New Delhi: The death anniversary of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of Bharatiya Jan Sangh, holds special significance this year. The cause for which he sacrificed his life has finally reached a logical conclusion around six-and-a-half decades after his death.
On 5 August 2019, the Narendra Modi government scrapped Article 370 and removed the contentious Section 35A, paving the way for all provisions of the Constitution to be extended to Jammu and Kashmir.
The now bifurcated state does not have a separate flag anymore, one of the key issues raised by Mookerjee.
What we witnessed last August was the culmination of the clarion call given by Dr Mookerjee — “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Nishan nahin chalenge, nahin chalenge (Two Constitutions and two flags in one country are not acceptable)”. He also launched the first satyagraha on the issue in the post-Independence era, which attracted a huge number of people.
Mookerjee, a leader from West Bengal, was a member of Nehru’s cabinet until he resigned in 1950 to protest the Nehru-Liaquat Pact, a treaty meant to secure the security and rights of minorities in both countries.
The Jans Sangh founder then became one of the most vocal critics of Nehru and associated himself with the Jammu and Kashmir issue, for which he ultimately sacrificed his life — Mookerjee died in Srinagar on 23 June under mysterious circumstances.
It all began in April 1952 when Prem Nath Dogra, a leader of the Praja Parishad Party of Jammu and Kashmir, visited New Delhi and met Mookerjee, urging him to help the ongoing agitation in the state.
The parishad’s key demand was that Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India should be finalised through a resolution adopted by the state’s Constituent Assembly. It demanded that the state should adopt the provisions of the Constitution of India related to fundamental rights, citizenship, financial integration, Supreme Court, emergency powers of President and abolition of customs duty, conduct of elections and acceptance of supremacy of Indian flag and policy regarding liberation and occupation of Pakistan-held territory.
Mookerjee suggested that Prem Nath Dogra put all the facts before Nehru. Dogra tried to meet Nehru, but couldn’t secure an appointment.
Mookerjee in J&K
Disappointed over the developments in Delhi, Dogra went back and under his leadership, the Praja Parishad decided to hold a convention of its workers in Jammu on 9-10 August 1952. He invited several MPs and senior political leaders from Delhi, including Mookerjee.
The Jana Sangh founder addressed a mammoth public meeting in Jammu where he gave the famous clarion call for one Constitution.
During this visit, he also met Sheikh Abdullah and had a long talk with him, but there was no positive breakthrough. In the beginning of December 1952, Praja Parishad started a peaceful satyagraha in Jammu and Kashmir. The movement was supported by the Bharatiya Jana Sangh.
In support of this movement, Mookerjee decided to write letters to Nehru after the first annual session of Bharatiya Jana Sangh from 29 to 31 December 1952.
Meanwhile, the situation deteriorated in Jammu and Kashmir. Mookerjee received many letters about the atrocities in the state. On 27 February 1953, Durga Das Verma, general secretary of Praja Parishad in Jammu, sent him a telegram, copies of which were also sent to many other political leaders in Delhi as well as the President, the PM and the home minister of India.
“Merciless and shameless beating to doctor Omprakash, president, City Parishad; Shri Gopal Dass, publicity secretary, and four others by the authorities. Forced removal to Srinagar insulting and intimidating; Gopal Dass arm fractured,” the telegram read. “Hunger strike on since five days. Public sentiments are running high. Pray intervention.”
A day before this telegram, a meeting of the leaders of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Akali Dal was held in Delhi and it was decided that 5 March 1953 will be observed as “Jammu and Kashmir Day” throughout the country in support of the agitation by the Praja Parishad in the erstwhile state.
On that day, Mookerjee attended a public meeting at Company Bagh in New Delhi where he said a joint committee had decided that a satyagraha would be started, over the Praja Parishad’s demands, both in Delhi and at Pathankot in addition to other districts of Punjab.
On 6 March, another meeting was held in Delhi on the same issue for which Mookerjee was arrested for violating prohibitory orders under Section 144. He was, however, released by the Supreme Court.
The J&K satyagraha
As the satyagraha began, Mookerjee began travelling extensively. He addressed several well-attended public meetings and press conferences in several cities and towns, including Delhi, Jaipur, Ajmer, Bhopal, Gwalior and Indore.
The intelligence reports of the home ministry had then clearly said the satyagraha attracted a fairly large crowd (National Archives of India, D.I.B. reports-Praja Parishad agitation in Delhi. New Delhi: Ministry of States f.no. 8,(20)-k/53).
Mookerjee finally realised that he was left with no other option but to visit J&K. He left Delhi by train on 8 May 1953. While travelling, he addressed a public meeting at Ambala (in today’s Haryana), from where he also sent a telegram to Sheikh Abdullah in which he conveyed his desire to proceed towards J&K.
The next day, Sheikh Abdullah forwarded the telegram to the PM and the home minister in Delhi.
“My objective is to see for myself the present conditions in Jammu and also to contact people there. I am exploring the possibilities of creating conditions which may expedite a peaceful settlement and restoration of good feelings and understanding among all concerned,” Mookerjee’s telegram read. “After surveying situations in Jammu, I would welcome an opportunity to meet you as well.”
On his way to Jammu and Kashmir, he went to Karnal from Ambala to address meetings at Shahabad and Nilokheri (both in present-day Haryana). On 9 May, he reached Panipat, from where his next stop was Jalandhar before he left for Amritsar.
In Amritsar, he again addressed meetings and press conferences on 10 May, and spent the night. He reached Pathankot on 11 May, and Sheikh Abdullah had replied to his telegram by then, describing his proposed visit as “inopportune”.
Mookerjee reached Jammu and Kashmir from Pathankot. But as soon as he entered, he was arrested by the then Inspector General of Police, Jammu and Kashmir, in the presence of Maulana Masudi, then general secretary of Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference.
The Jana Sangh founder was taken straight to Jammu from where he was transferred to the Srinagar Central Jail. Soon after, he was moved to a small cottage at Nishat Bagh and kept under detention.
Mookerjee was detained in Srinagar for over a month. On 23 June 1953, he died while in detention in Srinagar under mysterious circumstances.
The writer is CEO of Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra, an RSS affiliate, and author of two books on the RSS.