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Syama Prasad Mookerjee

Syama Prasad Mookerjee

In his last message as a free person, Dr Mookerjee told Vajpayee, his private secretary, and others to tell the country that he had, at last, entered the state of Jammu and Kashmir, though as a prisoner, and to carry on his work in his absence. Apparently, when Dr. Mookerjee had made known his intention to visit Jammu, Sucheta Kripalani paid him a visit and told him, that he won’t go, Nehru will not allow him to return safely from there. Dr. Mookerjee told Sucheta, ‘I have no personal enmity against Nehru, I am working for a cause, why should he have any vendetta for me?’ Then Sucheta told Dr. Mookerjee, ‘You don’t know Nehru, I know Nehru, he looks upon you as his main rival and he will try to remove you from the field if he can and he is capable of anything.’

His slogan, “Ek desh mein do vidhan, do pradhan, aur do nishan nahi chalenge”, became the hallmark of the movement that stirred throughout India starting in 1948, peaking in 1952, and sustaining till his controversial death in captivity in 1953.

Days Before His Death, The Illustrated Weekly of India carried on its cover the pictures of Dr Mookerjee and Jayaprakash Narayan with the caption, ‘After Nehru, Who? Mookerjee or J.P.?’ It is practically forgotten that he was India’s first industry and supply minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet and laid the foundation for much of India’s industrial policy and our public sector corporations. It is true that he has not been given enough attention by historians in independent India. And the matter of his death in Kashmir at the young age of 52 remains a question of mystery. Dr Syama Prasad, unbeknown to himself, set out on his last and fateful journey from Delhi railway station at 6.30 a.m. on 8 May 1953.

This journey was nothing but a Yatra which covered present-day Haryana and Punjab before ending at Pathankot. In any case, he shot off a telegram to Abdullah which read, ‘I am proceeding to Jammu. My object in going there is to study the situation myself and to explore the possibilities of creating conditions leading to a peaceful settlement. I will like to see you also if possible.’ He sent a copy of the telegram to Nehru. While at Panipat, he received Abdullah’s reply, Thanks for your telegram. I am afraid your proposed visit to the State at the present juncture is inopportune & will not serve any useful purpose.’

Nehru did not bother to send a reply or even an acknowledgment. Shortly before his departure, he issued a statement explaining his purpose of going to Jammu, namely to find out for himself the extent and depth of the Praja Parishad agitation and the repression let loose on the citizens of Jammu by Abdullah. Explaining why he had not applied for an entry permit, the statement said: Mr. Nehru has repeatedly declared that the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India has been hundred percent complete. Yet it is strange to find that one cannot enter the State without a previous permit from the Government of India. This permit is granted even to Communists who are playing their usual roles in Jammu and Kashmir. But entry is barred to those who think or act in terms of Indian unity and nationhood.

Mukherjee was emphatic that he would go to Jammu whether Abdullah liked it or not. While at Amritsar, the DC of Gurdaspur told him that the Punjab government had decided not to allow him to reach Pathankot. Upon hearing this Dr Mookerjee proceeded to make arrangements for his arrest, & decided, after consultations, that Guru Datt Vaid, the well-known Ayurvedic physician, and author who was then president of Delhi state Jana Sangh, and Tek Chand, a young energetic worker from Dehra Dun, would accompany him and court arrest with him. But strangely, he was arrested, neither at Amritsar nor at Pathankot nor anywhere on the way. Soon after his arrival at Pathankot, the DC informed Dr. Mookerjee that he had been instructed by his government to allow him & his companions to proceed and enter Jammu and Kashmir state without a permit. He himself appeared quite surprised that the orders that he was due to receive had been reversed. Little did he, or anyone else present there, know that the diabolical scheme that had been hatched had it that Dr. Mookerjee would be arrested in Jammu and Kashmir state and not in Punjab so that he would remain outside the jurisdiction of the Indian Supreme Court. The place in which Dr. Mookerjee was incarcerated was really a small cottage which was converted into a sub-jail almost in the middle of nowhere, situated on the slope of the mountain range flanking the Dal Lake.

It could be reached only by mounting a steep flight of stairs & there was also no arrangement for adequate medical aid. Madhok states that many letters to and from him were completely suppressed. It was later discovered that Abdullah had ordered that Dr. Mookerjee be given no additional facilities without his express orders. None of his friends or relatives was allowed to meet him while he was in jail. It was S P Mookherjee’s long-cherished desire to write a biography of his father, and he began work on it. He also used to write his diary regularly.

He took it with him to the hospital as well when he was removed there on 22 June. It would have been the most authentic source of information about his life and work, thoughts and ideas, and above all his own feelings, and about the events that culminated in his tragic death. But it was kept back by the Kashmir government after his death and has still not been returned in spite of repeated requests. On 24 May, Nehru and Dr Katju visited Srinagar for ‘rest’. They never thought to visit their august prisoner and see how he was being treated there.

Mukherjee’s health started deteriorating and after much deliberation and wrong administration of medicines. Dr. Mookerjee was removed, not to any nursing home but to the gynecological ward in the state hospital. What took place there is still shrouded in mystery.

Trivedi, Mukherjee’s lawyer stayed with him till 7.30 p.m., Dr. Mookerjee was weak but cheerful. Doctors in attendance told Trivedi that the worst had passed and that he would be X-rayed the next morning and would be all right in two or three days. But on 23 June at about 3.45 a.m. Trivedi was told by the police superintendent that Dr. Mookerjee was in a bad state and the district magistrate had asked him to be at his bedside immediately. He was picked up from his hotel to go to the hospital. Pandit Premnath Dogra and the two co-detenues of Dr. Mookerjee in the sub-jail, Guru Datt and Tek Chand, were also asked about the same time to get ready to go to the hospital. They reached there about 4 a.m. and were informed that Dr. Mookerjee had breathed his last at 3.40 a.m.

This is what Madhok wrote about his last days in his life sketch titled The Portrait of a Martyr and Guru Datt Vaid & barrister U.M. Trivedi said in statements made on 25 June. On 23 June, Dr. Shyama Prasad died in Nehru-Abdullah’s captivity. On the same day, King Karan Singh wrote in a letter to JL Nehru, “… It came as a great shock, particularly as we were completely unaware that he had not been keeping good health for some time. I was not informed of his illness or his removal to hospital, and, most amazing of all, I only learnt of his demise several hours after the body had been flown from Srinagar and that too from unofficial sources. There is a widespread feeling and indeed there are strong reasons to indicate that in the whole unfortunate matter, the state government, to say the least, acted in a most questionable and incompetent manner.”

Mookerji’s eldest daughter Sabita went to Kashmir, hiding her real identity, she approached the nurse who was treating S P Mookerji. Two women were living there, the nurse and her mother. As soon as Sabita revealed her identity the nurse said she would not say anything & asked them to leave. By now the Banerjees were extremely emotionally charged. Sabita burst into tears and begged the nurse to tell her, saying that she would never reveal her name. Then the nurse gave it all out. Dr. Mookerjee had fallen ill and was taken to the ‘maternity home’ as she described it. There, on his last day, she was on duty. He was sleeping. The doctor left, leaving instructions that whenever he woke up he was to be administered an injection, for which he left an ampoule with the nurse. After some time he did wake up, and [she said to Sabita, ‘I don’t know why I did it’] she pushed that injection. As soon as she did it, Dr. Mookerjee started tossing about, shouting at the top of his voice, ‘Jal jata hai, humko jal raha hai (I’m burning up, I’m burning).’ ‘I rushed to the telephone to tell the doctor and ask for instructions.’ He said, ‘Theek hai, sab theek ho jaiga (It is all right, he will be all right).’ Meanwhile, Dr. Mookerjee had fallen into a stupor. And that was the end of him. Then she said, ‘I have committed a great sin, and I had to tell it to you. But I will leave this house immediately, because you will get back to Calcutta, and talk about this, and all that I told you is bound to get out. Then I’ll be murdered.’ In fact, that is what she did. The next day when Sabita and Nishith went to look her up both the mother and the daughter were gone. The nurse had refused to give her name.