Syama Prasad Mookerjee
Syama Prasad Mookerjee

A monk turned lawyer's public interest litigation (PIL) in Calcutta High Court seeking reasons behind the mysterious death of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee has stirred a hornet's nest in the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The BJP, which calls the former barrister and academician its father figure, has done little to probe his death except talking about India's first industries minister at big events, lighting lamps and creating study centres which largely remain within files.

Kolkata-based Samarjit Roy Chowdhury has asked for an inquiry commission headed by a retired Chief Justice of India. The application will come up for hearing by the end of July, 2021.

Roy Chowdhury, who shared details of his petition with his reporter, said Mookerjee, who died on June 23, 1953, was detained without trial by Sheikh Abdullah's government after his arrest in Kathua on May 11, 1953.

Government records claim Mookerjee died in the custody of Jammu and Kashmir Police. He was provisionally diagnosed with a heart attack and shifted to a hospital but died a day later.

Virtually nothing is known about the cause of the death of Mookerjee, a minister in undivided Bengal and in Nehru's cabinet. Mookerjee, the youngest vice chancellor of the Calcutta University at 33, was a prominent Opposition leader and founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The Jana Sangh eventually gave birth to the current day BJP.

"I am surprised at the silence, we must know how Mookerjee died," said Roy Chowdhury.

Political cognoscenti in India feel the PIL, if accepted, could open a pandora's box in politically-sensitive India where similar efforts have opened up many unheard details of national leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose and Lal Bahadur Shastri. In both cases, movies have been made and tomes written to highlight the gross disparities in what historians peddled for many years.

All eyes are now on the Calcutta High Court. If the PIL is admitted, then work will start on one of India's biggest political mysteries. If not, the father figure of the BJP will be remembered during lighting of lamps during mega functions.

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Free Press Journal