To have lived long does not necessarily imply the gathering of much wisdom and experience. A man who has pedalled 25,000 miles on a stationary bi-cycle has not circled the globe. He has only garnered weariness.
The quote was a message given by a father to his son. The father knew what he was saying, he was High Court Judge, and also served as Vice Chancellor of Kolkata University. The father was Ashutosh Mukherjee, his son would go on to live by his father’s words and actually make them come true. He would go on to be come the youngest vice chancellor of Kolkata University, serve as Finance Minister of Bengal. He was also a qualified lawyer, though he did not practice much. He served as Minister for Industries in Nehru’s cabinet, and also formulated the first Industrial policy of Independent India. The son was a certain Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of the Jan Sangh, one of the leading lights of Hindutva in India. Unfortunately Shyama Prasad Mukherjee has never been given his due, by historians, has been portrayed as a rabble rousing communal bigot. Which is rather unfortunate, this was the man who had wanted a Uniform Civil Code for both Hindus and Muslims. This was the man who opposed the amendment to the Constitution putting restrictions on the Freedom of Speech. And who finally gave up his life, fighting for a basic cause, that an independent, sovereign nation could not have two constitutions( India and Kashmir).
My life changed its course on 25th May,1924.All the mirth and joy disappeared from my life. A new chapter had began and it continues to this day.
It was after he finished his term as Vice Chancellor of Kolkata University, that he entered into active politics, joining the Congress party, and entering the Legislative Council in Bengal. However with Congress boycotting the legislatures, he also quit, and later stood for elections as an Independent candidate, and won. He joined the Krishak Party-Muslim League coalition Govt in Bengal, and served as Finance Minister from 1941-42, joining hands with Fazlul Haq, to fight communalism.
As President of the Hindu Mahasabha, he had organized large scale relief work for the drought affected in Bengal and also presided over the Amritsar session too. In between he served as President of Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal. He also founded an English daily, the Nationalist, and played a crucial role in guiding students protesting against the Govt, on observing I.N.A Day in 1945 and was elected to Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1946.
The event that influenced his ideology, was the Noakhali riots, that occured in 1946 during months of October and November. Occurring primarily in Chittagong division of East Bengal( now in Bangladesh), it was one of the worst genocides of Hindus, by Muslim League mobs, that involved forced conversions, arson, mass rapes and looting. Begining on Durga Puja, it was a series of planned forced attacks on the Hindu population in that region, which at the last count led to 5000 dead. Another was the Kolkata riots of 1946, carried out by the Muslim League leader Suhrawady, in response to Direct Action Day. Rampant looting and arson of Hindu properties took place, many Hindus were massacred en masse. It was during this time that he stood firmly behind the Hindus, formed the Hindustan National Guard to save the affected people. Though he was opposed to partition initially, after Noakhali and the Direct Action Day riots in Kolkata, he was convinced, that it would be equally wise to partition Bengal too, with the Hindu population living in the Western part, that would be a part of the Indian Union.
After independence, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, was invited by Nehru to join the Union Cabinet as Minister for Industries and Supplies. He framed the first Industrial policy of India after independence, and was an able administrator, winning the admiration of many in the Govt as well as in Congress. His resignation from the Union Cabinet in 1950 was over the Nehru-Liaqat Ali Pact, to which he was strongly opposed. It was due to the widespread massacres against Hindus in Eastern Pakistan( now Bangladesh) that in turn led to huge waves of migration into Kolkata and Bengal.Around 50 lakh Hindus left their homes in Eastern Pakistan, and fled to India. When he called for strong action against Pakistan, Nehru instead went ahead and signed a pact with Liaqat Ali, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Terming this a gross act of appeasement, he resigned from the cabinet, again becoming the first ever to do so in Independent India. He devoted his life now to the RSS and resettlement of the refugees.
Post his resignation he devoted his work full time to the RSS, became it’s lifelong pracharak, worked extensively in Lakhimpur district of Assam. The Bharatiya Jan Sangh, was founded by him in Oct, 1951 after due consultation with Guru Golwalkar, the then RSS head. In 1952, the Jan Sangh won 3 seats in the Lok Sabha elections, with Mukherjee himself winning from Kolkata South defeating both the Congress and Left candidates. Along with other opposition members in Parliament he founded a National Democratic party, that would be the core opposition to Nehru, though not officially recognized.
As an opposition leader, he firmly believed in individual liberty, and freedom of expression. He opposed the amendment to the Indian Constitution, putting restrictions on Freedom of Expression and also detention without trial. The main ideological points of BJS which were laid down by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee were Uniform Civil Code for everyone, including Muslims and Hindus, scrapping Article 370 and full integration of Jammu and Kashmir with Indian Union and a ban on Cow Slaughter.
In 1953, he planned to travel to Jammu in solidarity with the protests by the Praja Parishad there, which was demanding full integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the Indian Union. However as per Kashmir’s special status then, Indian citizens could not legally enter the state, unless they had prior permission and they had to carry their ID cards. The Prime Minister of Kashmir had full powers to decide who could or could not enter the state, and this was protested by Mukherjee. He famously claimed Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur Do Nishan nahi challenge- One country can’t have 2 Prime Ministers, 2 Constitutions and 2 Emblems. His reference was to the fact that Kashmir then had it’s own emblem, own status, own Constitution. He entered Kashmir illegally on May 1953 protesting against the law, which demanded special permission to visit it as well as ID cards. Arrested on May 11, 1953, when he crossed the border into Kashmir,along with Guru Dutt Vaid and Tekchand Sharma, he was put into a Srinagar prison. On 19th June he was suddenly diagnosed with “dry pleurisy and coronary troubles”. Admitted into a nursing home he passed away on June 23, his death to date remains a mystery, but it is clear it was not a natural death.
Dr.Shyama Prasad Mukherjee died a martyr for the cause of India, for demanding, that no indepdendent sovereign nation could have more than one PM or more than one constitution. This was a man who stood up for individual rights, demanded a Uniform Civil Code and built up Kolkata University to what it is today. A thinker, an academician, a freedom fighter, a scholar, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was a true giant, a colossus whose contribution has been forgotten sadly by modern India.