life and legacy of a leader

Book Review

Syama Prasad Mookerjee

Author- Anirban Ganguly and Avadhesh Kumar Singh

Publisher- Wisdom Tree, Rs 995

Scholars working on Mookerjee will find the volume extremely useful, writes RUP NARAYAN DAS

While Syama Prasad Mookerjee is remembered for three major events of Indian history — the partition of Bengal, which eventually facilitated the retention of Bengal within India; making Kashmir an integral part of India; and the creation of Jansangh — not much is known to the contemporary generation about his seminal contributions to education in India. How many in India, for example, know that he was the youngest ever Vice-Chancellor of the country (at Calcutta university) at the age of 33IJ Dr Mookerjee served two terms of two years each from 1934 to 1938. Earlier, he was the youngest member of the Syndicate of Calcutta University at the age of 23. Incidentally, his father, Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee, was also the VC of Calcutta University. So literally, he was the illustrious son of an illustrious father.

He was a Bengali aristocrat, but his rich lineage never coloured his understanding of the social dynamics of deprivation. Rather, his correct understanding of society and India’s cultural heritage and intellectual tradition shaped his outlook and approach to education. He wanted the history of India to be written from an Indian perspective. The editors writes, “As the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Mookerjee supported nationalist scholars who wished to undertake serious research in Indian history from an Indian viewpoint; he encouraged excavations, opened the first museum of Indian history, culture and archaeology in the University (of Calcutta) and also invited international universities to send their students to study Indian civilisation, culture and Sanskrit language…”

It is against this backdrop that Syama Prasad Mookerjee: His Vision of Education, edited by Dr Anirban Ganguly, and Avadesh Kumar Singh assumes significance. Dr Ganguly is the director of the Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation and has authored and edited books on Syama Prasad Mookerjee, and as such there could not have been a better person to do a volume on the life and legacy of such a towering personality. Dr Ganguly is a writer and columnist in his own right. Avadesh Kumar Singh is also an accomplished academician. The book was recently released by Amit Shah, the President of the BJP at the Nehru Memorial Museum and library. Brij Bihari Kumar, Chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science also spoke on the occasion, besides Dr Ganguly himself.

A product of liberal education of the British mould, Syama Prasad Mookerjee never debunked the colonial education per se; he rather critiqued it and strove to inject new elements to the pedagogy of education. His emphasis on mother language as a medium of education reflected his conviction that a child understands the tongue in a natural and innate manner and effortlessly. There is a rationale and scientific basis to it. It is no bigotry or jingoism. He at the same time, however, never despised English language. There is no dichotomy between the two, there is no binary approach. Thus his approach to education was inclusive and scientific. No wonder, therefore, when he invited the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore for the convocation of Calcutta University in 1937, Tagore delivered the convocation address in Bengali in deference to the sentiment of Mookerjee. Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s emphasis on mother tongue was vindicated when UNESCO announced International Mother Tongue Day in 1999 and formally recognised it in 2008. This year, February 21 was observed by UNESCO as International Mother Tongue Day.

Besides the product in terms of its contents and insights, their packaging is also impeccable. The 300-odd page book is well produced. High quality paper is used and the get-up is very impressive. The narration is lucid and free flowing, which keeps the reader engrossed. Not a single spelling mistake or printing error is noticed. The comprehensive and well researched introduction and the concluding chapter, ‘Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee: A Portrait of a Selfless Patriot’ by the authors adds great value to the volume. The two chapters bear the stamp of scholarly erudition of the authors and their in-depth study of the speeches and writings of Mookerjee. The concluding chapter not only throws light on his life and time but also a snapshot of Bengal politics and the circumstances in which Mookerjee entered the political arena in Bengal, the sinister designs to obliterate Bengal from the map of India, and the excruciating experience of Mookerjee in Jammu and Kashmir. Describing this as his ‘greatest achievement’ the authors write, “After it became settled that India would be portioned and it was proposed that the whole of Bengal would go to Pakistan, the reworking of the partition of Muslim-majority Bengal was forced by Dr Mookerjee by creating public opinion in favour of a homeland for Bengali Hindus and attaching the Hindu areas of Bengal to India…” It is pointed out that Sardar Patel was much in favour of Mookerjee being included in the first cabinet of free India. Sardar Patel greatly admired his historic role in demanding the partition of Bengal and thus saving a part of it from Jinnah’s Pakistan.

The book also contains some precious photographs of Mookerjee with his mother Jogmaya Devi, the Mother at the Aurobindo Ashram Puducherry, Dr BR Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru and U Nu of Burma. An illuminating foreword by PM Narendra Modi enhances its significance. The exhaustive and comprehensive bibliography appended to the book indicates the rigorous research that has gone into it. The well-researched and edited volume will go a long way in putting things in perspective and correct historical distortions, aberrations and anomalies. Scholars and researchers working on Syama Prasad Mookerjee will find the volume extremely useful.

The reviewer is a scholar and writer. Views expressed are personal

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