Thursday, June 30, 2022

On Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s Movement for Kashmir

Is it a valid argument that Syama Prasad Mookerjee was as culpable for the crisis in Kashmir as Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah? This is Ramachandra Guha’s argument in his book India after Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy.

In Chapter 12, “Securing Kashmir,” of his book, Guha writes: “Behind the troubles of the 1950s were the ambitions of Sheikh Abdullah and S. P. Mookerjee. Neither was willing to play within the rules of constitutional democracy. Both raised the political stakes and both, tragically, paid for it.” But Guha does not clarify: what rules of the constitution he believed Mookerjee had violated during the course of his activism for Kashmir? Mookerjee was a strict constitutionalist—he was not known to violate the law. 

Mookerjee was exercising his democratic right when he stood with the protestors in Jammu who were proclaiming: “Ek Desh mein do vidhan, do pradhan, do nishan—nahin chalenge, nahin chalenge.” (Two constitutions, two flags, and two heads of state cannot coexist in the same nation). There was nothing illegal in this proclamation. Mookerjee was fighting to safeguard the unity of the country—he was against special status for Kashmir; he was demanding that all states in the country should have the same constitution. 

Guha tries to diminish Mookerjee by calling him a “Bengali bhadralok of the old school,” who was “comfortable in a suit and tie” and had the habit of sipping whiskey. I think this is just a snide attack on Mookerjee—and Guha should not feel proud of writing such lines.

In 1952, Mookerjee gave a series of speeches on Kashmir in the parliament. In one of his speeches, he asked: “Who made Sheikh Abdullah the King of Kings in Kashmir?” It is the truth that Nehru had conferred too much power on his friend, Abdullah: he had made Abdullah a virtual “king of kings” in Kashmir. It was Mookerjee’s right and duty to raise in the parliament questions regarding Nehru’s Kashmir policy. But in Guha’s book Mookerjee gets depicted as a right-wing bigot whose unreasonable demands wrecked the possibility of achieving a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir crisis. 

In the final section of Chapter 12, Guha asks if things could have turned out otherwise in Kashmir? His answer: “Perhaps if Sheikh Abdullah and Syama Prasad Mookerjee had acted with responsibility and restraint.” It is noteworthy that he does not include Nehru in the list of people who could have acted with responsibility and restraint. In 1952, the party that Mookerjee had founded, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, had just three seats in the parliament. With just three seats, Mookerjee had no power. It is unfair to accuse him of being irresponsible or unrestrained. 

It is clear that by transferring a part of the blame for the Kashmir crisis on Mookerjee (the leader of so-called Hindu right), Guha is trying to defend Nehru’s Kashmir policy.

As a solution to the Kashmir problem, Guha mentions a scheme conceived by Philip Spratt, a Marxist journalist. In an article, Spratt had suggested India should hold on to Jammu, while allowing Abdullah to create an independent kingdom of Kashmir in the valley. Mookerjee was opposed to such ridiculous schemes. He was not going to allow another division of the country. On 11 May 1953, Mookerjee arrived in Kashmir and was arrested. He died, reportedly of a heart attack, on 22 June, in Srinagar where he was being held.

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