There are many who divided our nation. But there are few who fought till their last breath to unite our partitioned nation. Amongst the galaxy of freedom fighters, if there is one great fighter that the people of Assam should be thankful for being part of India, it is Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee.
Assam was a group C state and was supposed to be a part of East Pakistan during the partition. It is Dr Mukherjee’s foresight and his determination that helped Assam to remain in India.
His role in saving Assam from Pakistan is on record everywhere, in India and abroad. He fought tooth and nail to retain Assam in India and not let it become part of East Pakistan.
Great freedom fighter Pushpalata Das said that Gopinath Bordoloi alone could not save Assam from being merged with East Pakistan by Gopinath Bordoloi. Dr Mukherjee not only voiced his opinion but also successfully strategized and fought to retain Assam in India. Not only that, but Dr Mukherjee also provided adequate security to persecuted Bengalis till he was alive.
If we are happily living a secured, peaceful life in Assam today, we should be thankful and grateful to him. Else, we would have been on the other side of borders and be only 8.5% of the surviving Hindu population instead of 79.8% of India. Or scaringly, of the 28% of the Hindu population of Bangladesh that no longer exists.
Dr Mukherjee travelled to several parts of Assam. He stayed here, experienced the Assamese lifestyle and worked for the unity of Assam. He advocated for the Assamese language to be the official language of the state. Such was his love and affection for the Assamese language that he wanted to promote it extensively and made efforts towards it.
As soon as he became vice-chancellor of Calcutta University in 1935, he introduced the Assamese language. He wanted the people of India to appreciate and learn the language so they know about the history of Assam, the state’s great and brave kings, have a sense of the past, community lifestyle and cuisine, traditional industry, economics, art culture, the contribution of Assam and Assamese people towards our freedom struggle. He selected Birinchi Kumar Barua as a teacher at Calcutta University to teach the Assamese language.
Parallelly, he urged every citizen of Assam – whichever region, religion and community they come from – to learn the Assamese language and experience and feel the beauty of the language just as he did. He knew that more assimilation and affinity can be developed by knowing the language and learning to speak the language.
Dr Mukherjee knew speaking the Assamese language by all communities of Assam will create more positive attitudes, bonding and less prejudice toward people; and it will definitely strengthen relationships.
Very few know about his towering personality. Apart from being one of the founding fathers of independent, sovereign India, a great patriot, educationist, parliamentarian, statesman, humanitarian and above all a campaigner for national unity and integrity, he was also an exceptionally intelligent, meritorious student and a politician par excellence with top positions and ranking and has many firsts to his credit.
Born on 6 July 1901 in Calcutta he became a legend in his lifetime. He was also an exceptionally intelligent and meritorious student, a politician par excellence and has many firsts to his credit.
• At 33 years of age, he was the youngest ever vice-chancellor of Calcutta University.
• He was the first to introduce the Indian vernacular language as a subject for the highest examination at Calcutta University when it was dominated by English alone.
• He secured the first position in first class at his graduation in 1921.
• Although he secured a first-class first in English in his graduation, the nationalist in him never allowed him to take up English for Masters. He, therefore, took Bengali and another Indian language, instead of English, for his Masters, which he also passed with a first class in 1923.
• He passed his B.L., once again standing first in the University.
• It was during Dr Mukherjee’s term as vice-chancellor, that Rabindranath Tagore delivered the university convocation address in Bengali for the first time.
• He was also an entrepreneur and started his daily from Calcutta called The Nationalist.
• He was Independent India’s first Minister of Industry and Supply, who laid the firm foundation of the industrial development of the country by setting up the three most successful gigantic industrial undertakings – the Chittaranjan Locomotive Factory, the Sindri unit of Fertilizer Corporation of India and the Hindustan Aircrafts Factory in Bangalore. Such was his performance as a minister, he did not attract one barb of criticism in four years at the helm of a crucial ministry.
He was righteous and always fought for the rights, security and equality of the citizens of India, especially protecting the rights of Hindus. He had great foresight of the future and knew how to keep a nation united and strong.
He was strongly against the partition of India. He considered it a very dangerous and disquieting development and fought hard for a united India.
• Dr Mukherjee fought hard to save the Hindu majority parts of Punjab and Bengal. He organised a countrywide campaign against the partition of the motherland and thus, it was due to his efforts that half of Punjab and half of Bengal were saved for India.
• He opposed the Nehru-Liaqat Pact of 1950. When he could not prevent the pact from being signed, Dr Mukherjee left the cabinet of the then Congress govt. But he forced amendments in the original draft of the Agreement, which committed the Government of India to reserve seats for Muslims in legislatures and services, to eliminate these provisions.
• After leaving the Congress, Dr Mukherjee returned to the first Lok Sabha in the first general elections held in 1952 under his newly launched party The Bharatiya Jan Sangh and despite having only 2 members he stood head and shoulders above all others.
• It was Dr Mukherjee who gave the famous clarion call – “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Nishan nahin chalenge, nahin chalenge (Two Constitutions and two flags in one country are not acceptable)”.
• He strongly opposed Article 370. He also launched the first satyagraha on the issue in the post-Independence era, which attracted a huge number of people. He was arrested and later died in police custody, which raised a lot of questions that remain unanswered.
Dr Mukherjee was a great humanitarian and his role during Bengal Famine and his untiring effort to save lives can never be forgotten. He was a true son of Mother India, a true nationalist and patriot. His principles and thoughts were beyond any personal ambition. He always thought for India, lived for India and finally died for India.
(Mita Bora is a writer, researcher, social worker and a member of the Assam Youth Commission. She is also the founder of the Gyanvardhini Library Movement and convenor of the Nation First Writers Forum)
(Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own.)