A TWEET ABOUT DR SYAMA PRASAD MOOKERJEE
I repeated a quote from Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee dated 10th January 1946 on twitter and compared him to Lincoln. Quite surprisingly, there was a huge furore alleging that I was advocating a civil war between Hindus and Muslims in India. It beats me how a diary entry of 1946 in pre-partition India can be twisted to mean advocacy of such a civil war today, 70 years later. But upon pondering, it became clear that this was motivated, clearly an attempt that cross-examining lawyers sometimes make, putting their words in the witness’s mouth. But was what Dr Mookerjee said in 1946 incorrect in his time? I not only think it was correct, it was more; it was prophetic. Because the civil war that he spoke about was waged by Jinnah just seven months later, in August 1946, in the form of his ‘Direct Action’, aka Great Calcutta Killings, followed by the Noakhali Genocide, followed by the retaliatory killings in Bihar.
On thumbing through the biography of Dr Mookerjee that I authored in 2012, I found that I had written about this in great detail. I am therefore quoting from the book, “The Life and Times of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee” (Prabhat Prakashan, New Delhi, 2012), Chapter 7, page 175.
“In a Bengali diary entry on 10th January he wrote the unwritable and spoke the unspeakable, “There could be no dispute if both groups (meaning Hindus and Muslims) worked unitedly to preserve the Indian culture and live amicably according to their respective beliefs. But the Hindus did not worry about how they would protect themselves if the Muslims became overzealous and attempted to dominate them. In that event, the Hindu-Muslim problem would never be solved without a civil war (emphasis by this author). We did not want a civil war, but if the other party kept itself in readiness and we were caught off-guard, then we would be the losers. The Congress had failed to solve the Hindu-Muslim problem, nor would it ever be able to do so. The problem could be solved either by a mutual understanding, a friendly reunion, or a trial of strength. If there was no compromise, the more powerful party would emerge victor. How could an organization, which was built on Hindu support, yet considered it a sin to uphold Hindu interests, fight another organization which was dedicated to establishing Muslim dominance? What could be more tragic than the fact that the Hindus failed to understand this simple truth despite their intellectual and financial resources? Islam had a singular spirit of unity and equality that Hinduism lacked. Differences along lines of caste, creed or religion kept one Hindu from empathizing with another. On the other hand, one Muslim invariably felt a bond with another, irrespective of where he was from, whether it was from another part of India or another part of the world”.
The comparison with Lincoln was in preventing secession. Lincoln went to civil war when the Southern States withdrew from the Union. He saved the Union, which is why the United States is the most powerful country in the world today. If our leaders had the courage of Lincoln, partition of the country and all the miseries it brought about could have been avoided and undivided India might have been just as powerful.
This has attracted media attention also, and one of the questions that I had to face was, what is the relevance of this 1946 today? This question strikes me as singularly puerile. What is the relevance of Moenjodaro and Harappa today? Or of Emperor Ashoka? My point is History must be studied, not concealed, and lessons learnt on the basis of such study. The Spanish philosopher Georges Santayana famously said, “Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it”. Today Hindus and Muslims must learn to live peacefully in India side by side, because if they do not do so, a situation like 1946 might arise.