Who was Syama Prasad Mookerjee?
The man who founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), the predecessor of the modern day Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee was a fearless and outspoken Indian politician who was very expressive about his thoughts and what he believed to be correct. He served as a Minister for Industry and Supply in the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet but resigned from the cabinet in protest against the 1950 pact between Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan Prime Minister Liaquat Ali. The pact proposed to establish minority commissions and guarantee minority rights in both countries. He felt the need for a new, more democratic party and thus founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh party. He was a staunch Hindu—though by no means anti-Muslim—and is considered the Godfather of modern Hindu nationalism. He was born into an eminent family where his father held a very high position in the Indian jurisdiction. A brilliant student, he graduated at the top of his class in English and went on to pursue a legal career in his father’s footsteps. He went to England to study to become a barrister though he plunged head on into politics on his return to India.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born into an eminent Bengali family in Calcutta to Jogamaya Devi and Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee. His father was a judge of the High Court of Judicature at Fort William and also served as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta.
He attended Mitra Institution in Bhawanipore from where he passed his Matriculation examination in 1917. After that he enrolled at the Presidency College, Calcutta from where he passed B.A. in 1921 with first class first in English Honors.
His father wanted him son to get his education in the vernacular language and thus Syama Prasad was persuaded by Ashutosh to take up Bengali Language and Literature from Calcutta University. He completed his M.A. in 1923.
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Syama Prasad was elected a Fellow of the Calcutta University at the age of 23 after the untimely death of his father. He occupied the Syndicate of the Calcutta University which the death of his father had left vacant.
He left for England in 1926 where he joined Lincoln’s Inn to study for the Bar. There he represented Calcutta University at the Conference of Universities of the British Empire.
He joined the legal profession in 1927 first as a Vakil and then as a member of the English Bar. However, more than being a lawyer, now his heart was set more into politics as he wanted to do something for his country.
His entry into the world of politics was a very quiet one. He entered the Bengal Legislative Council as a Congress candidate representing Calcutta University in 1929. He resigned from the Council the very next year but was re-elected as an independent candidate.
In 1934 he was appointed the Vice Chancellor of the University of Calcutta, a post he held till 1938. At the age of 33 he was the youngest ever Vice Chancellor of the University but his young age never deterred him from doing the best he could for the upliftment of the masses through the services of the University.
He joined the Progressive Coalition Ministry headed by Fazlul Haq as a Finance Minister of Bengal from November 1941 to December 1942 when the Krishak Praja Party-Muslim League was in power. However, he soon quit and became a spokesperson for the Hindus and joined the Hindu Mahasabha.
Even though Mookerjee was not opposed to Muslims, he wanted to protect Hindus from the communal propaganda of the Muslim League. He only wanted people of all religions to peacefully coexist with each other though his views were strongly shaken by the Noakhali genocide in East Bengal where Muslim mobs cruelly massacred Hindus.
After India became independent, the newly appointed Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made Syama Prasad the Minister for Industry and Supply in the Interim Central Government. However, he had fallout with Nehru over the Nehru-Liaquat Ali Pact and resigned from the cabinet in 1950.
After resigning from the Indian National Congress he consulted Golwalkar of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on whose advice he formed the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) on 21 October, 1951, and also became its first president. The BJS was ideologically close to the RSS.
The BJS was the founder of the Hindutva agenda and the party favored a uniform civil code governing the legal matters for both Hindus and Muslims. The party also wanted to ban cow slaughter and the end the special status given to the state of Jammu and Kashmir under the article 370.
Under the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir, the state had its own constitution, flag and prime minister. In those days, no one could enter Kashmir without the permission of its prime minister. Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee was of the view that a single country can’t have two constitutions, two prime ministers and two flags. In 1953, to protest against the special status given to Kashmir he tried to enter Kashmir without seeking permission and was arrested. He died in mysterious circumstances during detention.
He founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), an Indian Nationalist party in 1951 with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as its political arm. The party existed till 1977 after which it was merged with several other parties to form the Janata Party. After the fall of Janata Party government in 1980, the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh formed a new party called Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on 6 April 1980.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1922 he married Sudha Devi, daughter of Dr. Benimadhav Chakravarty. The couple had been happily married for 11 years and was blessed with five children when tragedy struck. His youngest child died of an illness and soon his wife too died. Mookerjee was left shattered by the untimely death of his life partner and never married again. His sister-in-law helped to raise his surviving children.
In 1953, to protest against the special status given to the state of Jammu & Kashmir, he tried to enter the state, where he was arrested and jailed in a dilapidated house. He fell ill there and was administered penicillin even though he was allergic to the drug. Mookerjee died mysteriously during the trip and no inquiries were made to ascertain the actual cause.