The famous song of Sri Rabindranath Tagore is a perfect description of the life of Sri Syama Prasad Mookerjee – savior of Hindus during the darkest moment of last century. In this series, we shall trace his steps in his journey to protect Hindu civilization and nation from 1938 till his death. It is the period when he achieved tremendous gains for Hindus single-handedly – fighting against impossible odds and never retiring despite being paid back with humiliation for his efforts.
Tagore wrote ‘Ekla Chalo Re’ during the protests against Partition of Bengal in 1905. Calling upon his fellow men to follow the tough path of opposing the imperialist power even if they are forced to walk alone. Maybe it is fitting that a Bengali leader followed the advice of Tagore during the Partition of India 3 decades later and adhered to his karma so fastidiously that he never gave up even though it took him towards his death. His parents had indeed given him the perfect name – the gift of Lord Krishna. For who else but such a person would adhere to the karmayoga expounded by Bhagavan in his Gitopadesha – with nary a care about win or loss. So immense was his devotion to duty towards the protection of Indic civilization that he let nothing stop him – not electoral defeat, not famine, not riots, not even the request of his friends and well-wishers to tread carefully as they feared PM Nehru may cut short his life. He coveted power, not for the sake of power but to achieve his principles and civilizational goals. For him nothing mattered except Desha and Dharma. And for a Hindu born in this punyabhumi, there is no possibility of a Desha devoid of Dharma.
Entry into Party Politics:
In the 1937 provincial elections, the results in Bengal Presidency threw up a hung assembly in which Congress was the largest party while the second and third positions were garnered by Muslim League and Krishak Praja Party of Fazlul Haq. Krishak Praja Party (KPP) was a party of peasants and since the Muslims of East Bengal formed the majority of the peasant population of the Presidency, it was dominated by them though it also had a significant number of Hindu peasants.
Fazlul Haq was aiming for Prime Ministership of the Presidency (equal to Chief Minister now). Since, his party was not a communal party like League, his first attempt was to enter into an alliance with Congress with the condition that Haq shall be the Prime Minister. Since after Khilafat agitation, Congress had been always keen to get Muslim League’s support for its popular movement – the party seems to have considered it better to allow League to form the government in Bengal – trying to win over League’s confidence. The Bengal Congress spurned the offer by Fazlul Haq which pushed him to the arms of Jinnah’s League.
Under the terms of alliance between League and KPP, Haq became the Prime Minister but major portfolios were given to League. Immediately after the formation of this government, 60% reservation was created in government jobs for Muslims while 50% reservation was created in police force. Some Hindu leaders headed by Maharaja of Burdwan sent a letter of protest against this policy to the Governor of Bengal Sir John Reid but they received no response.
Muslim population of Bengal Presidency did not have enough qualified men to meet the reservation targets – hence, qualified Muslims were brought in from other provinces to fill these posts. This shows that the primary objective was not upliftment of local Muslim community but rather gaining control of government apparatus and marginalizing Hindu presence in the government machinery.
At that time, the province of Bengal had 2 main universities – Dacca and Calcutta. Former was dominated by Muslims while latter was dominated by Hindus. Needless to say, Calcutta University was the most celebrated university in the province and was even considered as the best in the subcontinent of that era. The University also served as a ground for Independence movement with many students taking part in anti-British protests. Hence both the British and League made a common cause to hamstring Calcutta university. The major source of revenue for Calcutta University was the fees from Matriculation examination conducted by the University in the province. Attempt was made to divert the fees to government treasury by introducing Secondary Education Bill – which would have crippled Calcutta University. Also, a Calcutta Municipal Bill was introduced in the assembly which aimed to allocate seats in Municipal Corporation of Calcutta according to religious demography of the province – thereby restricting Hindus to mere 46% of the seats in the Corporation though they formed 70% of the population in the city.
Syama Prasad Mookerjee was an independent member in the assembly and was watching the increasing attempts to marginalize Hindus in the province. Mookerjee said about this state of affairs as follows – “..that while 1939 continued to be a year of Hindu oppression at the hands of communal Haq ministry, which had steadily gone on with its well planned activities for crushing the legitimate rights of Hindus, the Congress betrayed the interests of Hindus whose position had become desperate and helpless”.
This made Mookerjee search for an alternative to Congress to protect the minority Hindus who were left helpless by the Congress leadership. He joined the Hindu Mahasabha and led ferocious debates in the assembly against both Calcutta Municipal Bill as well as Secondary Education Bill. He united the Hindu members of the assembly from both Congress and KPP – who were helplessly supporting the communal policies of Haq ministry due to political compulsions till then – and made them scuttle the bills in the assembly, thereby starting an era of Hindu politics in Bengal province as a counter to League. The Calcutta Corporation Bill was amended such that Hindus retained the majority of the seats though the Muslims did get a proportionately higher number of seats compared to their population in the city. Hindus were allotted 47 of the 85 seats in the Corporation.
By February 1940, Indian National Congress had suspended Bengal Congress because of the differences between Bose and Gandhi. The newly formed official Congress of Bengal had no support of the masses. Suspended Bengal Congress Committee continued to be the main leaders of the Congress movement in Bengal – being identified as Bose group of Forward Bloc.
Bose also opposed the communal electorate in Calcutta Corporation. An attempt was made by Bose and Mookerjee to join hands in Calcutta Corporation elections. But the differences in seat sharing could not be resolved and Sarat Bose called off the talks. Thus, Hindus could not put up a united front in the elections. Men from Bose’s group attacked Hindu Mahasabha rallies during the campaign – managing to hurt Mookerjee in a stone pelting incident. An injured Mookerjee ignored the open wound and continued to address rally, gaining reputation as a courageous leader.
The League also forced the hand of Haq making him support Pakistan proposal in their Lahore session in March 22-24, 1940 as a condition for him continuing as Prime Minister of Bengal – just days before the Calcutta Municipal elections held on 28th March 1940. The results showed that Congress domination of the corporation was at an end – Bose group won 21 seats while Mookerjee’s Hindu Mahasabha won 16 seats. Muslim League won 18 seats in the Corporation. Bose issued a statement asking Hindus and Muslims to join hands – claiming that the corporation would otherwise pass into the hands of Britishers. He decried Hindu Mahasabha (HMS) calling it as anti-national and also called for enquiry into municipal election malpractices (targeting HMS).
On April 17th 1940, Bose entered into a pact with League (famously called Bose-League Pact) under which League gained Mayorship of the Corporation. Thus, despite Mookerjee’s fight against Muslim domination of the Corporation in the assembly, Mayorship of the Hindu majority city passed to League’s hands because of this unexpected Bose-League pact. Bose called it as a ‘new era’ in Bengal politics and justified the pact as continuation of CR Das’ policy. The nationalist newspapers in Bengal and other parts of India derided this pact. HMS accused Bose of having sold the interest of Hindus. Bose seemed to have not taken the Pakistan resolution seriously – wherein he joined hands with League even after said resolution.
The resolution was not taken seriously by many other leaders at that time. But Swami Pranavananda, founder of Bharat Sevashram Sangh, stated that this will have huge repercussions for Bengali Hindus and requested Hindu leaders of Bengal to work together to protect the Hindu masses and their identity – for otherwise he envisaged a state where Hindus will face genocide in near future. His call went unheeded. Finally, in August 1940, Swami called Mookerjee to meet him. Mookerjee met him on the day of Janmashtami (Aug 26, 1940) – when Swami blessed him with a garland taken off his own body. He told his disciples that Mookerjee will rise as the leader of Bengali Hindus in near future. In the same year, on Mahastami of Navaratri, Mookerjee was in Kashi and Swami called him again to bless him since he saw Mookerjee as the sole hope to save Hindus of Bengal. Swami attained samadhi in Feb 1941.
Swami’s belief in Mookerjee was vindicated very soon. Riots broke out in Dacca in March 1941 around Holi – as Muslims attacked Hindus after colored water supposedly fell on a burqa clad woman. Thousands of Hindu homes were burned down with tens of thousands of Hindus being affected. League supported the riots by encouraging false rumors that Hindus had attacked and desecrated mosques in Dacca. Press was forbidden to cover the riots under Defence of India Rules. Nawab of Dacca flew from Calcutta to Dacca in a private chartered flight – his palace was being used by League to plan and organize the anti-Hindu carnage. Mookerjee came to know about this and travelled to Dacca in a tiny private aircraft piloted by his friend, Lohia. In Dacca, he visited the palace of the Nawab and threatened them to stop the carnage. He stayed at the house of RC Majumdar, who was the Vice Chancellor of Dacca University, for 5 days and toured the rural areas near Dacca where Hindus were badly affected. He arranged for relief parties from Calcutta through HMS. 3000 Hindus had fled to the Princely State of Tripura to escape the carnage in Dacca. Mookerjee personally visited Agartala later and thanked the Maharaja of Tripura for his generosity towards the beleaguered Hindu refugees.
When Hindus were oppressed in Bengal – with no relief from Hindu leaders of Congress or any other source – Mookerjee stood tall and fought for Hindus single handedly, taking upon himself the burden of protecting Hindus without any fear for his own safety. We shall continue to see how he promoted the cause of Hindu hita even when he was a lone warrior with no major support from other Hindu leaders of Bengal.