Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee-a leader of masses

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Er Tilak Raj Bhagat

Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was born in a Bengali Hindu family on July 6, 1901 in Calcutta (Kolkata). His family originally hailed from Jirat, Hooghly District, West Bengal. His grandfather Ganga Prasad Mukherjee was born in Jirat and he came to Calcutta and settled there afterwards. Shyama Prasad’s father was Ashutosh Mukherjee, a judge of the High Court of Calcutta, Bengal, who was also Vice-Chancellor of University of Calcutta. His mother was Jogamaya Devi Mukherjee. He enrolled in Bhawanipur’s Mitra Institution in 1906 and his behavior in school was appreciated by all his teachers. In 1914, he passed matriculation examination and was admitted into Presidency College. He stood seventeenth in the Inter-Arts Examination in 1916 and graduated in English, securing first position in 1921. Mukherjee also completed MA in Bengali, being graded as first class in 1923 and also became a fellow of the Senate in 1923. He completed his Bachelor in Law in 1924. He got enrolled as an advocate in Calcutta High Court in 1924, the same year when his father died. Subsequently, he left for England in 1926 to study at Lincoln’s Inn and was called to the English Bar in the same year. In 1934, at the age of 33, he became youngest Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta and held the office until 1938. During his term as Vice-Chancellor, Rabindranath Tagore delivered the University Convocation Address in Bengali for the first time.
He started his political career in 1929, when he entered the Bengal Legislative Council as an Indian National Congress (INC) candidate representing Calcutta University. However, he resigned next year when the INC decided to boycott the legislature. Subsequently, he contested the election as an independent candidate and was elected. In 1937, he was elected as an independent candidate in the elections which brought Krishak Praja Party to power. He served as the Finance Minister of Bengal Province in 1941-42 under A.K. Fazlul Haq’s Progressive Coalition government which was formed on 12 December 1941 after the resignations of the Congress government. Kaji Najrul Islam wrote a letter on 17 July 1942, “I respect and love only you from my heart in this coalition ministry. I know we’ll make India free. Then, Bengalis will remember you and Subhas Babu before everyone else- you’ll be the hero of our flag.” During his tenure, his statements against the government were censored and his movements were restricted. He was also prevented from visiting the Midnapore district in 1942 when severe floods caused a heavy loss of life and property. He resigned on November 20, 1942 accusing the British government of trying to hold on to India under any cost and criticized its repressive policies against the Quit India Movement. After resigning, he mobilized support and organized relief with the help of Mahabodhi Society, Ramakrishna Mission and Marwari Relief Society. In 1946, he was again elected as an independent candidate from the Calcutta University. He was elected as a member of the Constituent Assembly of India in the same year. Mukherjee joined Hindu Mahasabha in Bengal in 1939 and became its acting president. He was appointed as the working president of the organization in 1940. In February 1941, Mukherjee told a Hindu rally that if Muslims wanted to live in Pakistan they should ‘pack their bags and baggage and leave India to wherever they like’. Yet, the Hindu Mahasabha also formed provincial coalition governments with the All-India Muslim League in Sindh and the North-West Frontier Province while Mukherjee was its leader. He was elected as the President of Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha in 1943. He remained in this position till 1946, with Laxman Bhopatkar becoming the new president in the same year. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru inducted Mukherjee into the Interim Central Government as a Minister for Industry and Supply on 15 August 1947. Mukherjee began to have differences with Mahasabha after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, in which the organization was blamed by Sardar Patel for creating the atmosphere that led to the killing. Mukherjee was firmly against their joint pact to establish minority commissions and guarantee minority rights in both countries as he thought it left Hindus in East Bengal to the mercy of Pakistan. While addressing a rally in Calcutta on 21 May, he stated that an exchange of population and property at governmental level on regional basis between East Bengal and the states of Tripura, Assam, West Bengal and Bihar was the only option in the current situation.
Mukherjee founded Bharatiya Jana Sangh on 21 October 1951 in Delhi, becoming its first president. In 1952 elections, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) won three seats in the Parliament of India, including Mukherjee’s. He had formed the National Democratic Party within the Parliament. It consisted of 32 members of the Lok Sabha and 10 members of the Rajya Sabha; however, it was not recognized by the speaker as an opposition party. The BJS was created with the objective of nation-building and nationalizing all non-Hindus by ‘inculcating Bharatiya culture’ in them. Mukherjee was strongly opposed to Article 370, seeing it as a threat to national unity. He fought against it inside and outside the parliament with one of the goals of Bharatiya Jana Sangh being its abrogation. He raised his voice strongly against the provision in his Lok Sabha speech on June 16, 1952. He termed the arrangements under the article as Balkanization of India and the three-nation theory of Sheikh Abdullah. The state was granted its own flag along with a prime minister whose permission was required for anyone to enter the state. In opposition to this, Mukherjee had once said ‘Ek Desh Mein Do Vidhan, Do Pradhan Aur Do Nishan Nahi Chalenge’ (A single country can’t have two constitutions, two prime ministers, and two national emblems). Bharatiya Jana Sangh along with Hindu Mahasabha and Jammu Praja Parishad launched a massive Satyagraha to get the provisions removed. In his letter to Nehru dated February 3, 1953, he wrote that the issue of accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India should not be allowed to hang fire. Mukherjee went to visit Kashmir in 1953 and observed a hunger strike to protest the law that prohibited Indian citizens from settling within the state and mandating that they carry ID cards. Mukherjee wanted to go to Jammu and Kashmir but, because of the prevailing permit system, he was not given permission. Mukherjee was arrested on entering Kashmir on May 11, 1953. He and two of his arrested companions were first taken to Central Jail of Srinagar. Later they were transferred to a cottage outside the city. Mukherjee’s condition started deteriorating and he started feeling pain in back and high temperature on the intervening night of June 19 and 20. He was diagnosed with dry pleurisy from which he had also suffered in 1937 and 1944. The doctor prescribed him a streptomycin injection and powders, however, Mukherjee informed him that his family physician had told him that streptomycin did not suit his system. The doctor, however, told him that new information about drug had come to light and assured him that he would be fine. On 22 June, he felt pain near his heart, started perspiring and feeling as if he was fainting. He was later shifted to a hospital and provisionally diagnosed with a heart attack. He died a day later. The state government declared that he had died on 23 June at 3:40 AM due to a heart attack.
His death in custody raised wide suspicion across the country and demands for an independent inquiry were raised, including earnest requests from his mother Jogamaya Devi, to Prime Minister Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru. The Prime Minister declared that he had asked a number of persons who were privy to the facts and, according to him, there was no mystery behind Mukherjee’s death. Devi did not accept Nehru’s reply and requested an impartial inquiry. Nehru, however, ignored the letter and no inquiry commission was set-up. Mukherjee’s death, therefore, remains a matter of some controversy. S C Das claims that Mukherjee was murdered. Atal Bihari Vajpayee claimed in 2004 that arrest of Mukherjee in Jammu and Kashmir was a ‘Nehru conspiracy’. BJP in 2011 called for an inquiry to probe Mukherjee’s death. One of main thoroughfare in Calcutta was renamed as Shyama Prasad Mukherjee road on 3 July 1953 a few days after his death. Shyama Prasad College founded by him in 1945 in Kolkata is named after him. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee College of University of Delhi was established in 1969 in his memory. On 7 August 1998, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation named a bridge after Mukherjee. Delhi has a major road named after Mukherjee called Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Marg. Kolkata, too, has a major road called Shyama Prasad Mukherjee road. In 2001, the main research funding institute of Government of India, CSIR, instituted a new fellowship named after him. On 22 April 2010, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s (MCD) newly constructed Rs 650-crore building, the tallest building in Delhi, was named as Doctor Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Civic Centre. It was inaugurated by the then Home Minister P Chidambaram. The building, which is estimated to cater to 20,000 visitors per day, will also house different wings and offices of MCD. The MCD also built the Shyama Prasad Swimming Pool Complex which hosted aquatic events during the 2010 Commonwealth Games held at New Delhi. In 2012, a flyover at Mathikere in Bangalore City Limits was inaugurated and named the Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Flyover. The International Institute of Information Technology, Naya Raipur is named after him. In 2014, a multipurpose indoor stadium built on the Goa University campus in Goa was named after Mukherjee.
The government of India approved the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Rurban Mission (SPMRM) with an outlay of Rs 51.42 billion (US$670 million) on 16 September 2015.The Mission was launched by the Prime Minister on 21 February 2016 at Kurubhata, Murmunda Rurban Cluster, Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh. In April 2017, Ranchi College was upgraded to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee University. In September 2017, Kolar, a town in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, was renamed as Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Nagar by the then Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. On 12 January 2020, Kolkata Port Trust was renamed as Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Port by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Chenani-Nashri Tunnel on NH44 in Jammu & Kashmir was renamed after Mukherjee by Indian government in 2020. A 17.5 meter high statue of Dr Shyama Parshad Mukherjee was unveiled by Union Minister Dr Jitender Singh along with senior leaders of BJP at Mukherjee Chowk in Kathua (J&K) on his 118th birth anniversary.

(The author is former Chief Engineer & Vice President BJP J&K UT SC Morcha).