A third category of people who have spread a Goebbelesian propaganda against Mookerjee’s legacy are the communist apologists. For them, his legacy is troublesome. They have, therefore, tried to marginalise any genuine nationalist who has challenged their world
A third category of people who have in the last fortnight barked at Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s legacy and spread a Goebbelesian propaganda against him are the communist apologists for the Muslim League, admirers of Jinnah, supporters of separatism and those ‘anti-nationals’ who are now passing themselves off as ‘secular nationalists’ but are in essence pseudo-nationalists whose only obsession is to see India fragment. Describing the then Communist Party’s role, Mookerjee had once noted in his diary, “The Communist Party which all along had played a shameless role in attacking the foundation of Indian nationalism”, one wonders whether the situation has altered today.
In fact, as early as 1944, Veer Savarkar had referred to ‘pseudo-nationalism’ and had pointed out how some, by giving lip service to nationalism and passing themselves off as nationalists, are in fact, assiduously working to wreck apart the national fabric. The ‘pseudo-nationalists’ abound today and are vocal through their pseudo-espousals. One hears them shout loudest for tolerance, for equal treatment, for the right of every part to secede from India, for the right of self-determination of nationalities within the Indian ‘subcontinent’, for the right to reject the Constitution and to fan the flames of separatism, for the right of terrorists to survive and carry on their trade and all these in the name of democracy, freedom of expression and human rights.
These pseudo-nationalist have new tune today which argues that they alone are the inheritors of the ‘anti-colonialist nationalist’ legacy. A laughable assertion, if one was to take into account their collaborationist past.
For the apologists of separatism and ‘Bharat ke barbadi’, Mookerjee’s legacy is troublesome, it reminds them of the strength and resilience of genuine nationalism and nationalists, it reminds them of the determination that such nationalism gives rise to in one who is driven and inspired by it. The genuine nationalists’ have faith in the integrity of India, the genuine nationalists’ belief in the fundamental oneness within India’s many diversities is an unsettling belief for the pseudo-nationalists who have always believed in the theory of many nationalities within India and espoused the eventual separation of these leading to India becoming a congeries of nations. These elements have, therefore, ceaselessly tried to minimise and marginalise any personality or genuine nationalist who has challenged their world either in the past or in the present.
Their favourite, false and now much clichéd accusation against Mookerjee is that he collaborated with the British. Again a study of the plethora of papers, booklets, statement and correspondences that exist at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library in Delhi repeatedly puncture a hole and deflate such propaganda.
In fact it is again amusing to hear this from those very scholars whose ideological progenitors themselves collaborated with the British to sabotage the saboteurs of British rule during the Quit India movement. Stacks, if not mounds of files, still exist that tell the entire story of how the communists ‘sabotaged’ the ‘anti-saboteurs’ of the Quit India movement and sought accolades and protection from their white masters.
The other churlish accusation against Mookerjee is that he did precious little during the great Bengal famine. Again the documents belie such a claim, Mookerjee’s own diaries, debates in the Assembly of that period, records of famine relief work reveal the herculean effort he had made to mitigate the epochal disaster. There has been little reference to or study of his interventions during this period, though Madhushree Mukherjee in her opus, Churchill’s Secret War, has for example, briefly touched upon his role and Chatterjee in his political biography of Mookerjee has addressed his role in great academic detail. But the reason why Mookerjee’s role of providing relief during the great famine is suppressed or misinterpreted is perhaps because it militates against a stereotype — how could a Hindu Mahasabha leader be one of the principal mover for famine relief during a famine which saw the Muslim peasantry being severely affected. Mookerjee’s role during the Bengal famine did not fit into the stereotype that some would like us to believe and absorb.
Not only active relief, defying DI rules that prevented publicising the famine and disseminating the plight of the people of Bengal across the country, Mookerjee wrote a series of articles on the famine situation exposing the callousness and indifference of the League Ministry and the colonial administration. “We have no confidence”, he stated in the Assembly, “in the ability, integrity and honesty of this Ministry. It is not nature’s hand alone that is dealing Bengal a death blow. Political maladministration lies at the root of the present catastrophe.” It was mainly because of Mookerjee that “the whole country learnt of the horrors of the ghastly tragedy of the Bengal famine” and it was again because of him that the “Government was forced to appoint an enquiry committee to go into the causes of the famine and take other remedial steps.”
Mookerjee’s appeal for the famine relief funds saw an ‘unimaginable’ country-wide response and large number of organisations joined the Relief Coordination Committee that Mookerjee formed. The communists of course kept themselves away from the Relief Coordination Committee, preferring to downplay the disaster and yet provide a semblance of their participation in relief work. While the communists stayed aloof, the Muslim League and its Khaksar organisation continued with their nefarious designs by exploiting the situation and sending affected Hindus, especially women and children, to some of the sham relief centres they had put up outside Bengal “with a view to ultimately convert them to Islam” and exploit their helpless plight. Even here, Mookerjee intervened, directly met the Khaksar leaders, asked them to desist from such trafficking and to hand over Hindus to relief camps run by the Mahasabha, the Bharat Sevashram Sangha and the Ramakrishna Mission.
He upped the pressure on the Government on this front and during the crisis, he succeeded in generating sufficient pressure to stop this trade. These inhuman dimensions of the famine will never be discussed as it exposes and proves hollow the specious arguments put forward by the apologists of the Muslim Leagues.