, of all segments from primary to higher education, and all constitutive elements of human personality-physical, mental, intellectual, rational, aesthetic, relational, moral and spiritual-as equal participants. Education to Mookerjee was the instrument for attaining independence. He had imbibed the principle that true education liberates but the liberation was not an abstract category but an ontological category that meant freedom from causes of suffering and bondages-economic, social, political and spiritual.
We must take lesson from Dr Mookerjee’s life to adopt values that he shared for leading public life in building a stronger nation. Education, merit and values must come first in public life and it is more relevant for the party that is presently ruling the country because most of the values professed by Dr Mookerjee can turn around the country in a stronger, peaceful yet powerful nation.
(Writer is Editor-in-Chief of Opinion Express Group and member of Editorial Board with The Pioneer)