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Syama Prasad Mookerjee: A Life: Life and Times

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Item Code: HAL279
Author: Tathagata Roy
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9780670090419
Pages: 483 (Throughout B/w Illustrations)
Other Details 9.00 X 6.00 inch
Weight 620 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

Syama Prasad Mookerjee was the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the predecessor of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He is undoubtedly one of the most iconic and controversial leaders in India's recent history. In spite of his significant political and ideological differences with Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Mookerjee was inducted into the first cabinet of independent India. However, following the Delhi Pact between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, Dr Mookerjee resigned from the cabinet. His role during the Great Bengal Famine of 1943 and the Great Calcutta Killings and Noakhali Carnage of 1946 was historic. His premature death in custody-in Kashmir-remains one of the unsolved mysteries of India's political history.

Dr Mookerjee was an educationist, politician and patriot who often opposed the official narratives of his time but fought consistently for India's independence and pre-eminent position in the world. His life has remained largely unexplored until now. This book aims to rectify that omission by examining his life in detail and shedding light on the turbulent and contentious events of his times.

About the Author

TATHAGATA ROY was appointed the Governor of Tripura in 2015. He has written and been published extensively, both in English and in his native Bengali, on subjects of social and political importance. A civil engineer by training, he was employed with the Indian Railways and later taught at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1990 and rose to become the state president of the party for West Bengal and a member of the BJP national executive. He is married, with two daughters. Having lived most of his life in Kolkata, he now resides in Agartala.


If one walks into any office of the BJP, be it the imposing central office in New Delhi or some humble local office in an obscure corner of India, one is sure to come across two pictures, side by side. One of them shows a portly gentleman with a shining bald pate, a thick moustache, a powerful chin and eyes shining with determination. The other is of a quiet, self-effacing, nondescript person with a shy smile who could have been a rural schoolteacher-except for the same streak of resolution in his visage. The first is Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), the predecessor of the BJP. And the second, Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, who took over the BJS after the death of Dr Mookerjee under mysterious circumstances at the early age of fifty-two and nursed it to maturity-till his own, even more mysterious, death, also at the early age of fifty- two! But that is another story.

For the uninitiated, the BJS was the pre-1977 incarnation of the BJP. The BJS had merged into a party called the Janata Party at the call of Jayaprakash Narayan in 1977. The ex-BJS people, plus a few others, separated again in 1980 to form the BJP.

This book is about Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee and his times. A truly multifaceted personality, Dr Mookerjee encapsulated within himself a politician, an educationist, a bit of a religious and social reformer and a humanitarian. He excelled as a parliamentarian and he has had few equals to this day. As an educationist he had risen to dizzy heights at a very early age, and if he had pursued this line he might have surpassed his very illustrious father, Sir Asutosh Mookerjee. And he not only founded a party, but also led a political movement that swam against the prevailing current of the times and a great deal of the subsequent times. And all this in a life span of only fifty-two years, of which only the last fourteen years were devoted to politics. In the history of achieving an enormous amount in a very short life, perhaps he stands in the same league as Acharya Sankara and Swami Vivekananda.

In spite of his superlative qualities, and due to his choosing to fight the current, it was his lot to have become a controversial person-a lot more so than other prominent personalities of his time who really deserved to be controversial, or worse. This book concerns itself to a great extent with this debate and the reasons for the same.

A lot of this dispute, the reader would find, hinges around the word 'secular' and its Indian-context antonym, 'communal', arguably the two most misused words in Indian politics today. In the context of Indian politics these words do not at all mean what any standard dictionary would say they mean. For example, to people who call themselves 'secular', according to a concept (more on this later) made popular by some political stalwarts, Dr Mookerjee was 'communal', not 'secular'.


Tathagata Roy, the author of this book, was the president of our party's West Bengal unit at one point of time. When he met me in Kolkata he presented to me his manuscript of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee's biography and requested me to write a foreword for the book.

His request was an honour for me. I regard Dr Mookerjee as the first martyr for independent India's unity and integrity.

I was born in 1927 in Karachi (now in Pakistan). In 1947, as a result of the sacrifices and struggles of thousands of patriots, India was able to wrest freedom from British rule. But the independence of our motherland was accompanied by the trauma of Partition-an event that witnessed the massacre of tens of thousands, and the uprooting of millions from their hearths and homes.

I left Karachi a month after Partition. My first ten years after Independence, from 1947 to 1957, were spent in Rajasthan. So when in 1951 Dr Mookerjee launched the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), a political party committed to nationalism, democracy and good governance, besides a polity based on Bharatiya sanskriti and values, many of us associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since childhood decided to join this new party and serve the country through politics.


In October 2017, there was a question on the Kaun Banega Crorepati show, 'Which member of Jawaharlal Nehru's cabinet resigned and founded a new party in 1951?' It wasn't one of the early- rung questions. Even then, I was surprised when the participant got the answer right. Perhaps I am being unfair. But I suspect, twenty years ago, in a similar situation, not too many participants would have known. Independent India's discourse has been shaped in a certain way. Moulded through that jaundiced view, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee hasn't got his due. The naming of educational institutions, roads, bridges, buildings, swimming pools, towns and schemes after him is a relatively recent phenomenon. Perhaps the only exception is the University of Delhi's Shyama Prasad Mukherji (spelt thus) College. However, even for this college, the preference seems to be to refer to it as SPM College, as if one has Suspended Particulate Matter in mind. Had it not been for SPM, not only India's legacy, independent India's geography too would have been remarkably different. More likely than not, the state of Punjab would have been part of Pakistan and the state of West Bengal would have been part of Bangladesh. This may sound exaggerated, but it is part of documented history. If this sounds exaggerated, that's because of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee's marginalization in popular renderings of India's Independence movement and because good books on him are rare.

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