22 e Asharh, 1308 Bengali Era / 06th July 1901
A good deal of confusion prevails today about the ethical doctrine of Ahimsa. There is no doubt Ahimsa is one of the cardinal virtues taught by Indian thinkers of all denominations throughout the ages. Dharma consists in Ahimsa, proclaims the Mahabharat. “Ahimsa confers immortality”, declares the Code of Manu. The doctrine of Ahimsa is a necessary corollary to the Hindu belief that the supreme spirit pervades the universe, that everything is strung on the Blessed Lord as rows of gems upon a thread, and that welfare of all beings is a sacred duty. Ahimsa doubtless implies abstention from selfish and aggressive violence. …… Dr S. P. Mookherjee, convocation address at Benares Hindu University, 01.12.1940
Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, son of Sir Ashutosh Mookherjee & Lady Jogomaya Mookherjee was born in Bhawanipur, Kolkata. He was the 3rd child of his parents and their 2nd son. He had 6 siblings, 3 sisters & 3 brothers.
Mother Jogomaya Devi was a pious and devout Hindu Lady. Shyama Prasad inherited the pious and compassionate traits of his mother as well as the indomitable courage and will of Sir Ashutosh. These virtues later on exhibited throughout his life which made him a Legend of our times.
Young Shayama Prasad started his schooling from Mitra Institution in the year 1906 from class II. He excelled in his studies throughout his academic years. He was equally brilliant in language as well as science. He passed matriculation in First division from the institute in 1917 with Merit Scholarship of Rs. 10 per month.
For higher studies he enrolled in Presidency College in English Literature. He passed his intermediate Examination in Arts in first division. in 1921 he Graduated from University of Calcutta in English Honours again with first division. At the instance of his father who had set up new Graduate & Post Graduate programs at Calcutta University including Anthropology, Bengali, Sanskrit etc, Shyama Prasad did MA in Bengali in 1923.
In the year 1922 he married Sudhamoyee Devi, daughter of Dr. Benimadhav Chakraborty. They had 5 children – the last one, a four-month-old son, died from diphtheria, shortly afterwards Sudhamoyee Devi died too due to double pneumonia in 1934. Shyama Prasad was just 32 years old. Shattered, he realised he had 2 daughters & 2 sons to look after too. Since he refused to remarry, his sister-in-law Tara Debi, wife of Justice Ramaprasad Mookerjee, took the children in her arms & brought them up along with her own children.
Just within an year into his marriage Shyama Prasad got the major shock of his life when his father, Sir Ashutosh expired in Patna in 1924. It was not only unexpected but untimely too. He wrote –
“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.”
The expiry of Sir Ashutosh left a vacant place in the syndicate of Calcutta University. Shyama Prasad was elected as a Fellow of the Calcutta University at the age of 23. He was appointed member of the Syndicate of the Calcutta University, in the place fallen vacant due to the death of Sir Asutosh. And very soon it became apparent that the role of his illustrious father had fallen upon his broad shoulders in educational sphere. He made the University his own, even as his distinguished father had done before him, serving it with single minded devotion for more than two decades in various capacities and making unparalleled contributions to the cause of advancement of learning- its declared motto.
Shyama Prasad completed his Bachelor of Law in 1924. He stood 1st class 1st in BL. Thereafter he enrolled himself in Calcutta High Court as Vakil. Later in 1926 he left for England to join the Lincoln’s Inn. He was called to join the English Bar. However, Shyama Prasad felt he should return and fight for the millions of uprooted countrymen who were suffering from the political, economical & social debacles. He could have easily risen to the top of his profession and shone like his father but he had made his choice in favour of his people.
After he returned, Shyama Prasad was elected as representative of Calcutta University to the Bengal Legislative Council. He introduced Hindi, Bengali & Urdu both in the Graduate & Post Graduate courses in Calcutta University, College Code for the 1st time, abolished age restriction in the University, introduced vocational teachers training courses, Introduction of modern libraries in the New Central Library Hall are some of his remarkable achievements. In 1938 Calcutta University conferred on him D. Lit and Benaras Hindu University conferred LL.D (Honoris Causa). In 1943, Shyama Prasad was elected as President of Royal Asiatic Society, the 1st Indian to be given that honour. In the aforesaid and hundred other ways, he enhanced the reputation & prestige of his Alma Matter and fulfilled his father’s dream to make Calcutta University among the best in the world.
Like all patriotic Indians, Shyama Prasad joined Congress and became member of Bengal Legislative council in 1929, but he resigned due to the wake of Civil Disobedience movement in 1930. In 1931 after Gandhiji called off the movement, Shyama Prasad was elected again, this time as an Independent candidate. Again in 1937 he was elected from the University constituency. It was during his tenure in the Bengal Legislative Assembly, Dr Mookherjee came face to face with the realities of Indian Politics and the unnatural & utopian approach of Congress towards it. He also saw its continuous pandering to appeasement of Muslim League, the social, educational & cultural life of Bengalis esp. Hindus were being jeopardised. In 1939, when Muslim League engineered a massive riot against the Hindus in Dacca, Chittagong, Munshigunj and Pabna, by plundering the Hindu temples, outraging the modesty of Hindu women and all sorts of barbarism with the connivance of British, he joined the Hindu Mahasabha. He saw through the evil designs of the British who rewarded the Muslims for these atrocities for they wanted to teach the Nationalist Hindus a lesson for playing a leading role in the fight for India’s Freedom. The Congress merely watched all that unfolded in front of their eyes. They scrupulously abstained from condemning the Muslim lawbreakers and did not object the curtailment of Hindu rights to public services. The Congress which took decisions on the “Inner Voice” of Gandhiji: a-priori decisions were not based on scrutiny of reasons.
After joining Hindu Mahasabha, Shyama Prasad organised its annual session in Calcutta under the Presidentship of the great revolutionary Veer Savarkar. He was made Acting President of Hindu Mahasabha on 1940. When Mr. Fazlul Haq ( he worked as Sir Ashutosh’s Junior at one point of time) asked for support from Hindu MLAs, Shyama Prasad agreed to help him. He was made the Finance Minister in 1941 of the newly formed Progressive Coalition Party. He was in the ministry for only 11 months, but in that period he was successful to foster the spirit of communal harmony to such an extent that not a single communal strife in Bengal happened. However, one incident was so exasperating that he tendered resignation soon after sorting it out. In Tamluk and Contai districts of Midnapore, Tramralipti Jatiya Sarkar was formed. These places were placed under Iron curtain so that to enter these places one would need permits issued by the authorities. Added to it a devastating cyclone swept the coastal areas of Midnapore. 40000 people died along with lakhs of cattle. When Ramkrishna Mission volunteers reached the areas they had to wade through slush and mire braving the stench of rotten corpses and carcasses. They were the 1st people to reach the sites of ghastly tragedies to render services. They saw everything that was once standing tall was razed to the grounds. The entire region was smitten with death and despair. The then District Magistrate Mr. N. M. Khan, a super egoist bureaucrat was loyal to his King, in cruelty & barbarity he supressed this news of calamity for more than a fortnight, in order to teach the supporters of the Quit India Movement a permanent lesson. Some of the volunteers who could slip out after a fortnight, went straight to Shyama Prasad and informed him about the deluge. Shyama Prasad rushed to Midnapore for help and called the local survivors for a meeting. But the locals were terrified of telling about their woes in front of the magistrate who kept himself seated tight in the room. Realising the situation, Shyama Prasad asked him to leave the room. But the latter refused to comply by saying “I am the District Magistrate of Midnapore”. Infuriated, Shyama Prasad thundered :
“Impertinent Man, as an honourable Minister, I order you to go out of this room at once”
Mr Khan had to leave the room. After hearing the plight of the people Shyama Prasad forced Khan to issue a communication and frame a Flood Relief Committee on 3.11.1942. As soon as he returned to Calcutta, Shyama Prasad issued directives for relief measures in Midnapore and other affected areas, Mr B R Sen was given the charge of direct supervision of the Flood affected areas thereby shunting Khan out & made him a nonentity.
After Shyama Prasad tended his resignation from the Bengal Cabinet, soon Fazlul Haq was also terminated from the post of CM and Muslim League was installed into power in Bengal in 24.4.1943. Then started the riots all over Bengal. Shyama Prasad went to Dacca Nawab’s palace who was the President of Muslim League from where the riots were planned and organised. After series of talks and discussions he was able to control the riots. He also informed the Muslims league’s role in the riots in an adjournment motion in the Bengal Legislation, which forced the League to restore peace and punish the guilty. However, close to the heels of the riot the Great Bengal Famine started, and lakhs of people fled to Calcutta and neighbouring towns for succour and wails and cries of :
” Fyan dao go ma, fyan dao go… amago bachao ” (Give us boiled rice water Maa and save us)
We now find Shyama Prasad plunging headlong into manifold humanitarian, administrative and Political activities for providing relief to this man made famine. He said in Bengal Legislative that
However British did little for the people of Bengal. But Shtama Prasad launched a gigantic relief program for the succour of people. Bharat Sevasram Sangha, HIndu Mahasabha, ramKrishna Mission, Marwari Relief Society, Arya Samaj and many other non official relief organisations came forward to support him. This is an example of a particular day in and around Kolkata, Dacca, Noahkhali and some more places, about his relief work.
After 8 months of voluntary relief work by Shyama Prasad and others, the Bengal Govt rose from slumber and took charge. in February 1944 he said :
All the extensive and rigorous relief work took toll in his health, he had to leave for his ancestral house in Madhupur, Bihar and convalesce there till October 1946. Bengal witnessed the frightful Direct Action Day during this time. From that to the Partition of Bengal after Independence series of events rushed past like hurricane leaving many baffled by the uncertainties that hung over the political horizon of our country. Noakhali Riots was one of them. The massacre that was witnessed by relief workers were unparalleled in any riot stricken areas on the planet. This was the reaction of Muslims in Noakhali when Direct Action Day did not bear the desired results. Relief came late, because the news of the riot was suppressed by the Bengal Govt. However, some Hindu leaders from Noakhali & nearby areas sent telegrams describing the riot to Shyama Prasad & Sarat Bose & asked for help. Stunned by the news Shyama Prasad rushed to the areas along with Bharat Sevasram Sangh. The riot started on 10th October 1946, when Shyama Prasad reached Noakhali, on 16th October, Bengal Govt still did not let the media know about the riots. He & other Hindu Mahasabha leaders sent rice, clothes and necessary ingredients by trains to Noakhali, Tipperah, Faridganj etc. After Shyama Prasad came to the forefront, many freedom fighters too joined in to provide relief. He asked for Army Intervention in the riot stricken areas, but Bengal Govt refused to oblige. After much pressurisation from the relief volunteers, Bengal Govt started passive and apathetic relief work. He also formed the Hindusthan National Guard to save the affected people during the communal disturbances.
Then Gandhiji appeared in Noakhali. But mistrust between Hindus & Muslims continued to exist & stray incidents of violence occurred even during his stay in Noakhali, his stay in Noakhali was resented by the Muslim leadership. Gandhiji discontinued his mission halfway and started for Bihar on 2 March 1947 at the request of the Muslim League leaders of Bengal. Within a month after leaving Noakhali Gandhiji received telegrams from Congress Party workers in Noakhali, describing attempts to burn Hindus alive. and how he responded to that?
After Independence Shyama Prasad was invited by Nehru to join his cabinet. He took over the portfolio of Industries and Supplies. He framed the first Industrial policy of the new Government of India after independence. In the beginning of 1950 there were huge MASSACRE of Hindus in erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). More than 50 lakhs of Hindus left their land and home and came over India for ever. Shyama Prasad urged strong action against Pakistan, but Nehru signed a pact with Mr. Liaqut Ali Khan, PM of Pakistan. Shyama Prasad resigned from the Central Cabinet as a protest against the Nehru-Liaquat Ali pact. Devoted himself whole-heartedly to the cause of the refugees he made extensive tours for relief and rehabilitation of the refugees.
In 1951, Shyama Prasad founded Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS). He was elected to the Parliament in the 1952 General Election from South Calcutta Constituency defeating booth the Congress and the Communist candidates. He pressed firmly and vehemently in and outside the Parliament for a strong policy towards Pakistan. He formed National Democratic block in the Parliament including some opposition members and became the leader of the opposition block in the Lok Sabha.
Although he was fully absorbed in political activities, his connection with literary, social and religious organisations and associations did not cease. In November, 1952, he joined the celebrations of Sanchi where the relics of Sariputta and Moggalana, disciples of Buddha, were finally unveiled. He also visited Burma, Cambodia and other Buddhist countries of South East Asia as the President of Mahabodhi Society of India.
Shyama Prasad repeatedly spoke out against the special favours given to the Muslim majority state, Jammu and Kashmir. There was a rule during that point of time which prevented any Indian, including the President of India from entering Jammu and Kashmir without the permission of the Prime Minister of the state. The 1952 general elections in the country saw Shyama Prasad and the BJS winning three seats in the Parliament. Protesting against the rule applicable in Jammu and Kashmir, he visited Kashmir in 1953 and crossed the borders without the permission of the state’s authorities, thus facing arrest on May 11, 1953.
Shyama Prasad was taken under house arrest on May 11, 1953. Keeping him locked inside a decrepit house did not help to better pleurisy and coronary problems which he was already suffering from. He became ill and was taken to hospital in June and treated with penicillin in spite of repeated warnings to the medical authorities about his allergy to penicillin. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee died while he was in hospital under mysterious circumstances. He was declared dead on June 23, 1953 and though many including his mother wanted explanations and independent enquiries into the death, Nehru clearly refused their demands, saying that once death was declared there could be no mystery. The Hindu nationalist thus died a controversial death. It is a grim tragedy that a great patriot of his stature should have died a premature death while in detention without trial; none of his near and dear one being present at the time of his death. Shyama Prasad in order to foil the evil designs of Sheikh Abdulla the self proclaimed Premier of Jammu and Kashmir, not only gave up his precious life for the sake of the country but forced the Government of India to accept that there must be “One Nation,One Nishan One Bidhan and One Pradhan in India”.