The Ghost of S P Mookerjee


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.


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13 Responses to The Ghost of S P Mookerjee

  1. Raghuram Ekambaram says:

    Now I understand why you quit Sulekha, just in time. You would have been kicked out had you dared satyed there!

    How dare you insult the icons, the idols?

    Raghuram Ekambaram

  2. matheikal says:

    Yeah, Raghuram, I made good my escape in time.

  3. Aditi says:

    Matheikal, you have needlessly maligned Syama Prasad Mukherjee through your blog.

    Mukerjee, though a member of INC, was never a loyal follower of Gandhiji in the same league as an ambitious Nehru. Mukerjee had resigned from the Cabinet over the Liaquat-Nehru pact, which arguably laid the first seed of minority ‘appeasement’ in a new country(India) that wanted to give equal rights to its citizens, irrespective of religion. What did India get out of the Pact, except a suo motu admission that it ‘expected’ religious minorities to have a problem in its soil? Most important, what did Pakistan do to its minorities, post the Pact, any thoughts to share? When he resigned, Mukerjee naturally struck an immediate chord with the mass displaced Hindu Bengalis and Punjabis, and only the wearer can know where the shoe pinches. Definitely not an elite-socialist secular-fundamentalist Mani Shankar Aiyer, and the readers mesmerized by specious Mani-speak in Oxbridge English.

    You said Mukerjee, after electoral defeat on leaving Congress, was inciting Kashmir to find his political relevance. I will not dispute the statement, Congress then was too big and too iconic to take on, but the cause that Mukerjee took up required to be taken up by someone. You say with disdain that “during the entire nationalist movement he (Mukerjee) never resorted to satyagraha or spent a single night in jail. But now he was there in Kashmir to sit in satyagraha”. But does it bother you at all that back then, non-Kashmiris, including even the President of India could not enter Kashmir without explicit permission of the “PM of the State” and that non-Kashmiris were required to carry identity cards? That this was precisely what Mukerjee had protested against?

    You said Mukerjee “died of heart attack in jail” and “his death was duly politicised by the Indians who had clear ulterior motives”. Well what do you know? Who are these ‘Indians’? Are you quoting from a history book written by a Kashmiri/Pakistani or is the information part of a pro-Kashmir speech of Arundhati Roy?

    Mukerjee was no petty thief, he was a imprisoned in his own country (India) for daring to enter a part of the territory (Kashmir) ‘without explicit permission’ by someone who could call himself the Prime Minister of Kashmir, allowed oh-so-generously by the Prime Minister of India (Nehru)…all in the family, without elaborating. Does it not hurt your sense of fair play even a little that Nehru did not agree to have the circumstances leading to Mukerjee’s death in prison enquired? What did he have to lose by getting the matter enquired and put an end to speculation? Who or what was he shielding, any guesses?

    I always thought that you were a fair minded liberal blogger, Matheikal, though I did not always agree with your point of view. Today, your acrimonious blog maligning Syama Prasad Mukerjee has made me very sad.

    I hope you would at least extend me the courtesy of responding.



    • matheikal says:

      Thanks, Aditi, for your incisive comment. I too have always admired your scholarliness.
      I wonder why Dr Mookerjee had to resign from the Congress on account of the Liaquat-Nehru Pact. That pact was meant to establish harmony in two countries torn by religious strife. The main objectives of the pact were:
      1. To alleviate the fears of the religious minorities on both sides.
      2. To elevate communal peace.
      3. To create an atmosphere in which the two countries could resolve their other differences.
      Who can say these were not needed or even that these were foul objectives?
      Yes, I agree that Pakistan did not honour the pact in practice. Does that mean the pact was wrong or that Nehru was wrong? Or does it mean that Pakistan was wrong? Moreover, just because Pakistan does something wrong, should India replicate that wrong? I fail to understand the logic behind such arguments. I’m sure you’re familiar with Gandhi’s saying that ‘an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”
      That’s why I still stand by the Congress ideology – though, as I have said in the article, the ideology was not practised properly as history advanced. That’s not the drawback of the ideology, but of the people who came to power.
      Regarding the historical source of Dr Mookerjee’s death in prison – I sourced it from Ramachandra Guha’s book, India After Gandhi.

      • matheikal says:

        I forgot to add one more thing: about the id cards required for non-Kashmiris to enter Kashmir. The same holds good even today, 6 decades after independence, in most states of the Northeast. The ‘iiner line permit’ (as it is called) was made purposely. In the Northeast, it was required in order to save the simple (in those days) tribals from the ‘cunning’ plainsmen. There was a reason in Kashmir too. The state was going through its own unique kind of problems. Today the situation in Kashmir is worse than that in the Northeast.

      • Aditi says:

        Matheikal, thank you for the response, and I am no scholar, just a lay-person who likes to dabbles in socio-political-economic affairs.

        You raised two points, (i) why did Mukerjee resign because of Liaquat-Nehru Pact, which had a laudable enough objective and (ii) why does nobody questions system of local area permits in certain areas in the North East.

        First on my conjecture about why did Mukerjee resign.

        Partition on religious lines happened according to decisions taken by the leaders, irrespective of the turmoil caused in the lives of apolitical ordinary people resident in the territories involved. Post partition, we were two nations, the Indians and the Pakistanis. Two kinds of ‘Indians’ react to the situation. First, the Indians who empathise with those who overnight became penniless refugees fleeing religious persecution from Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs, the people whose lives were turned completely upside down. Second, those Indians, who have a bystanders’ academic interest, their own status / property/ family unaffected by the partition, because the region they come from was not subjected to partition. They can afford to be liberal in their prescription about magnanimity that India should show towards Pakistan. [Our First PM was a leader who belonged to the latter group, neither the land of his forefathers, nor Uttar Pradesh, the territory where his family lived and prospered for a few generations were subjected to Partition. In fact he is reported to have commented, while visiting a water logged eastern district in undivided Bengal in peak rainy season, whether such land was worth keeping in India at all… ]

        Nehru did many good things that have laid the foundation of a modern India, but he craved global recognition and appreciation which was his undoing. He is responsible for taking the Kashmir issue to UN, overruling advice of his Home Minister, Sardar Patel. We continue to pay for his act of indiscretion. When Nehru mooted the idea of Liaquat Nehru Pact, he was making a Pact with the enemy, a Pact that was totally redundant and needlessly binding from his side, and at best tokenism from Pakistan’s side, for the latter had no intention to honour its commitment, ab initio. By making that Pact, Nehru admitted (with a halo around his head and tears in eyes, perhaps) that the Muslims who stayed back in India ‘live in fear’, and he would henceforth be the messiah for enhancing communal peace, and ‘create’ an atmosphere to resolve mutual differences with Pakistan.

        In contrast, Mukerjee empathised with the trauma of the people who fled from Pakistan, and Pakistan was an enemy country, engaging with which, he thought was uncalled for. He resigned on a matter of principle. Why, even in Government records, the property left behind by those Muslims who chose to go to Pakistan are called ‘enemy property’, till today. The political entity of Pakistan was, is, and will remain an enemy country for India, because the raison d’être of Pakistan is ‘anti India’, which needs to be carefully understood and delineated from ‘people to people’ affinity and bonding at cultural/literary/humane level, which is a totally different ball game and is often obfuscated.

        On local area permits in the North East as compared to entry permits by J&K Government till early fifties.

        The two are simply not comparable. Who issues the local area permits in the North Eastern States? The Central Government. The State Governments concerned have no powers to issue these permits. These permits are issued in strategic interest of “India”, not in the strategic interest of Arunachal Pradesh, or Manipur or what have you.

        Thank you for allowing me to use your space.



      • AC says:

        You have no idea what Mookherjee meant for us, the tortured Bengali Hindus who had to leave their everything or live in constant fear. You probably didn’t loose a leaf in the Partition to say such things. Nehru would have given whole of Bengal to the rioters. It is because of Mookherjee that we still have a place to stay. ‘an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” True. But no eye for an eye makes one community blind. Are you aware of the condiions of 1971 genocide in East Pakistan that forced our families to come to West Bengal to literally beg for food? If Mookherjee was not there, we wouldn’t even had that choice and would have met the fate that people like you wanted us to meet. What Nehru did in that pact was hypocisy. You can see minorities are thriving in India while they were annihilated in Pakistan. Mookherjee wanted to raise this issue.

      • matheikal says:

        Of course, I wouldn’t understand it at the emotional level that you seem to want. I am a rational creature.

  4. AC says:

    Right a rational creature who want Hindus to be annihilated. Cudos to your and Nehru’ rationality. What Nehru did was vote bank politics. Exactly what people like you do. You want to talk with data? I can do that too. In Pakistan Hindus came down from 15% to 1.6% btw 1947 to 2011. Millions of Hindus were ravaged during 1971 genocide. What did people like Nehru did? All these R. Guha, you -none of you were touched by the Partition which is why you are “rationalist”s. Ok so Mr rationalist name a Muslim majority secular country where more than 5% of population is non-Muslim and live with equal dignity and rights (even in theory, if not in practice.)That’s a rational question to which an objective answer can be given, right?

    • matheikal says:

      No, AC. You won’t get a rational answer if you only keep making insinuations. Where on earth have I ever advocated violence of any sort against any community? Why fling such meaningless allegations like the one in your opening sentence? Why not learn to look at the harsh reality objectively? Why not? Why do you let your emotion blind you?

      Well, your statistics don’t prove what you are trying to prove. For example, about Nehru. Or even the much lesser me.

      I still stick to the simple argument that counterviolence is not the remedy for violence. If you believe it is, may your belief save you (and more so the others).

      • AC says:

        Mookherjee did not advocate counterviolence. At that time and also now) the situation for minorities in Pakistan was far worse than that in India. It IS a fact, if you have read history. Mookherjee wanted to emphasize this rather than paying some lip service to the Pakistani authorities. Nehru was completely apathetic towards what happens in Bengal. Even when he signed the pact he (and everyone in India )knew that Pakistan is not going to honor it. The point is why should India be so weak in protecting national interests? Mookherjee (and I) am not saying that do what Pakistan did towards its minorities. Point is (and was) to emphasize that we didn’t do what they did and hold them responsible for their action.

      • AC says:

        You have not advocated violence. You, Congress and Nehru in particular turned a blind eye when such violence was committed.

  5. AC says:

    Why don’t you write a similar article on Ghost of Netaji whom the Great Pacifist Nehru would have objected with open sword? I’ll give the exact source of the fact that Nehru wanted to give whole of Bengal to those bigots at the time Partition and it is only because of Mookherjeee that we continue to have a small piece of land.

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