Celebrating the centenary of a “divisive” figure

An ultra-nationalist organisation, Hindu Samhati, has celebrated the centenary year of Gopal Chandra Mukherjee, who “saved” many Hindu families during the “Great Calcutta Killings” of 1946. Interestingly, the Hindu Samhati celebrated Mukherjee’s centenary on August 16, the day the worst-ever communal riots took place in Bengal’s history.

Refuting the claim that Mukherjee (also known as Gopal Patha or ‘goat’ for his family’s meat shop in central Kolkata) is an extremely divisive figure in Bengal’s history, Hindu Samhati president Tapan Ghosh said “Leftist historians distorted history” and denigrated Mukherjee.


According to many historians, on August 16, 1946, tension between Hindu and Muslims flared up early in the morning in central Kolkata. Large-scale stabbing and looting started by mid-day.

The then Governor of Bengal, Frederick John Burrows, said in his reports that the rioting related to partition of Bengal was “communal” in nature from the beginning. Sixty-eight years down the line, the Hindu Samhati marked the day by celebrating the centenary of Mukherjee, who was born in 1913, in nearly the same place in Esplanade, where Muslim League hosted its rally in 1946.

Tension was palpable in Esplanade last Saturday when Mr. Ghosh and his associates said Mukherjee was “no divisive” character but a “patriot and a nationalist.”

Later talking to The Hindu, Mr. Ghosh said, “Mukherjee acted as a deterrent against the slaughter of Hindus on this day, 68 years ago.”

Historian’s version

Historian Sandip Bandopadhyay, who interviewed Mukherjee, said he was “not a divisive” character.

“It would be unfair to term Mukherjee communally divisive as the term ‘communal’ had a different definition in the backdrop of the 1946 riots. His first target was to save his area from Muslim attacks. While it is true that Mukherjee did not initiate the riots, he did organise a large group of Hindu Bengali youths and trained them to fight Muslims,” Mr. Bandopadhyay said.

The owner of a meat shop in central Kolkata, Mukherjee “never bore a grudge against Muslims” as he had to regularly interact with Muslim traders for his business, Mr. Bandopadhyay said. Mukherjee was forced to turn violent when Muslim rioters approached central Kolkata.

“Based on my interactions with a lot of people from central Kolkata, where Mukherjee was an influential character, I found out that Mukherjee had sheltered a lot of Hindu families and widows during the riots,” Mr. Bandopadhyay said.

The Hindu Samhati has planned many such programmes in the coming months to protest division of Bengal.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 8:21:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/celebrating-the-centenary-of-a-divisive-figure/article6326661.ece

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