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Speech of first Bengali Christian member of Constituent Assembly

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“Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen. I trust that you will accept in advance an apology because I am going to place before you a history of the way in which from a Christian Communalist, I became a Christian Indian Nationalist. It was merely an accident that brought me into politics. Some people had egged me to seek election, but at the last moment deserted me and I was determined to show that though I have been a school-master all, through my life, it was possible for a schoolmaster to be a better man than the black-mailing voter. It so happened that the gentleman against whom I was fighting was a more experienced man with a longer record of service to the community than myself. It also happened that in those days it was more profitable to appeal to communal than to national feelings. I admit with a sense of the deepest shame that I dabbled with the matter. He appealed to communalism. I appealed even more strongly to communalism and that is how I got into politics.

But when as President of the All-India Council of Indian Christians, members requested me to go and visit poor Christians, it was then and then only that I found out the cause of the poor Christian Indian was no better than the cause of the equally poor Hindu Indian and the equally poor Mussalman Indian. It was then that from a Communalist I became a nationalist and if today you have done me the honour of putting me into the position of the Vice-President, be sure that while I am there, I shall not act as a communalist, but I shall remember the duty which I owe to the poor masses of my country.

I am not a lawyer. I am not even a politician, Forty-two years of my life have been passed as a teacher or as a student. I do not know whether I am qualified to discharge the duties with which you have entrusted me but I do know I shall try to do it honestly and thereby I hope to add to the dignity of the House and to the reputation of my community, which has hitherto had at least one thing in its favour and that is, that it has never stood directly or indirectly against the political progress of my country.”

Well that’s what Harendra Coomar Mookerjee or H.C. Mookerjee had to say. He was the Vice-President of the Constituent Assembly of India that was formed to the draft Constitution of India before partition. What was surprising, is that he was an educationist at par and also a prominent Christian leader of Bengal and was the chairman of the Minority Rights Committee and Provincial Constitution Committee of the Constituent Assembly.

Born into a Bengali family, he was the first Indian to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree from University of Calcutta. Mookerjee’s doctorate was in English literature, and he went on to become a philanthropist, and teacher.Following dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, Dr Mookerjee was appointed Governor of West Bengal between 1 November 1951 - 7 August 1956. He represented Bengali Christians in Bengal, and after his entry into national politics, he was elected as the president of All India Council of Indian Christians. 

What is so apt in today’s strife torn India is what Mookerjee said in an address to Christians:

“We have to demonstrate by every word we utter and by every act we perform that the professing of a different religious faith has not tended in the least to make us less Indian in our outlook than our non-Christian brethren, that we are prepared to play our part and to shoulder our share of the responsibility in every kind of work undertaken for the benefit of our country as a whole.”

Wish all political leaders of today thought and preached like Mookerjee