Musings On The Constitution-XV
The Sardar was not budging as he 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 the decision was taken to reconstruct the temple. But doubts began to emanate as if Nehru was not in the loop at all.
Sardar Patel passed away on 15th December 1950. Mahatma Gandhi, who had also given his go ahead, had already gone in 1948. 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.
Reconstructed Somnath Temple
On 24th April 1951, Munshi claimed he was constrained to write a 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’. And what pilgrimage!
“On 13th December 1947, the Standing Committee of the 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 not have been built.
President Rajendra Prasad performing the prana pratishtha Ceremony
Despite Nehru’s strong disapproval and opposition, the President Rajendra Prasad did perform the prana pratishtha ceremony.
While Dr. Munshi, saw the movement for reconstruction of the temple as the reversal of past injustice done to Hindus, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, saw the episode as the rise of his pet angst: Hindu revivalism. The difference of opinion on core ideological platform between Nehru and Munshi was real. Nehru was not making any secret of it in his conversations with Munshi and other Congress leaders. Nehru was counselled to send K M Munshi as Governor of Uttar Pradesh to take him away from the eyeballs of the national scene. And Munshi obliged his friends, “for the sake of national interest”. Just imagine a politician becoming the Governor as a sacrifice!
While Kashmir was handled by Jawaharlal Nehru, the world knows it was Sardar Patel who dealt with Hyderabad and its Nizam. Doubts have been raised with regard to the serious differences of opinion between Nehru vs Sardar Patel/VP Menon axis on this issue. What has K M Munshi got to do with it? Everything, it would appear.
Nizam of Hyderabad
Why should I spoil the show for you in my words? Let Munshi take over from his 621 page Pilgrimage to Freedom published in 1967. It reads like a thriller. “The most ambitious of Indian Princes was the Nizam of Hyderabad who declared on June 12th, 1947, that
“The departure of the paramount power in the near future will mean that I shall become entitled to resume the status of an independent sovereign.”
He also demanded the ‘retrocession’ of Berar, that had once formed part of his State, and started negotiations with Portugal to acquire the port of Goa, to secure an outlet for his State to the sea.
The Nizam had set his heart on becoming a “Third Dominion’”of the British Commonwealth. Sir Conrad Corfield, the Adviser to the Crown Representative, was reported to be its sponsor. It is possible that he himself had presented the idea to the Nizam in the first instance. On November 29th, 1947, after prolonged negotiations, a one-year Standstill Agreement was signed between Hyderabad and India. Sardar, in his statement to the Constituent Assembly on that occasion, expressed the hope that during that period the way would be paved for the permanent accession of Hyderabad.
Sardar asked me (Dr. K.M. Munshi) to go to Hyderabad as the Agent-General of the…
(Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)