Syama Prasad Mookerjee: Life and Times – A Book by Tathagata Roy

Today, June 23, 2018, is the sixty-fifth anniversary of death of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee. India lost a giant of spirit whose clarity of thought and vision, and the courage of his convictions, were matched perfectly by his determination to call a spade a spade.

The book is not only a chronicle of the man; it is also a commentary of the tumultuous times in which he lived and worked. The Life and the Times are so interwoven with each other throughout the book that when you pick up one end of the stick, you naturally pick up the other.

Dr. Mookerjee came from an educated, influential family. His background afforded him a platform. However, he was raised by a father who expected him to deserve that platform. Dr. Mookerjee more than met those expectations. He accepted his privileges as a duty to which full justice needed to be done.

The first four chapters, covering Dr. Mookerjee’s childhood, youth and relationships, are presented in a dull, repetitive style which took away the dynamism and vitality of the Mookerjee clan and showed Syama Prasad Mookerjee in dim light. However, once those four chapters were over, the narrative picked up its feet and flew nimbly over events and people that were stellar and exhilarating.

The author deserves appreciation for having undertaken to write the biography of a man whose life was a whirlwind of events in pre- and post-independent India. The nation was a melting cauldron of terrible crises. Who had time to record what others were doing? Who had thoughts of posterity when they were fighting for survival every day? To find nuggets from such strife-torn times and to put them together to weave a coherent story, is no mean task.

The biographer remains invisible throughout the book. His perspective does not intrude. He is also scrupulously truthful and fair at all times. When Dr. Mookerjee lost the assembly elections in 1945 (quote) and he suffered the ultimate humiliation of an ignominious defeat (unquote), the fact is presented baldly, sans sugar-coating or an attempt to lay the blame elsewhere.

The gripping narrative brought Dr. Mookerjee to life. It was thrilling to bear witness to momentous events as they unfolded. You felt an integral part of history. You felt the despairs, frustrations and elations as they were born on the pages of the book.

Syama Prasad Mookerjee visiting Dhubulia refugee camp
(Source: Wikipedia)

Dr. Mookerjee’s life and work were consistent to his principles. All his life, he spoke strongly for Hindus and demanded protection and fair dealing for them from those who would deny it. He made no bones about the fact that he considered Congress’ irresoluteness on Hindu matters deplorable. He was never in favor of the partition or of Article 370 which gave a special status to Kashmir. And he spoke vociferously, matching his action to words, on all these issues.


The book presents contemporary history in a way it has never been presented. In school textbooks, the stories of our independence struggle have barely included the stories removed from the doings of Congress. Only the most moving stories, like those of Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad and Bose, have managed to make a place for themselves in the narratives. It is as if the rest of the country slept through it all. That was a lie.

After reading this book, one can understand the nature of the soil in which the seed of partition was allowed to drop. No wonder history has had to white-wash many inconvenient truths. Congress, at the helm of the nation for nearly thirty years after independence, naturally didn’t want its own lack of gumption revealed. Vacillation, gutlessness and appeasement seem ingrained into the DNA of Nehru and Gandhi’s Congress. Giants who could have saved it from becoming the spineless waste it became, were never given a voice. Had they been at the helm, the state of the country would have been something entirely different. And Dr. Mookerjee would have died a natural death, surrounded by his loved ones, instead of dying alone in a gynecology hospital with a single nurse to administer to him.

Dr. Mookerjee was vehemently against the partition of the country. The passage below shows that the horror could have been avoided if the keepers were not sleeping at their posts. I quote:

After Mountbatten took over as viceroy in March 1947, his initial attempts were to sell a united India to Jinnah. Among other ways, he argued that the very logic that Jinnah was putting forth to justify Pakistan would inevitably lead to the partition of the provinces of Punjab and Bengal, something that Mountbatten knew Jinnah dreaded, and by doing this, he hoped to get Jinnah to back off with his demand for Pakistan. Lapierre and Collins have described how the arguments used to go: Jinnah would counter Mountbatten by saying, ‘Ah, but Your Excellency does not understand. A man is a Punjabi or a Bengali before he is a Hindu or Muslim. They share a common history, language, culture and economy. You must not divide them. You will cause endless bloodshed and trouble.’ And Mountbatten would say, ‘Mr. Jinnah, I entirely agree.’ Taken by surprise, Jinnah would say, ‘You do?’ Mountbatten would continue, ‘Of course. A man is not only a Punjabi or a Bengali before he is a Hindu or Muslim, he is an Indian before all else. You have presented the unanswerable argument for Indian unity.’ And then Jinnah would counter, ‘But you don’t understand at all,’ and the discussions would start around the mulberry bush again.

Even Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, was opposed to the partition. Since a strong friendship existed between the Viceroy and Nehru, surely that support was invaluable to strike a death blow to the plans of Jinnah? But perhaps Nehru was probably otherwise engaged and couldn’t be bothered.

Obverse and reverse of coin issued on birth centenary celebrations of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee in 2001

The events leading to Dr.Mookerjee’s death make it obvious that his medical treatment was fraught with unbelievable bungling – whether by design or sheer incompetence. The fact that no inquiry was ordered despite a demand for it, the manner in which Dr Mookerjee was trapped in J & K where the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction, point to a conspiracy. A man who has suffered his third heart-attack surely should not be made to walk a humongous flight of steps down a mountain to get himself to a hospital 10kms away – in an ordinary taxi!? It would have been a miracle if Dr. Mookerjee had survived after that cavalier treatment!

Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee might have been cut off in his prime, but the seeds he planted have grown into mighty oaks that a country gathers under. Perhaps his life is best summarized thus:

In his public life he was never afraid of expressing his inmost convictions. In silence the cruellest lies are told. When great wrongs are committed it is criminal to be silent in the hope that truth will one day find its voice. In democratic society one should speak out, especially when we are developing an unequalled power of not seeing what we do not wish to see.

~Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, in his condolence message after Dr. Mookerjeepassed away

Cover Picture: Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee (Source: Penguin India)

My rating for the book: 4.7/5.0

About the Author:

Dr Tathagata Roy
(Source: DNA India)

Governor Dr. Tathagata Roy, is an Indian politician, engineer, former professor of Construction Engineering at Jadavpur University and an author. He was president of the West Bengal state unit of BJP from 2002 till 2006 and a member of the BJP National Executive from 2002 till May 2015.

The book is available in hardcopy as well as a Kindle e-book and can be bought here.

By: ‘Dagny Sol‘ (Dagny is a passionate bibliophile. Her love for the written word is deep and enduring. She is a writer/ blogger and freelance editor. She edits fiction and non-fiction including novels, corporate communications and documents, as well as short stories, articles and blog posts. She has three almost adult children who try to keep her in line in matters of behavior and apparel. She can be contacted at:

Published: June 23, 2018

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