Shyama Prasad Mukherjee in a meeting at Calcutta University institute demanding separation of Hindu majority areas of Pakistan in 1946. Others in the pictures: Dr Meghnad Saha, Smt. Abha Maity, Ramananda Chatterjee, Smt. Sucheta Kripalani. Photo Courtesy: British Archive

I had no idea of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee in my childhood days. Born in 1970 at Asansol town of Burdwan, once the Red Fort of CPI (M) Bengal, I never heard of anything like West Bengal foundation day (Paschimbanga Pratishtha Dibas) in my school and college. Though I was associated with a local newspaper from an early age but never observed any article in any Bengali newspaper on WB foundation day. Of course, I heard about Jana Sangha and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee as the ‘culprit of the partition of Bengal’-from the lectures of left intellectuals and communist leaders of Burdwan district of WB. It took a long time for me to realize Shyama Prasad Mukherjee as a profound intellectual and the leader of the leaders of Bengal.

Many leftist propaganda booklets written for the last 70 years sculpted Shyama Prasad Mukherjee as the culprit and communal for the partition of Bengal. But history tells us a different story. According to the prominent Marxist theoretician Gangadhar Adhikari’s thesis of 1942, the communist party took a communal line in favour of Pakistan. They declared India could be independent only after the creation of Pakistan and catering to that dangerous and communal party line, progressive lyricist Hemanga Biswas of IPTA penned a song:  

শোন কংগ্রেস নেতাগন , মুসলমানের আত্মশাসন

না মানিলে হয়না মিলন , দেখ চিন্তা করি।    

Listen Congress leader! Hindu-Muslim unity is not possible without the Muslim self-rule. 

(Source: Ananda Bazar Patrika, 22 November 2005, post-editorial by Kalikaprasad Bhattacharya.) 

Communist Party of India’s (CPI) pro-Pakistan communal line in 1942 could not manage any support from media, intellectuals, and the common people but exceptional organizational skill and a strong critique of Muslim League made Shyama Prasad Mukherjee a beloved mass leader of Bengal. 

After resigning as a finance minister in 1942 from the progressive coalition government of Bengal province, Hindu Mahasabha leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee accepted the opportunity to lead Nationalist forces against the British. It was a terrible situation in Bengal. The cyclone of October 1942 undoubtedly affected the rice crop but non-availability and the inordinately high price of rice lead the crisis to a man-made calamity – the famine of 1943. The loss of life estimated between 7 lakhs to 50 lakhs. The then Nazimuddin ministry of Bengal province failed to control the situation. “This sickening catastrophe is man-made”, reported ‘The Statesman’ on 23 September 1943. 

In this difficult situation, the Bengal Relief Committee was formed with Sir Badridas Goenka, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, and B. Kanoria. The Bengal Relief Committee consisted of several Marwari and Hindu Bengali industrialists, traders, and businessmen besides noted lawyers, academicians, and intellectuals. The Hindu Mahasabha also organized another relief for the poor and needy. Shyama Prasad showed his superb-organizational skill in providing relief to the starving destitute. His appeals for funds found a ready response all over the country. The people had such trust and faith in Dr. Mukherjee that he received a huge amount of cash from different sources till 30 June 1944 for the Hindu Mahasabha Relief Fund. As a result of the large scale relief measures of the Bengal Relief Committee and other organizations under the guidance of Dr. Mukherjee the distress, particularly in cities, was relieved to some extent. However, Both the Muslim League and Bengal Government suspected Shyama Prasad Mukherjee’s relief work with an eye to political benefit. But fact says an entirely different story. Mr. Arthur Moore, British editor of ‘The Statesman’ claimed that Dr. Mukherjee never hesitated to accept from the Government whatever helps they were rendering to the nonofficial organizations and ‘is perhaps the one man who is working for the relief of the distress without sparing him the least bit. Even prominent Communist leader like Saroj Mukherjee has been forced to admit that at the time of the famine, Shyama Prasad did not hesitate to work even with CPI and its mass organizations. Dr. Mukherjee joined Hindu Mahasabha in 1939 and established himself as a leader of Bengal but a clear vision on Hindu Nationalism and a compassionate mind towards all caste and creed made him a National leader from Bengal province.   

On 16 August 1946 the ruling party of Undivided Bengal, the Muslim League, began its Direct Action against the Hindus. Kolkata turned red from the bloodshed of thousands of hapless Hindus. At least 5,000 people lost their lives and 100,000 residents were left homeless in Calcutta within 72 hours. The next day Bengal media reported Suhrawardy Government and the Muslim League for the deadly violence. Participating in legislature debate on the Calcutta riot Shyama Prasad Mukherjee said, “…..Let me say that what has happened is not the result of a sudden explosion, but it is the culmination of an administration, inefficient, corrupt and communal, which has disfigured the life of this great province. Turning to the League members he noted, ‘you say you will plunge the country into civil war if you do not get Pakistan and we say you shall not get Pakistan by any means whatsoever….”  

The question of partition of Bengal was evident. further religious riots in Noakhali, Bihar, United Provinces (modern Uttar Pradesh), Punjab, and the North-Western Frontier Province, made a strong ground to create a piece of Bengal which must not be under Muslim League or Pakistan. Moreover, Vallabhbhai Patel also observed that the Partition of Bengal is the only solution for the future. Shyama Prasad formed the Bengal Partition League for facilitating the partition of Bengal in the interest of a homeland for Bengali Hindus along with Upendranath Banerjee, a freedom fighter and Hemanta Kumar Sarkar, a peasant leader. Bengal Congress leader came forward to support Dr Mukherjee. On April 4, 1947, in the provincial Congress meeting the majority of the leaders of the Bengal Congress such as Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, Kshitishchandra Niyogi, Dr Pramathnatha Banerjee argued in favour of the partition of Bengal which was not denied by another Congressman Atulya Ghosh. The Communist Party did not support the idea of partition of Bengal for the Hindu Bengali but advocated for Pakistan and handing over the entire Bengal to Pakistan. 

76 public meetings were held to gather the momentum of public opinion towards the partition of Bengal. Only 12 out of these 76 were organized by Shyama Prasad’s Hindu Mahasabha with another 5 being jointly organized by Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha. Most of the meetings were organized by Bengal Congress. The largest assembly happened in Kolkata, presided over by Sir Jadunath Sarkar, the doyen of historians. Eminent scientist Meghnad Saha who was socialist and later elected to Loksabha with the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) affiliation, advocated for the partition of Bengal. Other noted non-political personalities like historian Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, linguist Suniti Kumar Chatterji all were in favour of the partition of Bengal. Among the Dalit leaders an ex-schedule caste minister of Bengal Premahari Barman and P. R. Thakur, the leader of the Matua community, all advocated for the partition of Bengal. On 23 April 1947, the Amrita Bazar Patrika published the results of an opinion poll, in which 98.3% of the Bengali Hindus favoured the creation of a separate homeland. The proposal for the Partition of Bengal was moved in the Legislative Assembly on 20 June 1947, where the Hindu members voted 58–21 in favour of the Partition with two members abstaining. 

Every state of India has its official foundation day except West Bengal! Do we the people of West Bengal still believe that the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was ‘the culprit’ of the partition of India? Why West Bengal does not celebrate 20th June as the foundation day of West Bengal? Are we in a state of denial about everything? Even to a brilliant piece of history of the Indian Independence movement! 

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