Syama Prasad Mookerjee and the struggle for One India - I
by Sandhya Jain on 16 Aug 2023 1 Comment

The Kanpur session of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (December 29-31, 1952) asked its president, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, to correspond with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Sheikh M. Abdullah, to help resolve the growing crisis in Jammu province as a result of the satyagraha launched by the Praja Parishad. The principal issue pertained to finalising the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India. As is well-known, the then Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, had added a rider regarding plebiscite (i.e., will of the Muslim majority population) while accepting Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession; this was endorsed by the cabinet and publicly asserted by Nehru on several occasions.


Mookerjee wrote six letters to Nehru and received replies to five; he sent copies of his first two letters to Abdullah, with whom he then exchanged two letters. Mookerjee’s articulation of the issues concerning the nation is remarkable for its lucidity as opposed to the dogged obfuscation by Nehru and Abdullah. The dialogue with Abdullah, in particular, is remarkable for the crystal clarity and candour with which Mookerjee addresses the most thorny and sensitive issues, and magnanimously calls for leaving the bloody past behind. Sadly, the breadth of his vision and generosity of spirit went unappreciated.


As few citizens are aware of the Mookerjee-Abdullah correspondence, this article will focus on the issues raised therein; the correspondence with Prime Minister Nehru is similar.


Mookerjee wrote his first letter to Nehru on January 9, 1953, when the six-week-old movement was fast spreading throughout the province, and other parts of India. The Jana Sangh was concerned after receiving reports of heavy-handed repression, including the arrest of hundreds of citizens, lathi-charges, tear-gas, beatings, transfer of ill-clad prisoners to Kashmir jails in the bitter winter, and confiscation of properties. As Mookerjee informed the Prime Minister, the struggle was not “communal” (i.e., Hindu-centric) as “a good number of Muslims in Jammu” had also joined it. He sent a copy of this letter to Sheikh Abdullah, whom he consistently addressed as Chief Minister, though Abdullah in his replies referred to himself as Prime Minister.


Sheikh responds


After replying to Nehru’s letter with a copy to Abdullah, Mookerjee reminded the latter that while Nehru had replied to his previous letter, Sheikh had not even acknowledged it. Abdullah replied (February 4, 1953), pleading a lengthy visit to Hyderabad as reason for the delay.


Appreciating a softness in Mookerjee’s public speeches after their meeting in Srinagar in September 1952, Abdullah lamented Mookerjee’s support for “the legitimate demands of the Praja Parishad” and alleged, “There is conclusive evidence to show that the Praja Parishad is determined to force a solution of the entire Kashmir issue on communal lines.” He cited some examples from public speeches reported to him, and was especially incensed over a pamphlet, Jammu Rejects a Separate Constitution for Jammu & Kashmir state, issued by the All Jammu and Kashmir Praja Parishad, Jammu, that highlighted uneven representation in the Constituent Assembly (Muslim 50, General 24, Buddhist 1). Observers have viewed these elections as controversial, but Mookerjee was willing to overlook this aspect if the J&K Constituent Assembly passed a resolution accepting the accession as full and final.


Conceding insecurities over accession in Jammu, Abdullah said this was shared by the people of Kashmir and Ladakh, but the dispute was “pending before the UNO”. He mocked Mookerjee for suggesting a resolution by the State Constituent Assembly when he had previously held that it was not representative of Jammu. Questioning this “backdoor solution”, Abdullah warned of attempts “being made by Pakistan and other interested quarters to force a decision by disrupting the unity of the state.” He said this disunity was inevitable once the Praja Parishad demand for complete merger of Jammu was accepted.


Abdullah argued, “It is painful for me to note that even a person of your eminence should have been carried away by an emotional slogan like ek pradhan, ek vidhan, ek nishan. You seem to think that we are opposed to these symbols. By virtue of the state’s accession and its constitutional relationship with India, all these symbols are supreme as much in our state as in any other.” The variations, he countered, were specifically conceded by the Indian Constitution way back in 1949, when Mookerjee was part of the government.


Regretting the Praja Parishad’s hostility to Article 370, Abdullah maintained that “the special position accorded to the state can alone be the source of a growing unity and closer association” with India. Some parties supporting the Praja Parishad, he chided, want the Indian Constitution to conform to Hindu ideals (a reference to the Hindu Mahasabha) and to replace the national flag with a “bhagwa flag.”


Delay in implementing the Delhi agreement of July 1952 was irrelevant, Abdullah stated, since Mookerjee endorsed the Parishad demand for complete integration of the state or a part of it (Jammu, Ladakh) with India. In fact, the Parishad agitation began immediately after J&K implemented one decision regarding election of the Sadar-i-Riyasat (Governor). Accusing the Parishad of violence, Abdullah insisted his government had acted with restraint, and had appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Chief Justice Janki Nath Wazir to probe the matter.


Concluding, Abdullah said that when Pakistani raiders were at Srinagar’s door, the Muslims of Kashmir made sacrifices for their ideals of secularism and human brotherhood, while Praja Parishad was massacring their co-religionists in Jammu. (The sequence of events is otherwise: prior to the aggression of October 1947, trouble began in a portion of Poonch district, that came to be known as Azad Kashmir under Pakistan’s occupation. There was violence on both sides and many Muslims later migrated to Pakistan-held territory).


Mookerjee’s riposte


Responding to Sheikh Abdullah on February 13, 1953, Mookerjee said that while he had tried to appreciate the former’s viewpoint after their meeting in Srinagar, he could not appreciate Abdullah’s recent speeches wherein he dubbed his critics “as traitors and enemies of the country.” Asking Abdullah to recall his advice to not adopt “an attitude of non-cooperation towards the Praja Parishad,” Mookerjee argued that refusing to negotiate with the Parishad on account of its alleged past activities is untenable.


For instance, Mookerjee said, “Although you raised the standard of revolt against the Maharaja, did you not both meet on a common platform at the time of national crisis and did you not even offer loyal co-operation to him for the future good of the state and of the country?” Further, “You yourself started as a leader of a communal party.” The British were keen to use Abdullah and the Muslim Conference to end the Hindu Maharaja’s rule, Mookerjee quipped, “yet it would be highly improper to judge your present aims by making elaborate research into your past history starting from the days of Aligarh.”


Whatever one’s views about the Maharaja’s rule, Mookerjee pointed out, his kingdom was free of communal outbursts when many parts of India were ablaze, prior to independence. Indeed, “... Many things happened in 1936 and 1947 for which responsibility did not always lie on any one party or community in particular. Actions produced reactions and we got caught up in a vicious circle. We have to forget that chapter, although we may have to bear the lessons of that great tragedy in mind so as not to make mistakes in future...”


Regretting the manner in which Abdullah and some National Conference leaders were “attacking the Dogras”, Mookerjee reprimanded Abdullah’s tirade against the Maharaja, when it was through Hari Singh that Abdullah acquired full political powers. While appreciating Abdullah’s courage in challenging “the basic theory of the establishment of Pakistan”, Mookerjee reminded him, “I warned you in private and said so in public that in your dealing with the situation, by words and deeds, you should not encourage tendencies of separatism, nor ignore Jammu’s special problems. I communicated my impressions to Pt Nehru on my return from Jammu and Srinagar. If both of you had been moved in the manner, perhaps nothing would have happened.” He urged Abdullah not to stand on false prestige and to hold talks with the Praja Parishad.


Brushing aside extracts of speeches and statements in CID reports, Mookerjee said that he, too, could quote extracts from Abdullah’s speeches, but the priority was to settle the accession of J&K constitutionally, once for all. The British, he said, while partitioning India, had insidiously fractured Indian sovereignty by creating a myth of sovereignty in around 500 small and large units. The Congress was forced to accept this position and engage in the difficult and delicate task of absorbing these states into free India. This was accomplished by the statesmanship of Sardar Patel, barring the cases of Jammu & Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagarh.


Ultimately, Hyderabad and Junagarh joined India and accepted the Indian constitution. The pending case of J&K can be settled by asking its Constituent Assembly, elected on the basis of adult franchise, to decide the question. This would also make questions about the legitimacy of the elections redundant.


Regarding possible implications with the UNO and Pakistan, Mookerjee asserted that neither is concerned with the question of accession. India went to the UNO on the issue of Pakistani aggression on India which included Jammu & Kashmir, but did not receive a fair deal. The assurance to the UNO that final accession would be determined in accordance with the will of the people can be expressed through a Constituent Assembly elected by adult franchise.


Addressing the question of the subjects in respect of which accession should take place, Mookerjee said Sheikh Abdullah’s interpretation of Article 370 and claim of ‘residual sovereignty’ would create dangerous complexities. The Praja Parishad and Jan Sangh want J&K to accept the Constitution of free India in totality. Basic provisions of the constitution, especially fundamental rights, citizenship, Supreme Court, the president’s emergency powers, financial integration including abolition of custom duty, conduct of election and national planning, must be applicable to the whole of India. However, J&K could have a special provision regarding land. Should the National Conference desire modifications in some provisions of the Indian Constitution, it should submit its proposals for consideration by mutual consultation.


Lamenting Abdullah showing “tendencies of creating a separate status” for himself and J&K, Mookerjee especially objected to the provision for an elected head of state (governor) and a separate flag. Dismissing the bogey of a bhagwa flag, he said the flag is the symbol of unity. States cannot have a flag according to the desire of a particular party in power as this would damage India’s national and political unity.


As for Abdullah designating himself as “Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir”, Mookerjee insisted, “There can and should be one Prime Minister and he is the Prime Minister of India as a whole. In all states the first executive citizen is known as Chief Minister.” Likewise, India can have only one president - the president of India; other heads of states are known as Governors or Rajpramukhs. Mookerjee was adamant that, “There cannot be a republic within a republic…” Deploring the partition of India by the two-nation theory, Mookerjee said, “You are now developing a three-nation theory, the third being the Kashmiri nation. These are dangerous symptoms and are not good for your state or for the whole of India.”


Standing firm against Abdullah’s claim that extending the Indian Constitution to J&K could make the Muslims of Kashmir “lean towards Pakistan”, Mookerjee asserted, “If the bogey of Muslims ceasing to trust India and going away to Pakistan continues unchecked, it will create the same complications as Mr. Jinnah’s stand did. India is governed according to one constitution which is not based on any communal or sectional considerations. If four crores of Muslims in India can be expected to live with safety and in honour under the constitution, why should 30 lakhs of Muslims in Kashmir, who will be the majority community in their state, be in a mood to go out of India, unless they honestly feel that their future lies with an Islamic country, such as Pakistan?”


The Praja Parishad’s dislike of the July 1952 agreement between Abdullah and Nehru cannot condone non-implementation. It provided for application of some provisions of the Indian Constitution to J&K and these should not be delayed, Mookerjee argued. He observed that the Jan Sangh wanted to send a small fact-finding team to study reports of atrocities against the people of Jammu, but was denied permission to enter the state.


This is truly astonishing. Given the furore over the Maharaja’s government arresting Jawaharlal Nehru for entering his kingdom without a permit in 1946, it is strange that the Congress party allowed the permit system to continue after independence, in this sensitive border state. The fact that modern historians overlooked or ignored this situation – which resulted in the arrest and mysterious death of Syama Prasad Mookerjee – raises questions about their objectivity.


Concluding, Mookerjee mentioned burning issues such as economic integration, rehabilitation, discriminatory policy, especially the redivision of border districts in a manner that created a communal division of some areas. This refers to Doda district being carved out of Udhampur district of Jammu, with a communal majority. Mooting the desirability of giving autonomy to Jammu and Ladakh, Mookerjee urged Abdullah to help end the movement by inviting Jammu’s representatives to a conference along with Prime Minister Nehru to preserve the unity of J&K and consider steps to recover the territory occupied by Pakistan.


Combative Sheikh


Responding to Mookerjee’s letter (February 18, 1953), Sheikh Abdullah noted fundamental differences in their respective approaches to the problem of the state. Applying the Constitution of India in entirety to J&K, would abridge “the scope of our internal freedom.” Rebutting Mookerjee’s contention that this promoted separatism, or ‘three-nation theory’, Abdullah said all J&K decisions flowed from the Indian Constitution. Regarding the election of Sadar-e-Riyasat, he said the term meant Governor in local language, that Governors of other states are also appointed in consultation with state governments, and dodged the fact that these Governors are not elected by the party in power.


Abdullah now attacked the RSS for playing a dubious role in Jammu in 1947, adding that after being banned after Gandhiji’s assassination, it “emerged under the garb of the Praja Parishad with the same programme and leadership.” Accusing the Parishad of using violence to achieve their ends, he said his government cannot find common ground with them; he denied attacking Dogras as a community and said the poor among them were as exploited as others under Dogra (Maharaja) rule.


Continuing the offensive, Abdullah said some people cared for the Maharaja out of communal considerations. He blamed Hari Singh for the problems facing the state, for jailing “patriotic and nationalist forces” [i.e., Abdullah /National Conference demanding an end to the monarchy when India was struggling to oust the British], leaving the field free for communal and disruptive forces [that should be the votaries of Azad Kashmir], and resisting the advice of leaders like Gandhiji, Sardar Patel, Nehru, and Acharya Kriplani. There is some merit in the critique of Hari Singh’s indecision, but the contention that the ruler was guided by a coterie of foreigners with their own agenda, is unclear.


Finally, he accused Hari Singh of running away from Srinagar when the invaders were at the city’s door. Denying ‘repressive’ measures by his government, he charged that while Mookerjee wanted an ‘impartial enquiry’ into the events in Jammu, he had alleged that the Chief Justice of J&K was not impartial.



-       Integrate Kashmir. Correspondence between Mookerjee, Nehru and Abdullah, Complete Works of Deendayal Upadhyaya, Vol 2, Appendix VII: 193-272.

-       Korbel, Josef, Danger in Kashmir, Princeton University Press, 1954: 246.


A version of this article appeared in Himalaya Hunkar Patrika, May 2023. Hindi translation by Nidhi Bahuguna.

(To be concluded …)

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