Musings On The Constitution-XIV
In his final speech before the Constituent Assembly Dr. B R Ambedkar, on Nov 25th, 1949, drew the attention of the House and the nation, “The proceedings of this Constituent Assembly would have been very dull if all members had yielded to the rule of party discipline. Party discipline, in all its rigidity, would have converted this Assembly into a gathering of yes’ men. Fortunately, there were rebels. They were Mr.Kamath, Dr. P.S. Deshmukh, Mr. Sidhva, Prof. Saxena & Pandit Thakur, Das Bhargava alongwith they I must mention Prof. K.T Shah and Pandit Hirday Nath Kunzru. The points they raised were mostly ideological. That I was not prepared to accept their suggestions does not diminish the value of their suggestions nor lessen the service they have rendered to the Assembly in enlivening its proceedings. I am grateful to them. But for them, I would not have had the opportunity which I got for expounding the principles underlying the Constitution which was more important than the mere mechanical work of passing the Constitution.”
The role of these ‘rebels’ has also remained under wraps in Indian constitutional history as discussed and debated in public domain. Only those with a constitutional bent of mind, so to say, may have read who they were and their contributions to the nation, quite apart from their ‘forceful interventions’ in the Assembly proceedings. We necessarily may need to pick and choose among, because there 289 members in all, after the exodus on formation of Pakistan by 90 of them from the original 389 elected to the Constituent Assembly. They had all contributed to the public course and the nation’s cause in their own but different ways. But, it may be appropriate to pick on those ‘characters’ among them for special mention, as it were. The choice means nothing more than a personal whim or fancy.
The first of the character we can flag off is Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi. (30 December 1887 – 8 February 1971), popularly known as K. M. Munshi and with his pen name Ghanshyam Vyas, was an Indian independence movement activist, politician, writer and educationist from Gujarat state. A lawyer by profession, he later turned to author and politician. He was a well-known name in Gujarati literature. Munshi wrote his works in three languages namely Gujarati, English and Hindi.
He was elected to the Constituent Assembly from Bombay and held membership of eleven Committees—the second largest number for any single member of the Constituent Assembly. The Drafting Committee was one of the important Committees which he was a member of and he made significant contributions to its work.As a member of the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights, Munshi presented his draft articles on Fundamental Rights on 17th March 1947 which enumerated rights every citizen should have. Some of the proposals in his draft articles are right to privacy to be included under the fundamental right to freedom (draft article V), Hindi and Urdu to be Indian National languages (draft article IV), right to free compulsory education till the age of 14 as a fundamental right (draft article VIII). This draft was taken as the model for the guidance of the Sub-Committee.
In 1926, KM Munshi married Lilavati Sheth, a well-known literary critic. This marriage raised some eyebrows as Lilavathi was older to Munshi, and more importantly, she was a widow. But Munshi did not pay heed to these strictures and openly claimed Lilavathi to be one of his intellectual inspirations. Lilavathi was a constant companion of Munshi throughout his whole life.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar
From 1940 up to 1946, Dr. Munshi was part of many socio-cultural bodies, the most famous being Veer Savarkar’s Akhand Hindustan Front which called for an unified India and opposed partition. During that time both he and Savarkar campaigned nationwide calling for the social and cultural unity of Hindus. His exposition on the occasion may be worth notice.
“Akhand Hindustan is a living reality, which no man in his senses dare trifle with. There cannot be any parley on the question of the integrity of India. There can be no compromise on the basis of its disruption. No coercion, no calamity, no slavery, however oppressive will make us agree to such vivisection. From Amarnath to Rameswar, from Dwarka to Kalighat, the land is one and indivisible. It is sanctified by the sacrifice of Indians of thirty centuries. It is the shrine at which our gods have worshipped. It is the hope of India’s sons; it will remain such till the end of time. Its inviolability is the first article of their faith here, their salvation hereafter. Whoever seeks to part what has thus been joined, will have to walk over the dead bodies of millions of Indians. And even then, India will remain one and indivisible.”
After the independence of India, KM Munshi was given the post of trade agent (Agent-General) in the princely state of Hyderabad. During this time the Nizam was trying to keep his State independent of the Indian Union, even sending secret signals to the newly created Pakistan for assistance. Knowing the inevitable danger such plotting posed for the Indian Union, Dr. Munshi kept Sardar Patel informed about the doings of the Nizam. His dexterity made the process of Hyderabad joining the Indian Union successful, as acknowledged by Sardar Patel: “On behalf of the Government, I wish to say that we are deeply conscious of the high sense of public duty that induced you to accept this office and the very able manner in which you discharged the duties entrusted to you which contributed in no small measure to the final result.”
Munshi’s role in the reconstruction of Somnath Temple is singularly significant. A fascinating and emotional recall today.
Ruins of Somnath Temple
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 Patrel was the Iron Man himself, when he 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.” However, Maulana Azad never suggested the same measures for Muslim shrines and mosques, which were being repaired by the Archaelogical Survey of India. Jawaharlal Nehru was inclined to go along with Azad.
But the Sardar was not budging as he responded with a note…..
(Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)