Book Review – Mahapran Jogendra Nath Mandal – Jiwan Aur Vichar
Jogendra Nath Mandal remained an unsung hero of dalits after the recognized icon Babasaheb Ambedkar. I read some pieces about Mandal Sahib from here and there but had not read much as Jogendra Nath Mandal somehow got pushed to the margins of history by sheer quirk of geo-political and socio-economic ground realities in the 1920s to 1960s in the run up to the partition of India and creation of India and Pakistan; the period in which he played an important role as a lead player. On the birth anniversary of Jogendra Nath Mandal on January 29, I got an e-mail from Prof. Ishtiaq Ahmed of Stockholm University in Sweden which made some very informative observations on Jogendra Nath Mandal which were very kindly forwarded to me, as usual, by my senior colleague and mentor Ambassador Bal Anand. On one of my recent visits to a book exhibition at Desh Bhagat Yaadgar Hall in Jalandhar, I could get a small book of 120 pages in Hindi written by Sheelpriya Baudh –
Mahapran Jogendra Nath Mandal – Jiwan and Vichar published by Samyak Prakashan. On reading the book, which is in no way a well researched work, nevertheless, I could get some informative material on Jogendra Nath Mandal which may be of interest. The author Sheelpriya Baudh has not claimed any affinity or firsthand interaction with Jogen Da, the nick name of Mandal Sahib. It was just a chance meeting of the author with one of the close relations of Jogen Da, A.K. Mandal, a senior professional with the Indian Railways which prompted him to write about the great leader of his times as stated by him in the introduction of the book.
Jogendra Nath Mandal was born in a nondescript and poor dalit family on January 29, 1904 in the district of Barisal in East Bengal which ultimately became East Pakistan on partition of India in August, 1947 and later Bangladesh in December, 1971. Since his uncle (Chacha), Ram Krishan did not have their own issue; they adopted Jogendra Nath Mandal and gave him the best possible upbringing with their meager sources and lowly social status in the caste ridden society. Jogendra was a brilliant and dedicated child who passed his Matriculation in 1924 in first division as he was admitted to school at the age of 8 under difficult social and economic hardships. Jogendra was keen to get higher education and he got all support from his uncle Ram Krishan in joining the college. Meanwhile Jogendra got married to Kamla Devi in a somewhat economically better off family. His father in law agreed to finance his further education. In spite of numerous hurdles, Jogendra, with his grit and determination, continued his higher education of BA in 1929 from Brij Mohan College at Barisal, MA and, LL.B from Universities in Dacca and Calcutta respectively. While in his college and university days, he showed lot of concern for the pitiable condition of his under-privileged brethren in the community. He resented attempts by his fellow students of upper castes to refrain him from joining Sarswati Pooja. Once he was admonished for entering Kali Mandir at Barisal, being a low caste, and desecration of the deity. Jogendra was an orator with a great sense of argument and logic even in his college and university days. In 1936, he started practice in Calcutta High Court to earn his bread and butter but due to caste prejudices could not succeed. He shifted to his native place Barisal and established himself as a successful practitioner of law and also started participating in public affairs with focus on matters of concern and interest to the socially and economically marginalized sections of the society and also communal harmony between Muslim and Hindu communities. Jogendra Nath Mandal’s first public recognition came in 1936 with his election to the Member of Municipal Council of Barisal which was further complimented by his election to the provincial assembly in 1937 under the formula of reserved seats for depressed classes. With the support of forces opposed to the Congress Party, Mandal Sahib won with an impressive margin of votes as an Independent against a Congress heavy-weight, Saral Kumar Dutt. Mahatma Gandhi was not happy on these developments and castigating the local Congress leadership on the victory of Jogen Da, as quoted by Sheelpriya Baudh, said, “For the success of a real public worker, no trademark is required. Real service and love for the masses is his only trademark”. Mandal Sahib was an active politician. He fought for reservation for dalits in education and government jobs for depressed classes as agreed to in the Poona Pact signed between Ambedkar and Gandhi in 1932 in the wake of the Communal Award of PM Ramsey MacDonald. He, in cooperation with other dalit leaders, established Independent Scheduled Caste Party. There were two political formations in Bengal; one was led by Fazlulalhaq and Syama Prasad Mookerjee and the second by Khawaja Nazimuddin. Mandal created his own independent group as a caucus to take care of the interests of dalits. Khawaja Nazimuddin showed inclination and roped in Jogen Da and appointed him as Minister in his government. Jogendra proved to be a vocal Minister particularly with regard to the issues pertaining to dalits and other weaker sections of the society. He stood with Subhash Chandra Bose in 1941-42 with regard to Bose’s disagreements with Congress Party and Mahatma Gandhi. Jogen Da was a fearless leader. The book under review has mentioned an incident in 1943-44 when he stood like a rock on the issue of employment to dalits. I quote from page 35 of the book which would say all. On a heated argumentative discussion in a meeting, Jogen Da responded angrily to MLA Hamidulhaq Chaudhary and said
“Mr. Hamidulhaq Chaudhary apni yeh lal ankhen kisi aur ko dikhana. Mujhe bhi ankhen dikhana atta hai. Mein apne mantripad ke dawara uchit kaya kar raha hoon. Mein is mantripad ki seva karne nahin aya hoon. Yeh mantripad kisi ki kirpa ka fal nahin jo meri jholi mein dal diya gya hai. Yeh jo rang bhawan hum logon dawara nirmit kia gya hai use mein 24 ghanton mein katam bhi kar sakta hoon” – Mr Chaudhary please show this anger to someone else. I can also be angry. I am doing my job a Minister. I am not here to enjoy the Ministership which is not a gift given to me. Whatever we have created with our own efforts could also be destroyed in 24 hours, if I want.
Joginder Nath Mandal proved his mettle in Bengal and started spreading his wings beyond Bengal in 1942 by the time Babasaheb Ambedkar had made his mark in the Indian political firmament. In March, 1942, dalits arranged a pan-India meeting in Delhi to take stock of the emerging political situation in the wake of Cripps Mission in which Babasaheb Ambedkar and Joginder Nath Mandal also participated. It was said to be the first formal meeting of two dalits leaders. Both the leaders could develop good rapport with each other with regard to the future political space of dalits. It was decided to float an all-India political outfit for the purpose. The next meeting was held at Nagpur in July, 1942. Joginder Nath Mandal along with his associates in the Independent Scheduled Castes Party also participated in the Nagpur meeting and joined hands with other leaders in which it was decided to rename the All India Depressed Classes Federation, an outfit started by Ambedkar in 1930, as the All India Scheduled Caste Federation to carry forward the agenda of the side lined segments of the society. The Bengal Chapter of the new party was headed by Joginder Nath Mandal himself. In the subsequent years, Ambedkar and Joginder intensified their contact and cooperation, Mandal Sahib as a Minister in the Bengal Government and Ambedkar as a Member of the Viceroy’s Council in spite of some complaints of local Bengali leaders against Jogen Da on account of his links with Subhash Chander Bose and seeking help from Congress Party on various occasions. The book has included a couple of letters exchanged between Ambedkar and Jogen da which give a positive flavor of the rapport and understanding that existed between the two stalwarts’ of the time. Ambedkar further cemented the mutual understanding and respect when he honored Jogen Da to formally open the Ambedkar School of Politics in Poona in October, 1945. The glorious chapter of Jogen Da’s contribution was yet to open. He was the lone successful MLA on the ticket of All India Scheduled Caste Federation among the 30 odd reserved seats with 26 of the Congress Party and three independents. He became a Minister in H.S. Suharawardy’s government in April, 1946 as a Hindu nominee for communal balance in the Cabinet. Now an epoch making chapter opens in May, 1946. The Constituent Assembly was to be formed by the members elected by the provincial assemblies. The process started and Congress Party ‘closed all doors and windows; even the ventilators’ for the entry of Babasaheb Ambedkar to the Constituent Assembly from anywhere in India. It is a well documented fact. Dalits all over India were worried. The book gives some insights of the situation. It was Jogendra Nath Mandal and his associates and supporters who came forward and invited Dr. B.R. Ambedkar to come to Bengal and they would send him to the Constituent Assembly. It was a proposal engulfed with so many uncertainties. But there was no other option. Ambedkar reached Calcutta in the second half of June, 1946 and accepted the offer. Both Jogen Da and Ambedkar with the explicit understandings with Khawaja Nazimuddin did their best to gather support. Congress Party employed every trick to see that Ambedkar may not succeed in filing his papers for the election as an independent candidate. With lot of grit and planning and even aggressive posture on the part of dalits from the Doaba region of Punjab engaged in leather business in Calcutta, all these designs were defeated. On July 17, 1946, the election day, it was a do or die situation. The book gives a detailed account of these events. The supporters of Ambedkar led by Punjabi leather tanners stormed the Assembly building where voting was to take place. One Budh Singh from a village Tallan in Jalandhar district of Punjab brandished a sword and declared that anybody seen trying to stop or negate Ambedkar’s election will not be spared “yeh talwaren gadharon ke khoon se lath path ho janengi aur mein apne jiwan ki ahuti de doonga” – this sword will be bathed with the blood of traitors and I will sacrifice my life. Jogen Da himself led that show of anger and strength. On counting of votes on July 20, Ambedkar got elected to the Constituent Assembly hands down with a huge support. It has been revealed in the book that even more than 6 Congress MLAs defying the party whip voted for Ambedkar. It was a sigh of relief to the entire dalit community. Jogen Da made his mark as a leader of dalits along with Ambedkar. The rest is history. If Ambedkar was not elected to the Constituent Assembly from Bengal under the leadership of Jogendra Nath Mandal, the history of the constitution making would have been different.
The next very important phase in the life of Jogendra Nath Mandal came with the formation of Interim Government under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru in August 1946. The Muslim League and dalits like Ambedkar opposed to Congress Party were not accommodated in it. Meanwhile, communal situation was tense particularly in Bengal. Jogen Da was already serving in the Suharwardy Government in Bengal. The political scenario in Delhi was changing by every passing day. One fine morning, Suharwardy summoned Jogen Da to his office and asked him whether he would like to join the Interim Government in Delhi from the Muslim League quota and
handed him a letter of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in this regard. It was a real surprise. Jogen Da, considering the treatment of dalits by the Congress and Hindu prejudices, accepted the offer of Jinnah. Obviously, it was not liked by Mahatma Gandhi and other Hindu leaders. Accordingly, Jogendra Nath Mandal joined the Interim Government in November 4, 1946. It was a difficult decision but took the plunge with explicit understanding and blessings of Babasaheb Ambedkar and the community leaders in larger interests of dalits of not only Bengal but of the united India. Jogen Da, as Law Minister in the Interim Government led by Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote to Ambedkar on May 30, 1947 and solicited his advice as to what should be done by him to safe guard the interests of dalits in the emerging political scenario to which Ambedkar replied on June 2, 1947, the text of the letter is available in the book. The reality of partition of India into two countries on the basis of two nation theory of Muslim League and its leadership led by Jinnah was being realized as Congress and its leadership led by Nehru was amenable to the idea of partition. Jogen Da and other leaders like Sarat Chandra Bose, elder brother of Subhash Chandra Bose among others floated the idea of independent Bengal, as stated in the book, but could not go far as it was already too late. It was certain that the Janam and Karam Bhoomi of Jogen Da were to become East Pakistan. These ground realities coupled with high-handedness of Congrss Party and Hindu leaders in dealing with dalits in the caste ridden society on one hand and some soft corner and promises of Muslim leadership including Jinnah to provide due space to dalits in the new dispensation on the other made Mandal Sahib to side with Pakistan. Accordingly on the advice and directions of Jinnah, he left for the new capital city of Pakistan on August 5, 1947. Pakistan came into being as a nation on August, 1947 under the leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah as Governor General and Liaquat Ali Khan as PM. As a political masterstroke to assuage the ruffled feelings of Hindus including dalits, Joginder Nath Mandal was retained as the first Law Minister of Pakistan. Was it a design or chance that Dr. B.R. was made the first law Minister of free India and Joginder Nath Mandal of free Pakistan, both dalit leaders of their own standing belonging to the All India Scheduled Castes Federation? Jogen Da established his credentials as a vocal leader of a secular mind with particular focus on rights and space of minority Hindus and dalits as the Law Minister of Pakistan. He was doing his job well with clear support and understanding of Pakistani Head of State Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah. But the things were getting difficult with planned and willful violence by majority Muslims against minority Hindus. Jogen Da Jinnah threatened to resign from the Cabinet. The details of an interesting tiff with Jinnah are given in the book at page 103. Jinnah first tried to underplay the resentment of Jogen Da but later sensing the mood said, as quoted in the book, “Mr. Mandal patience in politics is the essence of success. I was just testing your patience. I am equally perturbed over the situation in East Pakistan. I have ordered for a special flight for going to East Pakistan accompanied by you so as to solve the problem.” Jogen Da also kept Ambedkar in India on the loop and kept him informed of the emerging communal situation in Pakistan particularly with regard to dalits. The book contains letters of Ambedkar which he wrote to PM Jawaharlal Nehru and his Cabinet colleague K.C. Nyogi. Jogen Da’s hopes were shattered particularly the sudden death of Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah on December 11, 1948. The new leader, Liquat Ali Khan was not supportive of Jogen Da. He did not like Jogen Da’s stance on treatment to Hindu and other minorities in Pakistan and tried to sideline him. In June 1950, Jogen Da, being Labour Minister of Pakistan, was not sent to a meeting of the International Labour Conference (ILO). Jogen Da sensed trouble and in one of meetings with Liaquat Ali offered to resign and said, as per the book, “If you wish, I may slip down’. There were rumors that Jogen Da even be dismissed from the Cabinet. In September, 1950, he got a telegram that in Calcutta his son Jagdish Chandra Mandal was seriously down with malaria and he should immediately come to see his son. Jogen Da came to Calcutta and fell sick himself. Meanwhile, political developments and communal situation in Pakistan was generating a worrisome situation. Pakistan was increasingly ceasing to be a country of secular and democratic values. With consultation with his associates in India, Jogendra Nath Mandal decided to stay back in Calcutta and resigned on October 8, 1950 from the coveted positions he held in Pakistan and sent his resignation to PM Liaquat Ali Khan. The text of the resignation letter is given in the book on page 106 and I quote from it for the benefit of readers but I doubt, given the language of the said letter, that is the correct text, “The treatment meted to Hindus and other minorities by the so called Nazi Muslims/Gundas during the recent riots in February, 1950, I firmly believe that the entire Pakistan is not a place for Hindus to live. They even be converted by brutal force.” This chapter of short lived ‘tryst with Pakistan’ of Jogen Da came to an end. Only researchers, scholars and historians would evaluate and analyse these momentous decisions for the benefit of the general public. But it is for sure that Joginder Nah Mandal was a leader by his right.
On return from Pakistan, Mandal Sahib engaged himself in public service with regard to the displaced people. During the course of his activism, he went to jail several times in West Bengal. Meanwhile, Ambedkar also resigned from Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet in 1951. Jogendra Nath Mandal did not agree with one of the reasons of Ambeddkar’s resignation on the issue of division of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, as mentioned in the book under review. In the run up to the first elections in 1952 under the new constitution of India, Jogen Da floated a new political outfit called United Peoples Organisation and contested elections but could not make any dent. He himself lost like Babasaheb Ambedkar and his All India Scheduled Caste Federation. After Ambedkar’s passing away in December, 1956, Jogen Da tried to gather likeminded forces to carry forward the legacy of Babsaheb Ambedkar but could not do much. He died as an unsung hero on October 5, 1968.
As a tail-piece, may I mention here that I had an opportunity to see and listen to Joginder Nath Mandal at my native place at Bootan Mandi in Jalandhar in Punjab sometime in 1964-65 as a young lad in my formative years. I vividly remember he was a tall man nicely dressed in white kurta and dhoti. He spoke in English which was interpreted by an up-coming local leader at that time and a staunch Ambedkarite, Lahori Ram Balley. I don’t remember the contents of his speech but somehow feel that these must be of value.
All said and done, Mahapran Jogendra Nath Mandal – Jiwan Aur Vichar is a book that provides some basic facts to introduce the leader. I hope some well researched book about Jogendra Nath Mandal comes in the future with more and an authentic version of his life and mission. I conclude with a quote from Babarnama given at page 117 of the book:
अरसे से कोई न मेरा यार न मेरा दयार है ;
पल भर को भी नहीं मुझे हासिल करार है,
आने को अपनी मर्जी से मैं आया था यहाँ ;
जाने का पर यहाँ से नहीं इख्तयार है !