Syamaprasad and Subhaschandra-Two Polestars of Indian Politics

    10-Jul-2020
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Both Subhas Chandra Bose and Syamaprasad Mukherjee had been the victims of Congress conspiracy when they were alive despite their sacrifice to the nation. The same Congress and anti-national forces continue to disparage their stellar contribution to Bengal and India as a whole
 

- Dr. Sudip Kar Purkayastha 

 
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Both Subhas Chandra Bose and Syamaprasad Mukherjee have been the victims of Congress politics
 
In the aftermath of the decision by the Centre to rename the Calcutta Port as Dr Syamaprasad Mukherji Port, an unseemly controversy unfolded in the state of West Bengal. A PIL was filed by a member of a left political party in Calcutta High Court in June objecting to the renaming and arguing inter alia that the decision has resulted in demeaning freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
 
While that petition will be dealt with by the Court on legalities, the moral aspects behind this controversy, calls for self-introspection by our society. In the information age as now, it is becoming increasingly clear that the official history of freedom struggle had undervalued the stellar contribution and sacrifice by both these statesmen. The tendency to create a disgraceful controversy involving these two giant leaders is an offshoot.
 
Spinning web of lies around Syamaprasad
 
Considering the short time span, i.e., 1940-1953 in mainstream politics, he was no doubt one of the most impactful politicians. His detractors have been fearful of his powerful thoughts and ideas. With the support of political regimes at the Centre and state of West Bengal, they engineered several layers of misinformation about Syamaprasad and his legacy. The apparent purpose of such dishonest enterprise has been to wedge kind of mental blocks between his ideology and the masses.
 
Four examples show such misinformation campaign. First, Syamaprasad was accused of joining hands with communal Muslim League and forming a ministry in Bengal. Second, he was projected as a pro-British and anti-freedom struggle. Third, he was condemned for helping the British by repressing the activists of Quit India movement. Fourth, he was held out to be anti-Muslim.
 
First, Syamaprasad never joined hands with the Muslim League to form a ministry. But he had, in a political blitzkrieg, snatched away Fazlul Huq and Huq's followers from the clutch of Muslim League and substituted the League-led communal ministry with a multi-party secular government. This was the first and the only secular ministry since 1937 in pre-independence Bengal.
 
Second, Syamaprasad was a fierce advocate of freedom and favoured constitutional path as a preferred method. Like Congress demand of 'national government' failing which it called the Quit India movement, Syamaprasad also demanded the national government and spoke powerfully on this issue. He consistently attacked the British regime challenging that it had no moral and civilisational legitimacy to govern India and demanded transfer power without delay. His letters, more particularly his resignation dated November 19, 1942, and his later writings in the 'Nationalist' reveals his thoughts and ideas on these issues unequivocally.
 
Third, Syamaprasad, like other leaders of stature like BR Ambedkar, C Rajagopalachari and organisations across a spectrum, did not support the Congress decision of launching Quit India movement. It was likely to lead to chaos and anarchy and attract brutal repression by the British. However, he was in sympathy with the activists and supporters of the movement who faced British brutalities. Correspondence between viceroy and secretary of state show that British governor Herbert Anderson had gnawing doubt that Fazlul Huq was under the influence of Syamaprasad and his ministry would not implement British policy of oppression against the Quit India activists in Bengal. That was indeed the case.
 
In these circumstances, Governor Herbert had let loose brutal repression through the police and the military on people of Midnapore who were simultaneously ravaged by natural calamities and food shortage. He did this using permanent officials by setting aside repeated objections by Syama-Huq cabinet. Syamaprasad's letter of resignation referred to earlier should leave no one in doubt about the British hand in Midnapore atrocities.
 
When the governor still refused to mend his ways, Syamaprasad had resigned from the cabinet. Midnapore atrocities were one of the key reasons. Even after resigning, he did not let the governor off the hook. In February 1943 he ensured that the Huq ministry agreed for an enquiry into the alleged atrocities in Midnapore. This was a slap on the face of the governor.
 
Fourth, very often his detractors seek to attach the 'anti-Muslim' label to his persona, hoping it will somehow manage to stick. Facts expose this mischief. Several Muslim ministers in the Syama-Huq cabinet trusted and respected him. Bengal premier Fazlul Huq used to hold him in high esteem. One need goes no further than Syamaprasad's address on February 12, 1943, explaining his resignation to the Bengal Legislative Assembly to understand the kind of rapport he had with all communities. It was his widening influence on Muslim members of legislatures and commoners that made some Muslim Leaguers charge him for having divided the Muslims.
 
Syamaprasad established himself as the most towering leader of Bengal in a matter of only 6-7 years and then quickly attracted limelight in all India politics and emerged as arguably the most important opposition voice in parliament in independent India. 
His crusade during the Bengal famine to serve and save lakhs of victims of famine in 1943 must set at rest any doubt on this issue. While Muslim League ministry operated in a nexus with the British regime creating and festering this dangerous famine, which devoured nearly 3.5 million lives of Hindus and Muslims, Syamaprasad worked tirelessly to raise resources, serve and save as many lives as possible.
 
Revisiting Subhas and Quit India movement
 
What Subhas, as Congress president had foreseen on the eve of the World War II and repeatedly urged the Mahatma and the party to do in early 1939 and which could, if implemented then, have profoundly impacted the history of India's freedom struggle was finally adopted by the party after long prevarication in 1942. By then the Congress had voluntarily abandoned political power in 8 out of 11 British Indian provinces and was groping without a direction. Back in 1939 when England was tottering against Germany Subhas had advised the Congress to serve an ultimatum to the British to transfer power within a specified time or face nationwide non-violent civil disobedience. He was snubbed. In 1942, an abrupt manner, without coming to any agreement with other major political parties, Congress suddenly issued the 'Quit India' call.
 
There was something eerie about this suddenness. The Congress-left historians have built such aura around that Congress decision that makes any rational investigation into the reason behind it almost blasphemous. If one still keeps mind open, he cannot fail to observe a significant development that was occurring around the same time in East Asia. The Indian Independence League in its Bangkok Conference had on June 23, 1942, invited Subhas to come over there from Germany and lead the armed struggle for India's freedom. One can intuitively envisage the impact on the British if a call like Quit India been synchronised with an armed struggle from across the border! But what happened was very different.
 
The CWC held an urgent meeting at Wardha during July 6-14, 1942 and decided to ask the British to transfer power to Indian hands immediately and quit India. Transfer power to whom? There was no agreement between Congress and other major parties on the issue. Could it be that the party thought it would be the natural inheritor! Difficult to say, but the most likely outcome was 'chaos'.
 
Subhas, Nehru & Congress leadership
 
In this connection, the famed Congress Socialist leader RM Lohia in his book 'Guilty Men of India's Partition' made few interesting observations. He indicated Pandit Nehru had a fear of Subhas leading an armed struggle to liberate India. Lohia thought that the reactions of Pandit Nehru during some months of 1942 were unusual and him publicly declaring 'his intention and capacity to raise millions of guerrillas to fight Japan were at least partly motivated by his jealousy of Subhas Chandra Bose.' He further wrote: 'During these early and terrible months of 1942, Nehru must often have dreaded the prospect of being overrun not only by Japan but also by his old rival. Behind his neurotic espousal of the causes of the Allies against the Axis, even when India lay prostrate under the allied heel, may have lain such private reason.'
 
The British reaction to the Congress call was predictable. It had put entire top leadership of the party into prison and brutally repressed the Quit India movement so much so that its intensity waned considerably by December 1942.
 
At this juncture, it becomes imperative to look at Subhas- how did he respond to the developments in India at that time? From series of his radio broadcasts, he was singularly concerned with India's freedom. He seemed ever ready for complete co-operation with Congress leadership. When the Quit India movement was going rudderless in the face of brutal police and military repression, he appealed from Germany to his countrymen to hold fast and fight the colonial force: 'There is no need to be depressed because the leaders have all been thrown into prison. On the contrary, their incarceration should serve as a perpetual inspiration to the entire nation.'
 
If the call for launching a national struggle in 1939 was an example of foresight, the life of Subhas was replete with many more, including his frantic warning to Congress leaders in 1945 to be wary of British conspiracy to divide India through Wavell conference!
 
Bengal - a victim of Congress policy
 
In 1937 provincial elections, the Indian National Congress got the largest number of seats (52), followed by Muslim League (39) and Krishak Praja Party (36) in a 250-member Assembly. Congress was approached by Krishak Praja Party to form a coalition government with other non-communal parties. Bengal was not only the most populous province but also had the largest Muslim population in the country and the legacy of secular governance here could have arguably weakened the demand for partition of India. Further, Congress would have had control over 9 out of 11 British Indian provinces giving it a formidable clout and bargaining power over League!
 
Bengal Provincial Congress led by Subhas was keen, but the top Congress leadership refused. Mahatma was the key decision-maker. Few leaders including MAK Azad from Bengal prevailed on Mahatma not to allow the Congress to take the reins in Bengal on the logic that Muslims formed the majority population!
 
That lapse had pushed the Krishak Praja Party to Muslim League and the province to a diabolical communal regime. In matters of 3 years, not only the quality of governance took a nosedive, the Hindus, constituting religious minority, were feeling suffocated. Syamaprasad had entered into mainstream politics at that difficult juncture.
 
Syamaprasad established himself as the most towering leader of Bengal in a matter of only 6-7 years and then quickly attracted limelight in all India politics and emerged as arguably the most important opposition voice in parliament in independent India.
 
The loyalty of the armed forces was irreversibly breached by the INA created by Subhas Chandra Bose, and it was unlikely to see how the British could have continued, considering that their rule was essentially dependent on armed forces 
His choice of All India Hindu Mahasabha seemed to have been well deliberated and driven by foresight. To fight an overtly communal regime like the League which had all India links, he too needed a party with pan India to reach. The Congress was emaciated, and faction-ridden. In a short span following his entry, he had substituted the League ministry with a broad-based secular ministry. But for the British bringing down that popular ministry untimely and immorally, he would have probably succeeded in turning Bengal politics secular. Finally, his foresight in creating a state of West Bengal had saved Bengali Hindus of not only East Pakistan but of West Bengal as well. The manner of religious persecution and hounding out of Hindus in East Pakistan and later on at varying degrees in Bangladesh which still goes on validates this notion.
 
Subhas & INA - Used and Dumped by Congress
 
Coming to the legacies of these two statesmen, let us begin with Subhas. Did he finally succeed in his mission of freedom of India? There are two views about why the British left India. One appeals to sense and reason—the other official and unreasonable.
 
First, it is a fact that in the second half of 1945, entire India, civil and military, east-west-north-south, all castes and communities had flared up against British rule on the issue of the trial of INA officers and men. There are documentary evidences that governors of various British provinces, commander- in- chief, and the viceroy had grown scared of that anger and they were afraid of an impending mutiny in the armed forces. It is also a fact that nearly 2 million 'WWII returnee just disbanded' soldiers were part of that angry population and posed a grave threat to the continuation of British rule. The loyalty of the armed forces seemed to have been irreversibly breached by the INA factor, and it was unlikely to see how the British could have continued, considering that their rule was essentially dependent on armed forces. Therefore, it seems logical and reasonable that this INA factor was responsible for the HMG deciding to explore the process of transfer of power culminating into its eventual exit
 
The other view was of the Indian National Congress and has become the official view in India. Its foundation was laid in the AICC meeting held in Bombay in September 1945 and cemented in the Meerut annual session of the party in November 1946. The top leaders claimed that the British were enervated by the Quit India movement of the party and came under pressure to exit. Curiously, they also justified spates of violence witnessed during the movement and suggested that Quit India was no less than a revolution that was compelling British out of India.
 

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Hindu refugees with Syamaprasad Mukherjee
 
However, their interpretations did not answer several questions. (a) As against two mass movements convened by Congress in 1921, and 1931 the movement of 1942 had the least preparation and it lasted for the shortest period and was confined mostly to few provinces in the east and north before being brutally repressed in a short span. Was it then so strong to force the mighty British out? (b) How could the movement of 1942 that was controlled in a matter 3-4 months create panic in British in 1945, that too after it emerged as the victor in WWII? (c) Even if 1942 is taken as the cause for the British decision to exit, it was a violent movement which was in direct contradiction of the holy grail of 'non-violence' of Congress. Was it then an admission by the party that 'violence' was a better or at least more effective method of freedom struggle?
 
Considering both views, the first seems to be the right one. But, the other view has come to form the official history. Congress used INA politically and later buried it. In November 1945 while India was seething in anger against INA trial, Pandit Nehru had brought a Congress resolution in AICC meeting in Bombay declaring party's support for the undertrial INA men, but in a patronising way, it chided the soldiers having been misguided. A part of it read: '...it would be a tragedy if these officer, men and women were punished for the offence of having laboured- however mistakenly, for the freedom of India.'
 
Alongside professing such sympathy however undignified for the INA, the party went the whole hog in exploiting the INA issue in the forthcoming general elections to the provincial and central legislatures during the winter of 1945-46 and reaped excellent dividend. Post-election, neither INA nor Subhas was of use.
 
Whether or not Subhas died in an air crash in August 1945, his political life had ended then. The reasonable conclusion is that in spite of the military defeat in 1944-45, he eventually succeeded in expelling British out of India. He was able to stir the spirit of people of India and thus won the final war against the British. This is not recognised. Further, the top political leadership of the country could not consolidate the gains out of his struggle but meekly agreed to the partition of India to secure power in a hurry. It is a matter of profound regret that the official history of India does not duly acknowledge his sacrifice. As a result, successive generations grew in India not knowing the right history which could have given them greater self-confidence and self-esteem.
 

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Netaji Subhas Bose inspects the INA Army in Singapore in 1943
 
Syamaprasad’s stellar role in post-independence India
 
Finally, we revert to Syamaprasad and his legacy. Though an ardent advocate of independence for united India, when the top Congress leadership succumbed to British-League nexus and agreed to divide India, he had to come to the rescue of Bengali Hindus and fight for creating West Bengal. Post-independence he had to rise to the rescue of the whole nation when the same weak political leadership at the Centre kept succumbing to the chicaneries of Pakistan and China on the issue such as refugees, J&K and Tibet. On every such occasion, he warned the Nehru regime, but he was not heard.
 
Syamaprasad was not to lay back and confine himself to statement and speeches. He had a vision for India. On issues of sovereignty and national integrity, he was uncompromising. Considering that he needed a new instrument to achieve India of his ideal, he founded a new party in 1951 to help India emerge as a strong nation anchored in her rich civilisational mooring.
 
Meanwhile, he resigned from the Nehru cabinet on the issue of its extreme insensitivity with regard to the never-ending stream of refugees from Pakistan. The policy of Nehru regime with regard to J&K, especially the provision of Art 370 also continued to be a matter of grave national concern.
 
For Syamaprasad ideology was not mere words in the party's constitution or charter. His life was meant to live it. He thus went to Kashmir to break the artificial barrier imposed by Art 370 and to integrate J&K to India more fully. He risked his life knowingly as he was aware of entering into space around which a pack of vile intriguers was lurking. To the worst fear of crores of nationalist Indians, he died there under mysterious circumstances. His was probably the first supreme sacrifice by any political leader for ideals he cherished since India became a republic.
 
Both Subhaschandra and Syamaprasad, unlike most of their contemporaries, were free of every material craving and wholly dedicated to the cause of India. Their true legacy has to be restored by educating the new generation 
Syamaprasad has been generally associated with issues such as Bengal famine, West Bengal, Refugees, and Art 370. However, the magnitude of the legacy he left has not been rightly assessed as yet. His life was a relentless fight against cowardice, appeasement, injustice, and oppression. Himself being an embodiment of these stellar virtues he had founded Bharatiya Jana Sangh to build a strong, resilient and self-reliant Indian nation anchored in her rich civilisational values and ethos.
 
Both Subhaschandra and Syamaprasad, unlike most of their contemporaries, were free of every material craving and wholly dedicated to the cause of India. Hopefully, more and more people, specifically the youth of the country, who do not have authentic details relating to their life and sacrifice, will proactively educate themselves. That will ensure that the legacy of these two great men is truly honoured.
 
(The writer is a senior columnist and author)