Unanswered Questions in a Mysterious Death
How did the diaries that Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee maintained during his detention vanish without a trace? Why did the Kashmir government refuse to acknowledge that these diaries existed among Dr Mookerjee’s personal belongings? What did they contain? There are several such questions in his mysterious death which are still unanswered.
- Dr. Anirban Ganguly 
In the early hours of 23 June 1953, around 2.30 am Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee died in detention at the State Hospital in Srinagar. His illness, suppression of the news of his illness, the delay and lackadaisical attitude towards his treatment and his lonely death has moved generations to repeatedly ask questions over his sudden and mysterious end.
That a leader of his stature, brimming with dynamism, national commitment and the urge to serve India better could meet such a sudden and excruciating end at the age of fifty two could not be fathomed or explained. It continues to be one of the darkest episodes in post independent India’s history. M.R. Jayakar eminent educationist, member of the Constituent Assembly and erstwhile Swaraj Party leader spoke for many a nationalist heart when he observed in his tribute to Dr Mookerjee, “To lie in a prison house locked there by his country’s Swadeshi Government, by persons with whom he shared power as a colleague, is a fitting termination of a warring life…Let us hope that this incident will make the Government of India realise…the deep enormity of their behaviours, which ignored all the canons of fairness and justice accepted by civilised governments.”
Contrast this with Sheikh Abdullah’s reaction, not only was Abdullah not present at the State Hospital to pay homage to Dr Mookerjee, he saw to it that the news was clamped down, no journalist was allowed to relay the news before 8.00 am that morning – more than five hours after the death had actually occurred. The AIR correspondence in Srinagar, for example, had come to know of Dr Mookerjee’s death by 6.00am but had to wait till 11.00 am. The telephone lines were deliberately put off; the journalists were told that “all telegraph and telephonic connections between the state and the outside world has been severed.” Instructions were also sent to the Indian Telegraph Office in Srinagar “to stop all press telegrams from going. Obviously the government was interested in suppressing the news for some hour”, notes one observer who was present among the journalists. The first “press telephonic call was allowed to proceed only at 11.00am.”
At the Kashmir government’s behest Dr Mookerjee’s body was taken out of the back door of the hospital so that the large crowd which had gathered to have a last glimpse of the body would be deprived of it. Abdullah’s animosity was so intense that he let loose National Conference workers to intimidate shopkeepers in Srinagar who had wished to observe a hartal by keeping their shops shut in protest at the death of Dr Mookerjee. One S.L.Koul, of 4th Bridge Srinagar, in a detailed letter to the editor of the Hindustan Standard, besides raising some very pertinent questions, mentioned how “agents of Kashmir Government prevented bazaars in Srinagar from observing hartal.” Koul also notes how when asked by a correspondent at the airport where he had gone to see off Dr Mookerjee’s body, “what are your personal reactions?” Abdullah simply replied, “I have none.”
It has also been recorded that a few days after Dr Mookerjee’s death, while addressing a meeting of National Conference workers in Srinagar, Sheikh Abdullah said, “Why make so much fuss about it? It is an ordinary thing. A prisoner has died in jail, what does it matter?” He is reported to have told another meeting, “we did our best to save him and doctors were attending on him day and night [this is a travesty of the truth, as a number of reports and witnesses were to suggest, doctors delayed in treating Dr Mookerjee, when he died he was alone, he was in fact found dead] If he is dead what can we do? We are not afraid of any intimidation or threats. We have faced many ordeals and we are not going to be cowed down by anybody or anything.” Such was Sheikh Abdullah’s obdurate arrogance when speaking or referring to Dr Mookerjee’s death. Curiously during the period when Dr Mookerjee was incarcerated in Srinagar, especially a few days before and after his death, the city daily saw a number of raucous processions shouting “Pakistani slogans such as ‘Hindusthan Murdabad, Pakistan Zindabad, Foreign Troops quit Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah Zindabad etc.” This is precisely the mindset and politics that Dr Mookerjee had set out to confront and decimate. He had foreseen that if left unchecked or unchallenged such a mindset would one day make the region a cockpit for separatism. It proved to be his last battle.
The dominant Nehruvian establishment made an all out effort to suppress and then erase, from our collective memory, the reasons that led to Dr Mookerjee’s death and of how he was tricked into entering Jammu & Kashmir and then arrested. With his characteristic arrogance Nehru refused to heed the pleas of Dr Mookerjee’s mother for an enquiry into the circumstances that led to the death, he ignored the pleas of leaders cutting across party-lines for such an enquiry and stubbornly sought to downplay the death and the events leading to it. Why did Nehru, the ‘epitome’ of democratic values and political rectitude disallow an enquiry into such a monumentally negative development? Did he have something to hide?
A number points and issues pertaining to his death continue to raise questions over circumstances that led to it. These are issues that continue to give credence to our stand that the Dr Mookerjee’s death was unnatural and that there was a deep layered conspiracy. It suited certain elements, especially those who wished Kashmir to be separated from India, to see Dr Mookerjee eliminated, at least this is what one is led to infer when reading or reflecting on his death.
Why was it that when Dr Mookerjee’s personal belongings were returned by the Kashmir Government his personal diaries were missing. On 3rd July 1953, Justice Rama Prasad Mookerjee wrote to Bakshi Gulam Mohammed, that he was ‘greatly surprised’ at his reply. “As I said before, the personal belongings that were sent by you with Syama Prasad’s body,” wrote Justice Mookerjee, “did not include his diary and mss Writings [manuscripts]. Syama Prasad, we know, had been regularly keeping his dairy while in detention at Srinagar. It must have been with him at the Hospital. It is most surprising and regrettable that it was not sent along with his other belongings.”
As per witnesses, there was a fountain pen and a half drafted letter in Bengali on the table beside Dr Mookerjee’s hospital bed when he died. That letter too disappeared without trace. That Dr Mookerjee was in the habit of maintaining a personal diary has been corroborated later. His dairies written during the 1940s were later published and are still preserved. How did the diaries that he maintained during his detention vanish without a trace, why did the Kashmir government refuse to acknowledge that these diaries existed among Dr Mookerjee’s personal belongings, what did they contain? Dr Mookerjee must have recorded the details of his agonising last days, of the state of his health, his thoughts both political and spiritual – as he was inclined to do, did he also record the humiliation and discrimination that he must have faced? Did it contain information that would have exposed the Nehru-Abdullah nexus?
(Author is the Director of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation (SPMRF), New Delhi)