Syama Prasad Mookerjee and J&K crisis
Author: Raghuvendra Tanwar
Publication: The Tribune India
Date: November 12, 2014
Syama Prasad’s political feud with Nehru revolved around two basic issues: Nehru’s failure to contain, as he put it, the, communal elements among the minorities and Nehru’s misreading of the emerging crisis in Kashmir and as such his misplaced trust in Sheikh Abdullah
Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founder-President of the Jan Sangh (1951) was a forceful critic of Jawaharlal Nehru’s policy on Kashmir, particularly with regard to the State’s merger with the Union of India. Syama Prasad’s political feud with Nehru revolved around two basic issues: Nehru’s failure to contain, as he put it, the, communal elements among the minorities and Nehru’s misreading of the emerging Sheikh Abdullah (left) with Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964; and (right) Syama Prasad Mookerjee crisis in Kashmir and as such his misplaced trust in Sheikh Abdullah.
Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr Mookerjee were both men of great intellect, well meaning, earnest and devoted to the cause of India. They had similar family backgrounds. The son of Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee, he was, like Nehru, born with a silver spoon and likewise took great pride in a public life of integrity and honesty. He once commented on how difficult it was to exist in public life with honest means: “I feel ever and ever more the need for a substantial regular income. I have no greed or love for wealth… suffer as I might, may God give me strength and wisdom to maintain my integrity and independence and not sacrifice them for money’s sake.” (Leaves From A Diary – Introduction, p. XVII).
Mookerjee believed that Nehru failed to appreciate that if Hindu communalism was dangerous so was Muslim. He repeatedly warned Nehru that the longer the rope given to Abdullah the more he would complicate Kashmir’s political scene. Mookerjee proved dead right.
Likewise, Mookerjee believed that for a Republic that would claim secularism to be at its core the State could not afford to take sides or appease a section the populace. In a historic intervention on the Uniform Civil Code in the Provisional Parliament, for example, Mookerjee questioned: “Why not have a separate bill prescribing monogamy for all citizens?”. He gave the answer himself: “…I know the weakness of the promoters of this Bill… they dare not touch the minority… but of course you can proceed with the Hindu community in any way you like…” The satire was there throughout.
Mookerjee became the Vice-Chancellor of the country’s most prestigious, Calcutta University, at 33. A spell-binding orator, he fought his first election under the Provincial Autonomy Act as a Congress candidate in 1939. He won but resigned, to be re-elected soon as an Independent.
Notwithstanding his Hindu Mahasabha background, he was chosen by Jawaharlal Nehru to join the Union interim Cabinet, from which he resigned after some time. Even as we await a definitive biography of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, studies suggest that he drifted into Right-wing Hindu political thought because he had observed the thoroughly communalised working of the Muslim League’s Coalition Ministry in Bengal (1937-41).
The Praja Parishad (People’s Party) was founded by the 70-year-old Prem Nath Dogra (1949). It was a movement that represented the aspirations of the people of the Jammu region as against the National Conference, which was mainly a representative of the Valley. Mookerjee joined the Praja Parishad movement as a natural ally. While Sheikh Abdullah insisted, like Nehru, that the Parishad had communal agendas, Mookerjee insisted the movement was purely nationalist. For example, in one of his several important speeches in Parliament on the issue he said: “If the Constitution of India was good enough for 497 states why not for Kashmir…" (Monograph, Eminent Parliamentarians, Lok Sabha 1990). By the time the first General Election (1952) was held, the Jan Sangh which was not even four years old, managed to mark an all-India presence and even won three seats to the Lok Sabha. By now, Mookerjee was a nationally recognised opponent of the Nehruvian policy on Kashmir.
Starting January, 1953, there took place an exchange of letters between Mookerjee and Nehru on the one hand and Mookerjee and Abdullah on the other. This exchange is engrossing and fascinating. The points are made with extreme clarity. Many of these letters were in excess of 3,000 words, some even 5,000 words and yet they were replied to within a day or two. Once, when Nehru was unable to respond the next day, he explained that he had been able to read Mookerjee’s letter only late at night.
The first of this historic exchange of letters was initiated by Mookerjee in a long letter to Jawaharlal (January 9, 1953). (All the following excerpts are from the Nehru-Mookerjee correspondence Pt. I Allama Iqbal Library, Kashmir University, Srinagar): “… the state of Jammu & Kashmir is a part of the Indian Union it is perfectly open to the people of the rest of India to interest themselves in its affairs… the question of accession… should be finally and irrevocably settled… there should be no question of taking a general plebiscite for determining the will of the people (because)… the Assembly in the state is based on adult franchise… the greater the delay in having this moot question decided once and for all, the greater will be the possibilities of complication and unrest…".
He also referred to the urgency of regaining the territories lost to Pakistan in the Pakistan-sponsored intrusion into Indian territory in the autumn of 1947.
Coming to Article 370, Mookerjee said: “… you will remember this is a temporary provision and Shri Gopalaswamy Iyengar who had moved the adoption (in Parliament) had clearly indicated that this was so… you and Sheikh Abdullah could have done a lot… if you had proceeded on the right lines and not misunderstood everyone who might have differed with you…”.
Jawaharlal Nehru replied to the letter the next day (January 10). He argued that the Praja Parishad movement in Jammu was only pushing the Valley (Kashmir) away from India: “… to me it seems perfectly clear that the Jammu agitation … would ruin our entire case relating to the state … suppose some remnants of the Muslim League in the valley started an agitation which was anti-India and pro-Pakistan… how should we deal with it…” Mookerjee started his reply by sharing his anguish with regard to the speeches Jawaharlal and Sheikh Abdullah had been making: “…one common feature of the speeches has been the abundance of abuses and vituperations which you have poured on those who differ from you… I would beg you to think in your cool movements how in your life’s history your failure to stand against Moslem (Muslim) communalism in India has resulted in disastrous consequences. Perhaps you and others followed a policy of concession and appeasement with the highest motives, but in the ultimate end the country came to be partitioned against your own often repeated declarations to the contrary…”
In the same letter, he noted: “… it is amazing how the move of separatism pursued by Sheikh Abdullah and his colleagues is being applauded by you as national and patriotic… and the desire of the Praja Parishad to secure the fundamental unity and integrity of India and be governed as common Indian citizens is being dubbed as treacherous…” Jawaharlal’s reply (February 5), was angrier. He insisted that the movement was misplaced and communal. He also said:
“… I confess that reading your letter I find it difficult to discover any common ground for talk. You have stated yourself …we do not see eye to eye with each other on this momentous issue…” Mookerjee replied on February 7: “… your replies have a painful resemblance with similar communications which heads of British government in India carried away by a sense of power and prestige, used to address while refusing to take note of the manifestations of the will of the people…”
Nehru replied (February 10.): “… after reading (your letter) I confess to a feeling that we move in somewhat different mental worlds and the same words have different meanings for you and me…”
Two days later Syama Prasad answered: “… it will serve no useful purpose for us to discuss in this correspondence the justification of our both moving in different mental spheres or even to discuss the merits of such spheres…” Three more letters were exchanged — the last on February 17. The letters got more brief and more curt. Mookerjee had forwarded a copy of his Jan 9 letter of Nehru to Sheikh Abdullah, who replied a month later.
“It is painful for me to note that even a person of your eminence should have been carried away by an emotional appeal of… ek pradhan; ek nishan, ek bidhan… so far as we are concerned we have maintained that the special position (Article 370) accorded to the state can alone be the source of a growing unity and closer association between the state (Kashmir) and India…” He also said that if the special position (Article 370) was not acceptable to the Praja Parishad it would have to accept negation of all related agreements. By suggesting this, Abdullah, had virtually announced a challenge. Mookerjee took about a week to reply to the Sheikh, quite unusual by his standards: … “I have seen no logical statement of yours as to why the Indian Constitution should not apply to your state. Your only reply has been that if this is hastened, Muslims of Kashmir may lean towards Pakistan… if the bogey of Muslims ceasing to trust India and going away to Pakistan continues unchecked it will create the same complications as Mr Jinnah’s stand did… If four crore of Muslims in India can be expected to live with safety and honour under the Constitution, why will 30 lacs of Muslims who will be the majority community (in Kashmir) be in a mood to go out of India… it is my earnest belief that a time will come when all people — Hindu, Muslims and others will realise that the division of the country on religious lines has not helped any community…”
Abdullah replied on February 18, sticking to his usual stand with regard to Article 370 etc. They exchanged a few more letters but obviously to no result. The last was by the Sheikh (February 25.):
“Regret is really mine… I have not succeeded in bringing about a change in your line of thought. Let us agree to differ and leave it to posterity to judge us.”
Mookerjee was arrested on May 11, 1953 while on his way to Jammu as he defied the ban imposed on his entry into the state. He was imprisoned in Srinagar. It’s not commonly known that Mookerjee, as diary entries show, had a serious heart ailment. For example the entry of November 24, 1946: “… suddenly taken ill… taking complete rest… my heart trouble has worsened…” He was detained as just another prisoner. Jail authorities were casual and had overlooked his medical history. Not surprisingly, when he suffered his first cardiac arrest at 4 am on June 22, it took the authorities seven hours to shift him to a hospital and that too in a broken-down taxi. Notes in the private papers of Jayaprakash Naryan (NMML, New Delhi) show that in the hospital too there were lapses on the part of the doctors. His death occurred the same day. The body was flown to Calcutta on June 24, where huge crowds lined the streets to receive the mortal remains.
A huge procession was organised on July 5, when a part of the ashes were brought to Delhi. “Kashmir Hamara Hai”, was the slogan of the day (Delhi Police Records NMML). His untimely death, at 53, was a setback for the Jan Sangh. In many ways, Mookerjee’s policy and approach to the Kashmir crisis was in tune with Sardar Patel. With the Sardar already gone, the death of Syama Prasad drew the curtain on perhaps the most influential critic of Sheikh Abdullah and, of course, on Nehru’s policy on Jammu and Kashmir.
* Dr. Mookerjee believed that for a Republic that would claim secularism to be at its core, the state could not afford to take sides or appease a section the populace.
* In a historic intervention on the Uniform Civil Code in the Provisional Parliament, Mookerjee questioned: “Why not have a separate bill prescribing monogamy for all citizens?”
* He became the Vice-Chancellor of the country’s then most prestigious, Calcutta University, at the young age of 33.
* A spellbinding orator, Mookerjee fought his first election under the Provincial Autonomy Act as a Congress candidate in 1939. He won the election but resigned soon after to be re-elected as an Independent.
* Notwithstanding his Hindu Mahasabha background, he was chosen by Jawaharlal Nehru to join the Union interim Cabinet, from which he resigned after some time.
—The writer is Senior Professor, Modern History, Department of History, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra