It is ironical that a champion of democracy and an upholder of the dignity of the Constitution such as Syama Prasad Mookerjee, should have been detained, confined and thrown to death a little over a year after the formation of free India’s first Parliament
In a short life of 52 years, Syama Prasad Mookerjee strode many worlds and in each left his indelible and inimitable imprint. By the time he died on June 23, 1953 — a lonely and unattended death in detention in Srinagar — Mookerjee had already crossed many landmarks and initiated political interventions that would eventually alter the course of independent India’s political history. His determination to reject the ‘abharatiya’ direction of national growth which aimed to make Bharat “a carbon copy of the West” and which ignored the “best in Bharatiya life and ideals” and failed to “harness the enthusiasm created by freedom to the task of realisation of the great potentialities of the country” saw him launch a movement in the final phase of his life, for creating an alternative political narrative and vision that would, through a series of trials, tribulations and struggle assume the centrestage of our political life.
A conservative in the widest and most democratic sense, Mookerjee displayed, throughout his life, a profound commitment to and sensitivity towards India’s civilisational values, its civilisational knowledge-pool and sought to remould, re-state and situate these in India’s struggle for emancipation and in its quest for re-building a new life after political freedom was won. His articulations always possessed three dimensions — the local or the regional, the national and the international, and in each he sought to define and situate the Bharatiya dimension or layer. Naturally, for those infatuated with communism, socialism and fascism whose primary task was always to denigrate and propagate against civilisational India such a stance was inexplicable as well as unacceptable.
Contrary to what some have projected, a profound sense of identity with India’s fundamental unity and a deep recognition of its diversities exemplified Mookerjee’s outlook and approach, it was this diversity in oneness that had to be preserved, perpetuated and safeguarded, as he noted, in his address to one of the sessions of the Hindu Mahasabha, of which he was the Working President from 1940-1944, “India according to its tradition and history has remained the home of followers of diverse religions, faiths and creeds. All ultimately being assimilated in the mighty stream of Indian culture and civilisation. This unity amidst diversity has been the keynote of Indian civilisation. Indian history gives us many examples, of unique achievements in arts, literature, religion, social and political advancement when unity was the dominant note of Indian life.” He was not, as he told his communists colleagues in Parliament, like those “who do not believe that India is nation but is a combination of separate nationalities.” Of course for a majority of those who have calumnised the contribution of Mookerjee, diversity and diversities have always been seen as convenient fire-iron for promoting class conflict and unrest. They have always denied the wielded unity of these diversities that civilisational India has always signified.
The first act of intolerance and of fascism that spewed disdain towards our democratic framework was when a personality of his stature — one who, while leading a then fledgling party in Opposition, commanded the acceptance of leaders cutting across party lines, one who as member of “Free India’s first Cabinet” drove himself to reverse India’s de-industrialisation and displayed a complete faith in the fundamental principles of India’s Parliament and its Constitution — was tricked into a confinement from which he emerged dead.
But what is fascinating and can inspire those who wish to truly undertake a study of Mookerjee’s life and contribution towards the consolidation and preservation of Indian nationhood and its democratic spirit are the various dimensions and aspects of his contributions, aspects and contributions which are defined by an undiluted and selfless patriotism and an ineradicable faith in the Constitution of India.
Card carrying communist party historians, who, nibbling and feasting on official doles, have toiled a lifetime to justify or whitewash the subversive role of communists in India’s freedom movement have often tried to falsify Mookerjee’s legacy and minimise his contributions to our national life or to portray him as a fascist majoritarian who brooked no diversity of opinion and of purpose. The reality as seen in Mookerjee’s own life was quite the opposite. A deep study and dissemination of his life and works in order to dispel the myths and the shadows of false propaganda and duplicitous historical research is the need of the hour.
Interestingly, even in his last movement in support of the Praja Parishad’s demand for the full integration of the State of Jammu & Kashmir in India, Mookerjee displayed a most catholic parliamentary spirit and approach, continuously emphasising that what was required was the settlement of the issue through dialogue and a mutual understanding. While Nehru displayed obduracy and Sheikh Abdullah an ambivalent opportunism, Mookerjee continued to remain steadfast in his demand for a constitutional approach to the issue.
Facts have often been obfuscated for political expediency, as for example, it has hardly been pointed out that in one of his first letters to Nehru on the topic, Mookerjee wrote, “please do not overlook that a good number of Muslims in Jammu have also joined the movement” (for complete integration). His true constitutional sense and adherence to constitutional values in free India saw him repeatedly call for dialogue, as when he told Parliament and asked the Prime Minister to let them meet Sheikh Abdullah, “we would have liked to have met Sheikh Abdullah and others in a friendly way and explained our point of view to them. We want to come to an agreement, an agreement which will make it possible for India to retain its unity and Kashmir to retain its separate existence from Pakistan and be merged with India.” His determination for upholding the sovereignty of “Free India’s” Parliament was paramount, he told the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House, “There cannot be two Sovereign Parliaments in India” and why should Abdullah be “afraid of accepting the Sovereignty of this Parliament of Free India.”
His objective in making this demand was without blemish, as when he argued, during one of the last discussions regarding the motion on Kashmir, “We must be able to show that India is not only in theory, but also in fact, a country where Hindus, Muslims, Christians and everyone will be able to live without fear and with equality of rights. That is the Constitution we have framed and which we propose to apply rigorously and scrupulously.” His criticism of policies, Mookerjee argued, was, therefore, never prompted by “some narrow, sectarian, communal motive”, it was rather “the fear that what you are doing may lead to the ‘balkanisation’ of India, may lead to the strengthening of the hands of those who do not want to see a strong United India.”
It was thus supremely ironical, an epochal tragedy of Himalayan proportions, that a champion of Parliament and an upholder of the dignity of the Constitution such as him, should have been detained, confined and thrown to death within a little over a year after the formation of free India’s first Parliament. Indeed a colossal, lamentable and irreversible act of intolerance…