How did Bharatiya Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee die?

Syama Prasad Mookerjee wrote a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, asking how was he going to recover the remaining part of Kashmir which was under Pakistan's control

Syama Prasad Mookerjee was the founder of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the predecessor of the current ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. He was known for his vociferous campaign for the integration of Jammu & Kashmir with the rest of India, dismissing the Article 370. Barely two years after having founded the Jana Sangh, he embarked on a tour to J&K wherein he breathed his last under mysterious circumstances in Srinagar jail. Till date, the BJP blames the Congress for his custodial death in Srinagar in 1953.

Here’s a look at the events surrounding his death and the most serious allegation made by the party’s tallest leader.

Falling out with Nehru

Born on July 6, 1901, Syama Prasad Mookerjee joined the Jawaharlal Nehru government as the minister for industries and civil supplies. However, differences cropped over the Prime Minister’s pact with his Pakistani counterpart Liaqat Ali Khan and the former Calcutta High Court lawyer resigned from the Cabinet in 1950. On October 21, 1951, Mookerjee founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The newly formed party won 3 seats in the first Lok Sabha elections held in 1952. The party founder was elected to the Lower House from Calcutta South East constituency in West Bengal.

Raising Kashmir pitch

Refusing to bow out of political fray due to a poor electoral debut, Mookerjee found the Kashmir issue a golden opportunity to motivate the party and its cadre. As an MP, he unleashed a no-holds-barred attack on Nehru in Parliament. J&K’s Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah had reportedly said that the state would consider both the provincial and national flag ‘equally’.

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Noted historian Ramachandra Guha in his book India After Gandhi, quoted the Jana Sangh founder as saying:

Even if the Valley wanted a limited accession, Jammu and the Buddhist region of Ladakh must be allowed to integrate fully if they so chose. But a better solution still would be to make the whole state a part of India, without any special concessions. This would bring it on par with all the other princely states, which – despite earlier promises made to them as regards autonomy – had finally to agree to be subject to the provisions of the constitution in toto. Abdullah himself had been a member of the Indian Constituent Assembly, yet ‘he is asking for special treatment. Did he not agree to accept this Constitution in relation to the rest of India, including 497 States. If it is good enough for all of them, why should it not be good enough for him in Kashmir?



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Final march to Srinagar

In November 1952, Mookerjee travelled to Jammu and extensively campaigned against the Sheikh Abdullah government. Later, he even wrote a letter to Nehru in support of J&K’s merger with the rest of India. In those days, you needed a permit to enter Jammu and Kashmir. On May 8, 1953, Mookerjee boarded a train from Jammu to enter Srinagar. Sensing trouble, the Abdullah government issued prohibitory orders to bar him from entering the Valley. On May 11, Mookerjee entered the Valley wherein he was arrested and taken to Srinagar jail.

During his stint in the jail, the Jana Sangh founder read books on Hindu philosophy. However, he fell ill in early June. On June 22, he suffered a heart attack and died in jail, Guha wrote.

Exactly 51 years later, former Prime Minister and veteran BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee in an interview to the Press Trust of India accused the Nehru government of entering into a conspiracy with the Abdullah regime.

When Mookerjee decided to violate the permit rule by entering J&K without a permit, we thought the Punjab government would arrest him and prevent him from proceeding further. However, that did not happen. Later, we came to know that the J&K government and Nehru government and entered into a conspiracy, as per which it was decided that Mookerjee would be allowed to enter J&K but not be allowed to leave.

Guha wrote that the Jana Sangh was furious over the mysterious death of its founder that posters were put up in New Delhi warning Abdullah from entering the national capital. An angry mob had gone berserk in Jammu, setting fire to government offices.

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