The ghost of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee is coming to haunt us again. The Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] has been trying to resurrect it in the last few days. The latest Quixote to tilt at the tombstone of Mookerjee is Arun Jaitley, leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha. “History will prove that the policy of Pandit Nehru on Kashmir was wrong and the approach of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee was correct,” said Mr Jaitley.
The BJP has been trying relentlessly, ever since the Ekta Yatra got under way recently, to paint Nehru with tar in order to go one up on the Congress Party so that the Ekta Yatra will achieve what Mr L K Advani’s Rath Yatra achieved in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections. If the demolition of the Ayodhya mosque/temple helped the BJP come to power in the Centre, the communal frenzy that the Ekta Yatra was intended to produce was to see the party coming to power in the next election. The Kashmir adventure of the party, which did not quite work out as the party had envisaged it, is not quite unlike what happened to Dr S P Mookerjee in 1952.
The state of Kashmir was facing internal strife in 1952 because of the land reforms initiated by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. The Hindus were mainly opposed to the land reforms because it was they who would be the greater losers. In the Valley the landlords [zamindars] were dispossessed of land in excess of the ceiling limit: 22 acres per family. The reforms were already enacted in the Valley and the Hindu zamindars there were angry. The Hindu zamindars in Jammu did not want the reforms to be replicated in their region. Hence they agitated against the Sheikh’s government and, to add more weight to their cause, lent a religious hue to the agitation. The Hindus had an added reason to agitate: the political power now rested in the hands of a Muslim party, the National Conference, led by the Sheikh.
Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee had left Nehru’s cabinet and founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the progenitor of the BJP. His party failed miserably in the elections, however; it managed to get only three candidates to the Parliament. Dr Mookerjee found the necessary fuel in Kashmir for firing the public passion in favour of his party.
Dr Mookerjee was a Bengali bhadralok of the old school who was “comfortable in a suit and tie, sipping a glass of whisky,” in the words of Ramachandra Guha. During the entire nationalist movement he never resorted to satyagraha or spent a single night in jail. But now he was there in Kashmir to sit in satyagraha!
Just as the BJP’s Ekta Yatra was prohibited from entering the state, Dr Mookerjee too was prohibited. But the uncanny politician disobeyed the order and was arrested. A month later he died of heart attack in the jail. His death was duly politicised by the Indians who had clear ulterior motives.
What Dr Mookerjee demanded was that Kashmir should be merged totally with the Indian Union without any autonomy or special status. He put forward one more demand. Reclaim the northern Kashmir that was lost to Pakistan when the LOC [Line of Control] was drawn under the aegis of the UNO.
Mookerjee’s demands and hostility only helped to make the Sheikh more adamant and less cooperative with the Indian government. The Sheikh who had been secular through and through now began to assume a religious colour. The Sheikh who was more than willing to keep Kashmir as an integral part of India now began to demand independence. It was Mookerjee who nurtured the discontent into bitter hostility in Kashmir. The BJP is following in his footsteps very loyally. No wonder then the party is trying to make him its latest icon.
We should not forget that Mookerjee had no qualms of conscience in forging an alliance of convenience with A K Fazlul Haq in Bengal. It was a “cross-communal coalition” between Haq’s Krishak Proja Party and Mookerjee’s Hindu Mahasabha. As Mani Shankar Aiyar puts it, “…when he smelt power, the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and father figure of the BJP, S. P. Mookerjee, went in search of cross-communal alliances.” [Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist]
What mattered to Mookerjee was POWER. What matters to the BJP today is also power. They can demolish a temple/mosque if the demolition will help them gain power. They can build up communal frenzy in Kashmir if that will help them win the next election.
Why can’t the BJP think of some positive strategy for winning the election? They can take a leaf out of the book of their bitter rivals, the Congress Party. In 2004 when the BJP was basking in the glory of its ‘India Shining’ slogan, the Congress sculptured a more creative slogan: ‘Reform with a Human Face.’ And won the election. True, the Congress failed miserably to live up to that promise. And the poor in India are paying the price for it tragically. Why can’t the BJP now seize the opportunity and forge a strategy for saving the poor of India from starvation and suicide? Instead of playing the same old worn-out communal card?
The BJP should at least stop looking backward at Nehru and Mookerjee, at Ayodhya and LOC, and start looking ahead, into the future. At any rate, Nehru’s vision stands far superior to that of any Sangh Parivar ideologue. Even the Congress ideology towers far above the BJP one. The inclusive composite secularism of the Congress [though it is marked by much aberration] is infinitely superior to the exclusivist cultural nationalism of the BJP. Instead of using Nehru as the Archimedean lever for prising the Congress out, the BJP can and should forge new lever for lifting up the downtrodden, the oppressed and the starving millions of Bharat. A drop of honey can attract more butterflies than a barrel of vinegar, as someone said.