Sunday marks the 131st birth anniversary of freedom fighter and politician KM Munshi, who was born this day in 1887.
K.M. Munshi, was a political thinker, constitutional lawyer and expert, an institution-builder, and a great patron of Indian culture and civilisation.
Very few remember his contribution towards the rebuilding of the Somnath temple at Prabhas, and the challenges he faced therein.
In 1922, Munshi wrote about the emotional pain that Indians feel about the destruction of the Somnath temple and its ruins:
“Desecrated, burnt and battered, it still stood firm – a monument of our humiliation, and ingratitude. I can scarcely describe the burning shame which I felt on that early morning as I walked on the broken floor of the once-hallowed sabha mandap, littered with broken pillars and scattered stones. Lizards slipped in and out of their holes and the sound of my unfamiliar steps, and Oh! The shame of it! – an inspector’s horse, tied there, neighed at my approach with sacrilegious impertinence.”
The Nawab of Junagarh would just not allow the Hindus to rebuild it. But after the accession of Junagarh to India in October 1947, Sardar Patel announced at a public meeting:
“On this auspicious day of the New Year, we have decided that Somnath should be reconstructed. You, people of Saurashtra, should do your best. This is a holy task in which all should participate.”
There was some resistance. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the education minister at that time and a good friend of Nehru, opposed the idea, and in one of the cabinet meetings, argued that the ruins should be handed over to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), to be preserved as a historical monument.
However, Maulana Azad never suggested the same measures for Muslim shrines and mosques, which were being repaired by the ASI.
Sardar was very firm and responded with a note:
“The Hindu sentiment in regard to this temple is both strong and widespread. In the present conditions, it is unlikely that this sentiment will be satisfied by mere restoration of the temple or by prolonging its life. The restoration of idol would be a point of honour and sentiments with the Hindu public.”
Nehru presided over the cabinet meeting in which this decision was taken.
But Sardar passed away on 15 December 1950. Mahatma Gandhi, who also approved of the temple plan, was already gone. And Nehru became very hostile, not just to the temple project, but to cabinet colleagues—mainly Munshi and V.N. Gadgil—who were associated with it. Both Gadgil’s and Munshi’s writings bring this out clearly. The preparations began for the prana-pratishtha (installation of deity in the temple, and ‘bringing it to life’) as per the shaastras and the President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, was requested to conduct the ceremony.
In the midst of all this, Nehru called Munshi and said: “I don’t like your trying to restore Somnath. It is Hindu revivalism.” Munshi felt humiliated, more so because Nehru made it seem as if things were being done without his knowledge.
On 24 April 1951, Munshi wrote a long letter to Nehru. Many things related to the rebuilding of the Somnath temple would have remained completely unknown, had it not been for this letter. The letter is available in Munshi’s book ‘Pilgrimage to Freedom’.
“On 13 December 1947, the Standing Committee of the W.M.P. Ministry accepted Gadgil’s proposal that the Government of India should reconstruct the temple in the original form and develop roughly, one square mile of the surrounding area. I understand that this decision was included in the weekly note to the Cabinet.
As I learnt from Gadgil, it was also mentioned to the Cabinet. At the time, the decision of the Government was that the W.M.P. Ministry should reconstruct the old shrines and they were doing so in the case of certain Muslim shrines and mosques.
The Government of India, thereafter, deputed Government architects to visit Prabhas and prepare a report for the reconstruction of the temple.
When the whole scheme was discussed by Sardar with Bapu, he stated that it was alright except that the funds necessary for re-constructing the temple should come from the public. Gadgil also saw Bapu and Bapu gave him the same advice. Thereafter, the idea that the Government of India should finance the reconstruction of the temple was given up…
As you will see, the Government of India not only took the initial decision to reconstruct the temple, but formulated and set the scheme going; alongside creating the agency for its further implementation. This will clearly indicate to you the extent of association, the Government of India has with the scheme…
Yesterday, you referred to ‘Hindu revivalism.’ It is my faith in our past which has given me the strength to work in the present and look forward to our future. I cannot value freedom if it deprives us of the Bhagavad Gita or uproots our millions from the faith with which they look upon our temples and thereby destroys the texture of our lives. I have been given the privilege of seeing my incessant dream of Somnath reconstruction come true. That makes me feel—makes me almost sure—that this shrine once restored to a place of importance in our life, will give our people a purer conception of religion and a more vivid consciousness of our strength, so vital in these days of freedom and its trials.”
Gadgil, the Minister of Urban Development and Rehabilitation then, has also mentioned this attitude of Nehru, after Sardar’s death. Gadgil wrote:
“I quoted from the Cabinet reports to prove that Nehru’s charge that the thing was being done without informing the Cabinet was not correct. Maulana and Jagjivan Ram said that the matter was discussed. The government of India had spent about hundred thousand rupees on the work.”
But for the courage and conviction of Munshi, the Somnath temple would have not been built. Despite Nehru’s strong disapproval and opposition, the president did perform the prana–pratishtha ceremony.
Prof. Makkhan Lal is Founder Director of Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management and currently Distinguished Fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation