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How Mookerjee’s push against Art 370 became an article of faith for BJP

It was Mookerjee, who launched an agitation against a separate Sadr-e-Riyasat (head of state), a separate flag and a State Constitution for J&K in 1952 .

Aug 06, 2019, 11.36 AM IST
Syama Prasad Mookerjee (File Pic)
(This story originally appeared in on Aug 06, 2019)
If the scrapping of Article 370 has all along been among the BJP’s top priorities, it is because of the sharp spotlight cast on the contentious topic by Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of the BJP’s political precursor, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh.

Mookerjee not only launched an agitation against a separate Sadr-e-Riyasat (head of state), a separate flag and a State Constitution for J&K in 1952 but popularized the slogan Ek desh mein do vidhan (two Constitutions), do nishan (two flags) aur do pradhan (two heads of state) nahin chalenge.’ Son of a famous Calcutta high court judge, Mookerjee entered the Bengal legislative council in his 20s and became vice-chancellor of Calcutta University at age 33. When he met V D Savarkar at N C Chatterji’s home in 1939, he decided to join the Hindu Mahasabha, later succeeded Savarkar as its chief and in 1947 became one of three non-Congress nominees in free India’s first Cabinet.

As industries minister in the Nehru regime and after he quit the ministry in 1950, Mookerjee received a slew of complaints from the Hindus of J&K, who drew his attention to “violation of civil rights” by the Kashmir government led by Sheikh Abdullah and to alleged separatist tendencies fomented by the state’s leadership. On forming his own party, Jana Sangh, in 1951, Mookerjee said that Article 370, which gave the Centre powers in J&K only in terms of defence, foreign affairs and communications, placed serious limits on the state’s accession to India and urged that provisions of the Indian Constitution such as those on fundamental rights, citizenship and other key matters be extended to the state.

At the Jana Sangh’s Kanpur conclave of December 1952, he extended full support to a Dogra group-led ‘satyagraha’ against the Abdullah government and in Jan-Feb 1953, exchanged 11 letters with Nehru and 6 with Abdullah on ensuring J&K’s complete accession.

“If the people of Jammu demand accession it should be on the same lines as in the case of other states, they do not say anything arbitrary,” he noted. As he felt replies from Nehru and Abdullah were discouraging, he accused the then PM of “sidetracking the issue” and criticised Abdullah for “developing a three-nation theory (after the two-nation theory), the third being Kashmir.”

ln May 1953 Mookerjee decided to enter J&K without the Kashmiri government’s permission, saying his fundamental rights as an Indian could not be circumscribed because Article 370 did not have those rights. He was arrested under the Public Safety Act on May 11 before he could enter Jammu, despatched to jail and died in a makeshift prison near Dal lake in Srinagar over a month later, on June 23. Though he died of a heart attack, the circumstances of his death are still debated, as is Article 370.

The Jana Sangh, and later BJP, swore that his “martyrdom” would not be in vain, and when A B Vajpayee was asked during his tenure as PM why BJP wasn’t abrogating Article 370, he said, for once plaintively rather than poetically, “ Kyun ke hamarey paas bahumat nahin hain (Because we don’t have a majority).” Narendra Modi won a robust ‘bahumat’ the second time round in 2019, ticking one of the three top items on the BJP’s manifesto.
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