Ajoy Mukherjee, who was a prominent leader of the Bangla Congress along with Dhara, its founder, was the mentor of the late former President Pranab Mukherjee…reports Sourish Bhattacharyya
A bustling port town of antiquity visited by the Chinese monk-travellers Fa-hien, Hsuan-tsang, and Yi Jing, celebrated in ancient Sanskrit literature, notably in the works of Dandin and Kalidas, Tamralipta (now Tamluk, in the Purba Medinipur district of West Bengal) was resurrected from obscurity during the Quit India Movement, when it became the seat of a ‘jatiya sarkar’ (national government) that lasted for nearly 21 months and was disbanded only after Mahatma Gandhi asked its founders to do so.
Tamluk was the scene of intense nationalistic activity ever since Gandhi gave the call to Indians to ‘Do or Die’ so that the British ‘Quit india’. Much of the work to build up this groundswell was done by a local Congressman named Satish Chandra Samanta, and passions reached their boiling point with the martyrdom of Matangini Hazra, who defied prohibitory orders in force and led peaceful protesters toward the criminal court building with the intention of occupying the police station nearby.
An active member of the Congress, Hazra, who was better-known locally as ‘Gandhi buri’ (old lady Gandhi), was 72 years old when she was shot thrice by the police, with whom she was pleading not to fire at the protesters following her. Hazra held the Congress flag in her hands even as her life was ebbing away.
Her brutal killing triggered an uprising in Tamluk, which was not always non-violent, and it led to the establishment of the ‘jatiya sarkar’, which administered the town for 20 months under the leadership of Satish Chandra Samanta, its ‘sarbadhinayak’ (chief executive), who had quit the Bengal Engineering College in his youth to plunge into the national movement. Established on December 17, 1942, it presided over the administration of Tamluk and earned the goodwill of the people.
The ‘jatiya sarkar’ ran a newspaper called ‘Biplabi’ (Revolutionary), conducted cyclone relief work, gave grants to schools and colleges, and even organised a ‘Vidyut Vahini’ (Electric Force) under the leadership of Samanta’s comrade, Sushil Kumar Dhara, in the hope of aligning with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army whenever he would liberate India.
Apart from Dhara, Samanta was assisted in his bold enterprise by Ajoy Mukherjee, who later became famous for being elected West Bengal’s chief minister for three short terms during a tumultuous period in the state’s politics when governments were formed and fell in rapid succession between 1967 and 1971.
Ajoy Mukherjee, who was a prominent leader of the Bangla Congress along with Dhara, its founder, was the mentor of the late former President Pranab Mukherjee. It was on his recommendation that his protege was admitted into the Congress by Indira Gandhi and then inducted into her Council of Ministers in the early 1970s.
Recalling the ‘jatiya sarkar’ days many years later, when he was President of India, Pranab Mukherjee said: “Gandhiji received a complaint that those who had formed the Tamralipta National Government in Tamluk could not be fully non-violent and had to resort to violence at times.
“Gandhiji had immense faith in Ajoyda and Satishda. He thought this was not possible, but those who had made the complaint were respected Congress leaders. So Gandhiji thought of conducting an inquiry. Some people suggested Ajoyda should lie to Gandhiji. But Sushilda said: ‘No. I have to tell everything to him, why we had to resort to violence. Then whatever punishment he decides will be acceptable”.”
Pranab Mukherjee continued: “Satishda then told Gandhiji that they could bear everything, but not mass rapes, which broke all their forbearance and compelled some of them to resort to violence.
“After confirming the rapes from the women, Gandhiji came back to them with moist eyes and said: ‘Satish, I cannot blame you. But I would have been happier had the incidents not happened’.”
It was Gandhi’s insistence that ‘jatiya sarkar’ was disbanded on August 8, 1944, a day before the second anniversary of the Quit India Movement.
The three leaders went on to have a busy political life after Independence. Samanta, who became quite a local legend because of his community service, was the Lok Sabha MP from Tamluk from 1952 to 1977. He died in 1983 at the age of 82.
He stood firmly with the Congress, whereas Dhara broke away and created the Bangla Congress in 1966. He was the MLA from Mahisadal for three terms (1962-77), held ministerial offices in the governments that Ajoy Mukherjee briefly headed, and got elected to the Lok Sabha on a Janata Party ticket in 1977. Dhara quit politics in 1980 and breathed his last in 2011, after completing 101 years.
Ajoy Mukherjee was active in West Bengal politics from 1951 to 1977, serving as the Tamluk MLA (a seat his brother, Biswanath Mukherjee, the CPI leader, later held) when he was not chief minister. Citing bad health, he retired from politics in 1977, passing on his mantle to Pranab Mukherjee. He was honoured with a Padma Bhushan in 1977 and passed away in 1986 at the age of 85.