Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Road Past and Present

Joydip Sur

Origin Of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Road

Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Road was formerly known as Russa Road South. The erstwhile Russa Road South stretching between Ashutosh Mukherjee Road and Tollygunj tram depot owed its nomenclature to the fact that this entire stretch was dotted with “russa” trees. According to the Calcutta Municipal Gazette dated September 12, 1953, a resolution to rename the thoroughfare as Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Road was passed by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation in a meeting held on July 3, 1953. However, in view of certain objections, the corporation revised its earlier resolution and renamed the stretch between Ashutosh Mukherjee Road and Tollygunj Railway Bridge in another meeting held on August 27, 1954.

Quintessentially a south Calcutta Bengali neighbourhood, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee has a number of important institutions which have made this road their home like Jogesh Mime and Ashutosh College; parks include Jatin Das Park and Kalighat Park and cinema halls like Purna, Basushree, Indira, Bijoli and Ujjwala. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Road is one of the most important thoroughfares in south Calcutta and continues northward as Ashutosh Mukherjee Road. Both the roads are often collectively referred as “baba-cheler rashta” (the father-son road) by the locals.

Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee

Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Road is named after Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the first Industry Minister of the country and the founder of Bharatiya Jan Sangh. He was born on July 6, 1901 in Calcutta to Jogmaya Devi  after whom the Jogmaya Devi College is named and Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee, a well-known lawyer and a judge of Calcutta High Court who went on to become the Vice-Chancellor of University of Calcutta.

Syama Prasad Mookerjee obtained his degrees from the University of Calcutta, securing the first place in both graduation and post graduation examinations. He completed his Bachelor of Law degree in 1924. He became a fellow of the Senate.  At the age of 33, he became the youngest Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta (1934), and held the office till 1938. During his tenure, Tagore was invited to deliver the Convocation address in Bengali at the University.

He was elected to the Legislative Council of Bengal, as a candidate of the Indian National Congress but resigned next year when Congress decided to boycott the legislature. Subsequently, he contested the election as an independent candidate and got elected. He served as the Finance Minister of Bengal Province during 1941-42. He was a powerful orator and one of the finest Parliamentarians.

Mookerjee emerged as a spokesman for Hindus and shortly joined Hindu Mahasabha and in 1944, he became the President and countered the separatist policy of Muslim League.

He was initially a strong opponent of the Partition of India, but the communal riots of 1946-47 in Bengal under the provincial government headed by Muslim League forced him to consider otherwise. In fact, he ripped into the Muslim League Government on the floor of the Bengal Legislative Assembly alleging inaction and complicity on the part of the ruling party in the Great Calcutta Killings.

The first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru inducted him in the Interim Central Government as a Minister for Industry and Supply. He left Hindu Mahasabha after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Mookerjee was widely respected by members of the Indian National Congress. He quit the ministry in 1949 after differences with Nehru over the Delhi Pact in 1949 between India and Pakistan which called for guaranteeing minority rights in both countries even as the influx of large Hindu population continued from the other side of the border.

He formed a new party called Bharatiya Jan Sangh in 1951. Mookerjee also strongly protested against the special status granted to Kashmir and tried to enter the state but was detained on May 11, 1953 and almost a month later on May 23 he died in custody. His death raised a huge uproar in the country, particularly in Bengal and an inquiry was sought into the circumstances leading to his death but it was turned down by the government at the Centre.