If it seems like a laboured thought that one man born in Calcutta 118 years ago came to play a role in concurrent events that would shape Indian politics for years to come, here are 10 facts about Shyama Prasad Mukherjee.
1) Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was born into a remarkable family in Bengal, with eminence running in his bloodlines. His father was the exalted Bengali academic and barrister Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, also known as ‘Banglar Baagh’ (The Tiger of Bengal) for his imposing integrity in the contemporary Bengali society. Shyama Prasad’s mother was Jogmaya Devi, a notable woman scholar of the times.
2) Holding on to the family tradition, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee went on to study law. By the age of 23, he had already completed his Bachelor of Laws (BL) degree, whilst having an MA in Bengali and another degree in English, graded as first class.
3) The year he went on to practice at the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn in London in England was the same year that he was called to the English Bar for his excellence as a barrister, i.e., in 1926, merely two years after he had attained his law degree.
4) At the age of 33, he was offered the post of the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of the Calcutta University, the youngest person yet to hold that title. During his tenure, Rabindranath Tagore delivered an official address in Bengali within the university premises, another first for the society. The vernacular language, in general, saw a boost in progress during Mukherjee’s term as the VC.
5) Representing the Calcutta University from the Indian National Congress (INC), Mukherjee became a part of the Bengal Legislative Council in 1929. However, he quit the following year after political disagreements and decided to contest as an independent candidate, which he won and became a part of the state legislature under Fazlul Haque’s coalition government.
6) He again resigned in 1942, citing political differences, and was appointed the working president of the Hindu Mahasabha in Bengal, and later, elected as the President of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha. This was his tryst with the Hindutva politics that would shape later events in a radical manner.
7) In a series of events relating to the politics of independence struggle in India, the Hindu Mahasabha decided to boycott the Quit India movement launched by the INC under Mahatma Gandhi, and Mukherjee, too, followed suit, fearing that the movement might endanger cultural integrity of the society by inciting popular sentiments. He even wrote a letter to the British governor suggesting steps to curb the Quit India movement. It is to be noted that Shyama Prasad Mukherjee’s reasonings were entirely aimed towards the upliftment of the freedom and defense of the province, and not towards British gains.
8) In 1951, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh after consultation with MS Golwalkar of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), with the objective of culturally uniting all the Hindus, and charging them with political and nationalistic fervour.
9) Mukherjee was a lifelong opponent to Article 370, the provision in the Indian constitution that assigns an autonomous status to the state of Jammu & Kashmir, and wrote extensively on this topic. He believed that the article was acting as a deterrent for cultural unification of the country and that it was harmful to the country’s integrity, as explained by him in a letter he wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru in 1953.
Shyama Prasad Mukherjee also gave his life while trying to protest this. That citizens of India would have to carry ID cards while in a part of the country was something that he thought unfair. To protest this ‘unfair’ permit system, he went to Jammu & Kashmir, from where he was arrested for illegal intrusion. He died a detainee on June 23, 1953, at the age of 51.
10) The Bharatiya Jana Sangh later merged with other non-Congress parties to form the Janata Party, which later became the present-day BJP. The ideological inclinations of the party, therefore, are owed to this one man, among many others. BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee later claimed that Mukherjee’s death was a conspiracy of the then-ruling Congress party. He alleged that Jawaharlal Nehru had specifically taken it upon himself to make sure that Shyama Prasad Mukherjee did not ‘come back’ from detention.