Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee: The man who sacrificed his life for national integrity and unity
Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee sacrificed himself for the cause of national integration and unity. And his sacrifice and martyrdom did not go waste. His demands and slogan 'Ek Nishan, Ek Vidhan, Ek Pradhan' with reference to Jammu & Kashmir became a guiding principle to all the nationalist organisations in the time to come. At the time of his martyrdom, Dr Mookerjee was only 52 and he was to celebrate his birth just two weeks later on July 6. When he was breathing his last in Sheikh's custody Nehru was attending the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II in London.
It may be mentioned that Nehru had gone to Jammu & Kashmir to plead the case of Sheikh Abdullah in 1946 when the latter was in the custody of Maharaja Hari Singh. Since the situation in Jammu & Kashmir was not normal, Nehru was detained at Kohala Bridge and was put up at Kohala Guest House with all comfort respect. Nehru had returned after three days.
Exactly after six years, Dr Mookerjee was arrested by Same Sheikh Abdullah on the pretext that he could not enter the state without permit, even though the state was merged in the Indian Union and had become a part of India. But Sheikh did not release Dr. Mookerjee with respect. Instead, he sent the latter's dead-body to his Calcutta home after 43 days. After many days Dr Karan Singh, the then Sadar-e- Riyasat and also the son of Maharaja Hari Singh, wrote at one place, “I had no information about the ailment of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, or about his being hospitalised. Even about his death, I came to know very late and that too unofficially, only when his body was dispatched to Calcutta.”
On June 24, a public condolence meeting was organised by Praja Parishad at Jammu Parade Ground. Shri Bhagwat Swarup, the organising secretary of Praja Parishad, informed about suspending the agitation for 13 days as part of the mourning. But Prem Nath Dogra made it clear that after condoling the death of Dr. Mookerjee for 13 days, the movement to merge Jammu & Kashmir in India fully would be intensified and taken to all parts of the country. He appealed to all and sundry to join the noble cause.
However, by that time Jawaharlal Nehru had realised that the movement would grip the entire nation and apprehending further trouble he appealed to the Praja Parishad leaders and all others on July 3 to stop the movement. He assured them that their demands would be accepted. Considering his appeal, Praja Parishad stopped the movement on July 7, 1953. What Dr Mookerjee had predicted proved true. Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed and arrested. Nehru accepted his mistake and apologised for follies of his bosom friend Sheikh. He also talked to the leaders of Praja Parishad. A resolution was passed in J&K Assembly that the state would henceforth be a part of the Indian state. On May 14, 1954, the President of India issued an order to this effect.
When Dr Mookerjee was in jail, the differences had begun to crop up even within the National Conference of Sheikh Abdullah and dissents were expressed by many leaders over his dictatorial attitude and extremist policies. The kind of statement that Abdullah was giving about India and his hostile attitude towards Jammu had distanced his cabinet colleagues from him. Efforts were going on to stop the Praja Parishad movement and find out amicable solution. Many cabinet members of Sheikh Abdullah were feeling uncomfortable with the anti-India attitude of Sheikh. These differences further strengthened after the mysterious death of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee.
Nehru got the news of Dr Mookerjee's death while he was in Europe. He dispatched a message to Sheikh from Europe only to meet him when he returns India. When he returned he again sent a message to Abdullah and asked him to come and meet him. But Abdullah did not turn up, and just informed that he would come after some time. Nehru again called him through telephone and letter to come and meet, but Sheikh did not come. Finally, on July 3, Nehru asked him to come to Delhi, but the latter refused. This made his intentions clear.
Sheikh had already started a debate in the working committee of National Conference about the relationship of Jammu & Kashmir with India. Abdullah wanted that India and J&K relations should confine to three areas only – defence, foreign affairs and communication. The group led by Mirza Afzal Beg openly supported this stand. On the other hand, the group led by Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammed and his supporters including GL Dogra, DP Dhar and others – wanted the relationship in other areas also, such as judiciary and finance. Sheikh Abdullah was confident that the majority in his cabinet was in his support. And, therefore, he can make whatever policies he wants. The party will definitely approve it. He had never dreamt that there would be opposition from within. In the second week of May a very boisterous meeting of National Conference was held, which went on for three weeks. Both the groups were rigid. At one stage there was a confrontation in National Conference meeting and it was decided that this matter be resolved through voting. Fifteen votes were cast in favour of Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammed and only four votes were cast in favour of Sheikh. Thus, the pro-India group had shown its strength. Dr Karan Singh informed Nehru about the situation on June 10, while the latter was in Europe. He wrote about the prevailing tension within the National Conference due to internal divide, and also about the powerful clout of the pro-India group.
The situations were getting adverse for Sheikh day-by-day. The Hindustan Times on July 24 quoted the speech of Sheikh saying that Bharat-Kashmir's relations have been shattered due to the communal incidents of last years. Just three days later the same newspaper carried the counter-statement of Deputy Prime Minister of J&K Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammed who said that J&K would protect the state's integration with India at any cost. However, Sheikh Abdullah kept on saying that the merger of J&K with India was forced and not willful, because India had refused to provide any help without merger. Nothing remained to be said after that.
By now the confrontation had taken a serious turn and Sheikh demanded the resignation of his cabinet minister Shamlal Sarraf, who refused to oblige him. Instead, a five-page memorandum was drafted by Bakhshi Gulam Mohammed, GL Dogra and Shamlal Sarraf and the same was dispatched to Sheikh and a copy was marked to Sadar-e-Riyasat Dr. Karan Singh. In this five-page letter addressed to Sheikh Abdullah it was said that after the Constituent Assembly meeting, some complex aspects of Indian and Jammu & Kashmir relations were explained in Delhi Accord. As our representative, you had an important role in the preparation of that draft. Your stand was unanimously approved by the government, National Conference, Indian Parliament and state's Constituent Assembly, because it is the fundamental policy of our state. You later on not only delayed the implementation of these policies, but even criticised it publicly. Thus you tried to create a rift in India and J&K relations. This has resulted in creating doubts about various institutions of the state. You have ignored these developments and therefore strengthened the divisive forces. Your recent approach has been in contravention with the spirit of Delhi Accord, due to which the policy of national integration and secularism polity was at stake. We have been constantly requesting you to stop these wrong and harmful tendencies. We had also requested that joint efforts be made to boost up the morale of the people. But we have failed in all this despite all our goodwill. Therefore we are sorry to inform you that at present the intent and action of the cabinet are different. There is no consistency in the two. Due to the recent decisions, people have lost faith in the government and the cabinet of ministers, and they believe that we cannot give good administration.
This lengthy letter was read by both–Sheikh Abdullah as well as Dr Karan Singh. The message for Dr Karan Singh was clear from this letter that the cabinet has lost confidence and therefore Sheikh has no right to continue as Prime Minister. This title was also given to him by the Maharaja only. In fact, for justifying the claim of Sheikh to be the PM of J&K, Nehru had earlier argued that National Conference was the only political outfit in Kashmir and that Sheikh was the unanimous leader of the party. But now both these situations had changed. Neither National Conference remained the only organisation (since Praja Parishad had emerged as a force to reckon with) nor Sheikh Abdullah remained the only leader of National Conference.
On August 8, Sadar-e-Riyasat Dr Karan Singh called Abdullah to meet him. He came but could not understand the worry of Karan Singh. After holding the preliminary discussions on all the issues he asked Sheikh to come with other ministers in the evening so that all the different opinions can be compared and the issue be resolved. But Abdullah didn't turn up saying that the solution should also be acceptable to Pakistan. He expressed his inability to come because he was to leave for Gulmarg the same evening.
Thus, Sheikh Abdullah preferred to go to Gulmarg with his family members. At this, exercising his power as Sadar-e-Riyasat, Dr Karan Singh wrote, “I, Sadar-e-Riyasat Karan Singh, in the interest of the people, who gave me this authority, dismiss Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah from his post and his cabinet is also dissolved.”
Maharaja Karan Singh's ADC went to Gulmarg with this letter, and handed over after awakening Sheikh who was asleep at that time. Before Sheikh could realise what was happening, his arrest order was also dispatched. He was arrested from Gulmarg early in the morning and taken to Udhampur, and was brought to Tara Guest House that was converted into a temporary jail. And at the same time, Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammed was sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir. And thus post-Independence Indian history completed its first full circle.
The unfortunate part of this story was that Nehru and National Conference leaders could smell the foul designs of Sheikh Abdullah very late, and meanwhile, the country had to sacrifice one of its heroes Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee. After Sheikh Abdullah's arrest when the Constituent Assembly met to finally approve the Constitution, only nine members of National Conference (including Sheikh Abdullah) were absent, which made it immensely clear to everyone that even his party was not prepared to follow the divisive policy of Sheikh Abdullah. Thus one can see that Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee achieved the desired results even though he was not present amongst us in his mortal shape.
(This article is an extract from the book “Jammu Kashmir: An Analysis of Facts” authored by Sh. Ashutosh.)