A ‘Controversial’ Indian!
The Indians usually blame Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee for the plight of the Hindus (especially in East Pakistan) after the Partition of India in 1947. Most probably, he is blamed for supporting the ‘Partition of Bengal’, the eastern province of undivided India. However, majority of the people in the South Asian country don’t consider the circumstances that prompted Dr Mukherjee to accept the proposal of Partition nearly seven decades ago. The Partition of Bengal in 1947 was a part of the Partition of India, as the British Indian province of Bengal was divided on the basis of Radcliffe Line between India and Pakistan. Predominantly ‘Hindu’ West Bengal became a province of India, while predominantly ‘Muslim’ East Bengal (erstwhile East Pakistan or Bangladesh) became a province of Pakistan in 1947.
Dr Mukherjee did not agree with many policies formulated by the Indian National Congress (INC) ahead of India’s Independence. He used to believe that the ‘grand old party’ of India undermined the interests of Hindu community by compromising with the Muslim League. The Muslim League failed to perform well in 1937 Provincial Elections in (undivided) Bengal, as the Krishak Praja Party – under the leadership of ‘Sher-e-Bangla‘ (Lion of Bengal) Abul Kasem Fazlul Huq – emerged as a third force (after the Congress and Muslim League). However, the Congress refused to form a post-poll alliance with the Krishak Praja Party. Although Huq managed to form the government with the help of ‘Independent’ members of the House and became the first Prime Minister of (undivided) Bengal, communal Mukherjee considered the Congress’ decision as ‘suicidal‘.
When the All India Muslim League moved a resolution for the creation of Pakistan during its annual session in Lahore on March 22-24, 1940, Dr Mukherjee condemned the resolution. He once again opposed the idea of ‘Partition’ in the Provincial Assembly after the horrific Noakhali riots in 1946. A series of semi-organised massacres, rapes, abductions and forced conversions of Hindus to Islam and looting and arson of Hindu properties took place in the districts of Noakhali in the Chittagong Division of undivided Bengal (now in Bangladesh) in October-November.
Gandhi in Noakhali
However, Dr Mukherjee changed his stand on this sensitive issue after March 1947 when the ‘Partition’ became inevitable (as the Congress accepted the Muslim League’s proposal). He made it clear to the top Congress leadership that if they agreed to divide Punjab, then Bengal should also be divided.
Speaking at a press conference in Kolkata (then Calcutta) on April 27, 1947, senior Muslim League leader Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy advocated for the two-nation theory, expressing hope that the Hindus and the Muslims could live in harmony in (undivided) Bengal (after the Partition). Interestingly, Suhrawardy made no comments when the journalists asked him why Muslims needed a separate nation to ‘live peacefully with the Hindus’? Dr Mukherjee ridiculed the Muslim League leader for projecting Bengal as a province of ‘future’ Pakistan even after the Noakhali riots.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted both Bengal and Assam to be part of Pakistan. Jinnah agreed to take part in discussions on the future of Bengal ahead of the ‘transfer of power’, as he thought that the Muslim-majority (undivided) Bengal could easily be included in Pakistan. However, Dr Mukherjee and his followers fought hard with the Muslim League and forced them to divide the province. They argued that although the plan “asked for a sovereign Bengal state, in practice it will be a virtual Pakistan and the Hindu minority will be at the mercy of the Muslim majority forever”. Finally, the ‘United Bengal‘ plan was discarded and all the parties agreed to divide the province. Even after India’s Independence, Dr Mukherjee demanded the rehabilitation of the persecuted Hindus in East Pakistan.
After the Partition, both India and Pakistan were facing difficulties in tackling the ‘minority’ crisis. In India, there were a large number of Muslim populations and similarly in Pakistan, there were a huge number of Hindus. The welfare and security of these minorities were the major concern for both countries.
Then Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan visited India in 1950 to discuss these issues with his Indian counterpart Jawaharlal Nehru. After discussing the issue for three days, both the PMs signed an agreement to look after their minorities. New Delhi and Islamabad further agreed to establish Minorities Commission and to take several actions for their security and welfare.
The Nehru-Liaquat Pact
Dr Mukherjee was against such discussions with the Pakistani government and therefore, he resigned from the Nehru Cabinet. He was of the view that India should ask Pakistan to give land equivalent to the land Hindus had left in East Pakistan. Dr Mukherjee strongly criticised the Nehru-Liaquat Pact, telling the Parliament in August 1950 that the refugee crisis could be resolved in three ways: by reunifying India and Pakistan, by exchanging minorities or by redrawing the boundaries.
Some historians have described Dr Mukherjee as a ‘communal’ leader and also tried to underestimate the political role he had played in the 1940s. Later, some historical developments in South Asia proved that Dr Mukherjee was a ‘visionary’ leader.
Intolerance is not always one-dimensional and causeless…….
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