India’s journey as the epitome of humanist culture grew from the ideas of this land’s visionary stalwarts. When the idea of India was forming in the modern era, Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s vision and deeds turned the national consciousness towards building a unified India in the truest sense. As we observe his 120th birth anniversary, it is an apt moment to understand his wisdom in its nuanced form.
Born in a Bengali family during the British era, Mookerjee had witnessed the social and economic consequences of colonial oppression and the repercussions of the attacks on Indian culture and values. This fuelled his determination to awaken the national conscience. Right from his initial days, he raised his voice on all platforms, trying to inculcate patriotism among the masses by strengthening the social fabric.
At 26, he represented Calcutta University at the Universities of the British Empire conference. At 33, he became the youngest vice-chancellor of Calcutta University. Mookerjee’s stint as a member of the court and council of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, was also remarkable. His innovative administration built the ecosystem to help fulfil the aspirations of young knowledge seekers.
Mookerjee was a preacher of nationalism and a unified India, and supported the elimination of the communal divide imposed by the British through an institutional framework. His strong reaction to the communal politics of the Muslim League and other anti-national and disruptive forces resulted in his active association with the All India Hindu Mahasabha. From being a working president of the Bengal unit of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1940, he rose to the position of its national president in 1944. He emphasised the Hindu values of tolerance and communal respect. Still, he later felt the need to counteract the communalist and separatist agenda of the Muslim League of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
There is a consistent symphony in the actions of Bhim Rao Ambedkar and Mookerjee, both showing similar thoughts and concerns for the protection of the sovereignty and unity of the independent nation. Right from the planning stages, both opposed the Nehru government’s miscalculated policies that hampered the nationalistic endeavours of independent India. Both non-Congress cabinet colleagues expressed differences on issues of national integrity, and resigned from the Nehru cabinet. Mookerjee then devoted himself whole-heartedly to the cause of refugees and made extensive tours for their relief and rehabilitation.
On October 21, 1951, he set up the Bharatiya Jana Sangh which has fructified into today’s Bharatiya Janata Party. The Congress-led governments never paid heed to the cause of persecuted religious minorities. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, emerged as a “rights and relief giver” to members of persecuted religious minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, who have migrated to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
On the matter of J&K, both Ambedkar and Mookerjee advocated an uncompromising stand for India’s sovereignty. During the first general election in 1951-52, the Praja Parishad Party and the Jana Sangh led by Mookerjee adopted a stand similar to Ambedkar’s, asking for the state to be brought fully under the Constitution of India by repealing Article 370. It is important to note that with apprehensions resulting from Ambedkar’s thoughts on Nehru’s flawed policies, the Praja Parishad also politically and socially mobilised people against the partition plan adopted by Nehru. It was due to the struggle of Mookerjee and Master Tara Singh that half of Punjab and Bengal continued to remain an integral part of India.
Mookerjee’s slogan, “Ek desh mein do vidhaan, do nishaan, do pradhaan nahin chalega” left an indelible print on the hearts and minds of millions of nationalists. His patriotic vision ignited the nationalistic conscience throughout the historical journey of the nation, leading to the revocation of the special status of J&K on August 5, 2019, by the Modi government.
Mookerjee’s affiliation with the Maha Bodhi Society was also a remarkable one. As president of the society, he contributed greatly to strengthening India’s cultural ties with other nations. The Buddhist artefacts and relics brought back from England were handed over to him by PM Nehru. Later, he visited Myanmar, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and other Southeast Asian countries as a cultural ambassador to strengthen ties based on Buddhist values.
Mookerjee’s vision is a guiding light for the Modi government to build New India as a knowledge superpower and a 21st century global leader. The UTs of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are thriving on the development path. The implementation of the central government’s legislations is helping to ease the life of the region’s people. The underprivileged sections of society have come into the mainstream development plan of the government. The recent meeting of PM Modi with all the political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir has further boosted the region’s development prospects. Underneath the over seven-year-long journey of the Modi government are Mookerjee’s ideals which adhere to the vision of “sabka saath sabka vikas, sabka vishwas”.
As the nation pays tribute to Mookerjee, a torchbearer of Indian nationalism, on his birth anniversary, let us remember his noble thoughts and wisdom.
This column first appeared in the print edition on July 6, 2021 under the title ‘Torchbearer of nationalism’. The writer is the Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Heavy Industries, and Public Enterprises and MP from Bikaner