March 22, 2010

Madhopur is a small town some 12 kilometres away from the army cantonment of Pathankot. Last week, this town witnessed history being made.

A one-lakh strong gathering of people drawn from Punjab, Jammu- Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh congregated here to pay homage to the memory of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerji whose magnificent statue was installed here to commemorate his launching of a campaign way back in 1953 for the complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir state with India.

The place where the Memorial stands has been named Ekta Sthal. The larger than life-size statue has been carved by famous sculptor Ram Sutar. The decision to construct the Memorial was taken by Sardar Prakash Singh Badal, Chief Minister of Punjab. The unveiling of the statue was done by Shri Mohan Rao Bhagwat, R.S.S. Chief. As Shri Badal himself was unwell, Deputy C.M. Sardar Sukhbir Singh Badal presided over the grand function, which was attended by BJP President, Shri Nitin Gadkari and many other leaders of our party.

Dr. S.P. Mookerji was a life-long critic of the Congress Party. But, like Dr. Ambedkar, who too was a strong Congress critic, he had been inducted into the first Union Cabinet by Pandit Nehru, on the advice of Mahatma Gandhi. After the adoption of the Indian Constitution in 1950, Dr. Mookerji resigned from the government expressing sharp differences with Pandit Nehru over his handling of Kashmir, as also of Pakistan, particularly with reference to East Bengal.

In 1953, the first National Conference of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (a party formed by Dr. Mookerji) was held at Kanpur. It was here that Dr. Mookerji gave a call for Kashmir’s full integration with India.

J&K State had acceded to India. But the Constitution of India as framed had incorporated Article 370 into it, as a consequence of which the State had a separate Constitution, a separate Head of State and a separate Flag. Its head of Government, then Sheikh Abdullah, was designated Prime Minister. Even the Supreme Court, the Election Commission, and the Comptroller and Auditor General had no jurisdiction over the State. Besides, any Indian citizen wanting to visit J&K State was allowed entry only if he had a permit. Dr. Mookerji made defiance of this embargo as the symbol of his challenge to Article 370 and the State’s separatist provisions.

Accompanied by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Dr. Mookerji had toured various parts of the country and then come to Madhopur, went across the Ravi Bridge connecting Madhopur to J&K State. Midway over the bridge, Dr. Mookerji was accosted by the J&K police and asked if he was carrying a permit. Dr. Mookerji told the authorities that he believed that as an Indian citizen – besides being a Member of Parliament – he had a right to go to any part of India. When the police said that if he proceeded without a permit they would arrest him, Dr. Mookerji told Atal ji to go back and tell the country that Dr. Mookerji had entered J&K State without a permit, though as a prisoner !

The news electrified the whole country. Tens of thousands of Jana Sangh workers began pouring in from all parts of India, all headed for Madhopur and for Kashmir jails. Free India’s first national movement for national integrity had been formally launched with Dr. Mookerji leading from the front.

The campaign lasted nearly two months, but it had a tragic denouement! On the night of June 23, 1953 the whole country was shocked to learn that Dr. Mookerji had taken ill while in detention, and that after a couple of days in bed, had suddenly passed away, and that his dead body was being sent to Calcutta!

The nation felt outraged at the news of Dr. Mookerji’s martyrdom. Dr. B.C. Roy, Congress Chief Minister of West Bengal, and Dr. Mookerji’s mother wrote very agitatedly to Prime Minister Pandit Nehru urging a thorough enquiry into the tragedy. Government’s adamant refusal to order an enquiry invested a shroud of mystery to the sad episode.

The anger in the people had some immediate consequences. The permit system was promptly abolished. By August 1953, the Government in Jammu and Kashmir was changed! Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed and replaced by his Deputy Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, who was sworn in on August 9.

In the following months, one after the other, several other separatist provisions, such as those relating to the National Tri-colour, to the office of President, to the Supreme Court, to the Election Commission and to the designation of Prime Minister – all were changed and J&K brought at par with other States in these matters.

When in the name of Kashmir’s autonomy, it is said nowadays that the dilution of Article 370 that has taken place post-1953 must be undone, it is all these wholesome provisions of the Indian Constitution which are sought to be once again scrapped, in their application to the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

The massive rally at Madhopur on March 20 is the nation’s clarion call to the powers-that-be that India will never forget Dr. Syama Prasad’s sacrifice, and will not allow the constitutional clock to be turned back in respect of the State’s integration with India. Indeed, all that the country wants to achieve now is to move forward to the complete abrogation of Article 370!

L.K. Advani
New Delhi

21st March, 2010

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