The Life Story of Kanhaiya Lal Munshi
26 December 2022
"Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi was born on December 30, 1887 at Bharuch in Gujarat. He received his....."
....education from Baroda College. Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi obtained a degree in law and started practicing in Bombay High Court.
Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi was a well-known freedom fighter, educationalist, politician and environmentalist. Between 1907 and 1913, KM Munshi took part in many reform activities, most notably campaigning for eliminating caste prejudices, promoting women’s education and widow remarriages. His precision as a lawyer impressed the eminent legal luminaries of the era like Chimanlal Setalvad, M.C. Chagla and Bhulabhai Desai.
In 1916 he went on to join the Indian National Congress. In 1917 he was elected as a member of the Subjects Committee of the Indian National Congress and was also given the supplementary duty as the Secretary of the Bombay Presidency Association.
Politics though did not keep him insulated from activities of social welfare. He was the Chairman of the Sir Harkisandas Narotam Hospital in 1924 which would provide treatment to the needy at an affordable rate. In 1926 he was elected to the Senate of the Bombay University as well as the Baroda University Commission. In addition to that he was the chief trustee of many educational charities like the Bai Kabibai Trust and the Seth Manganlal Goenka Charitable Trust.
In 1927 he was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council but resigned from this post the following year and joined the Bardoli Satyagraha under Gandhi’s leadership.
In the December of 1933 he started the movement for a parliamentary wing of the Congress and in the following year became the Secretary of the Parliamentary Board.
He was a renowned writer, educationist and social reformer. In 1938, he founded the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, a trust which runs several educational institutions and publishes books on Indian culture. His name is also associated with the Sahitya Samsad, Gujarati Sahitya Samsad and Hindi Sahitya Sarnmelan. He started a number of magazines and journals such as Bhargava, Gujarat, Social Welfare and the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Journal. His single greatest contribution to the field of education was undoubted the founding of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
Meanwhile, Gandhiji’s incoherent stands on the Hindu-Muslim issue along with his weak response to the Muslim League created a rift between him and Dr. Munshi. Also a point of contention was Gandhi’s fanatic pacifism which Munshi considered troublesome. Although he rejected the idea of radical violence during his college days, Munshi always believed that people should be prepared to defend themselves with arms if necessary.
Gandhi warned Munshi that the Congress would not tolerate his actions. Without a second thought, K.M. Munshi left the INC in 1940.
From 1940 up to 1946, Munshi was a part of many socio-cultural bodies, the most famous being Veer Savarkar’s Akhand Hindustan Front which called for a unified Bharat and opposed partition. During that time both he and Savarkar campaigned nationwide calling for the social and cultural unity of Hindus. At the same time, he would assist the members of the Arya Dharma Seva Sangha to carry out activities related to social reform. However, in 1946, he rejoined the Congress on Gandhi’s request and was elected to the Constituent Assembly.
One contribution of Munshi that is not remembered enough, is the rebuilding of the Somnath Temple. Located in the coastal town of Veraval in Gujarat, the temple houses one of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Shiva and was repeatedly destroyed by Islamic invaders.
Before Bharat’s independence, Veraval was a part of the Princely State of Junagadh. But at the time of Independence, its ruler, Nawab Mahabat Khanji III, decided to accede to Pakistan, claiming easy access to the country via sea. Bharat refused to accept his decision and on 12th November 1947, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Bharat’s then Home Minister, NV Gadgil, Minister for Public Works, and Munshi, accompanied by the Indian Army went to Junagadh and got it to join the Indian Union. By then, the Nawab had fled to Pakistan.
During this visit, Sardar Patel saw the ruined state of the Somnath Temple and expressed a wish that it be reconstructed as an active temple. Some Congress leaders opposed the idea, suggesting that it be handed over to the Archaeological Survey of India and preserved as a historical monument.
However, the idea to rebuild the historic shrine received Gandhi's support and he proposed that funds be raised from the public, so that the government would not be involved in a religious project. But the quest for rebuilding the temple suffered a setback when Gandhi and Patel died, in 1948 and 1950, respectively. Now, the responsibility rested on the shoulders of Munshi and Gadgil, who faced strong opposition by the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. He was totally opposed to Congress ministers being involved in a temple project.
But Munshi was adamant. He saw the temple not only as an ancient monument but as a symbol of Bharat’s identity, one that had been battered and needed rebuilding.
"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." Munshi had referred to the temple and its desecration in one of his works in 1922, and how he felt.
This was an opportunity to do something about it. Thus, in May 1951, Rajendra Prasad, the first President of Bharat, on Munshi's invitation, performed the installation ceremony for the temple.
Finally in 1959, fed up with the incoherent fiscal policies coupled with intellectual stagnation, Munshi decided to separate himself from the Nehru-dominated INC. By then, Congress was more or less firmly in the grip of Nehru.
Munshi along with Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, NG Ranga, Piloo Mody and Minoo Masani founded the Swatantra Party, with the aim of creating a strong opposition to the Nehruvian regime.
Sadly the party enjoyed limited success and eventually died out. Later, Munshi joined the Jan Sangh and was one of the brains behind the formation of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. He breathed his last on 8 February 1971.