Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi, popularly known as K. M. Munshi, was an Indian independence movement activist, politician, writer and educationist from Gujarat state. A lawyer by profession, he later turned to literature and politics. He was a well-known name in Gujarati literature. He founded Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, an educational trust, in 1938.
This great litterateur, administrator, patriot, and most importantly, a champion of Indian culture has been cast aside like a shell on the beach. Many youngsters of the present generation know Dr. Munshi merely as the founder of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, and even there, only in bits.
Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi was born on 30 December 1887 in the town of Bharuch in Gujarat. He had his school education in the Khan Bahadur Dalal High School. His higher studies took place in Baroda College, where he excelled in academics.
One of his teachers at Baroda College was Sri Aurobindo Ghosh under whose influence the young Munshi was drawn towards the revolutionary activities that was on the rise in the late 19th Century. He even took an interest in the art of bomb-making. But his interest in the revolutionary tactics however faded after finishing his education as he chose concentrate more on social reform. After topping his BA and LLB examinations, Munshi arrived in Bombay around 1907 to practice law.
Munshi was also greatly influenced by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III of Baroda, Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Bhulabhai Desai.
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.
Early Political Career
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. During this time he decided to join the Home Rule League.
Upon joining the league his diligence and dedication paved his way of becoming its Secretary but that was short lived as by 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.
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.
True to his words, for the next few years Munshi acted as a faithful lieutenant of Gandhiji taking part in numerous protests organized by him. 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.
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.
However, his single greatest contribution to the field of education was undoubtedly 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 Dr. Munshi considered troublesome. Although he rejected the idea of radical violence during his college days, KM Munshi always believed that people should be prepared to defend themselves with arms if necessary. With that view in mind, coupled with eruption of communal tensions as a result of the demand for Pakistan, Munshi encouraged the Akhada (Gymnasium) Movement in the Bombay Presidency.
Gandhi warned Munshi that the Congress would not tolerate his actions. Without a second thought, K.M. Munshi left the INC in 1940.
Akhand Hindustan Phase
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.
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.
Role during the Post-Independence years
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.
Well-known in the legal circles for his political insight and legal acumen, it was not surprising that Munshi was also invited to be part of the committee which drafted the Constitution of India under the chairmanship of B. R. Ambedkar. There also he left his mark by jointly penning a draft with Dr. Ambedkar which articulated the principle of ‘Fundamental Rights.’
Around the end of 1947, along with Sardar Patel, KM Munshi championed the proposal for reconstructing the Somnath temple, in Gujarat. Following the death of Sardar Patel, the charge of reconstructing the temple continued solely under K. M. Munshi and in -May 1951, Rajendra Prasad, the first President of the Republic of India, was invited by Dr. Munshi, to perform the installation ceremony for the temple.
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. This point of difference paved way for a subtle clash between Munshi and Nehru.
But it was difficult for Nehru to rout Munshi because he was very popular with the nationalist section of the Indian National Congress. In a shrewd political move, Nehru made him the Governor of Uttar Pradesh in order to keep him away from national politics. Munshi accepted the post and presided over it from 1952 to 1957.
Exit from Congress and final years
Finally in 1959, fed up with the incoherent fiscal policies coupled with intellectual stagnation, Dr. Munshi decided to separate himself from the Nehru-dominated INC. By then, Congress was more or less firmly in the grip of Nehru.
Munshi served as the Governor of Uttar Pradesh from 1952 to 1957. In 1959, Munshi separated from the Nehru-dominated (socialist) Congress Party and started the Akhand Hindustan Movement. He believed in a strong opposition, so along with Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, NG Ranga, Piloo Mody and Minoo Masani, he founded the Swatantra Party, which was right-wing in its politics, pro-business, pro-free market economy and private property rights. The party enjoyed limited success and eventually died out. Later, Munshi joined the Jan Sangh.
Later, Dr. 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.
The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
On 7 November 1938, about a decade before independence, KM Munshi gave a fitting reply to the Macaulayist vision of a colonized India by establishing the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan which was intended to impart knowledge and wisdom to the young generation about the pristine heritage of India.
The Bhavan’s view of connecting Indian education with its magnificent heritage did not mean isolation from the modern world—Munshi wanted the Bhavan to encompass the best of the modern world in the fields of science and management. This makes the Bhavan an exceptional institution where even now classes in Sanskrit and the Vedas are carried out at the same pace as courses in science and management.
One of the irreplaceable contribution of the Bhavan to India’s education field was the compilation and publication of The History and Culture of the Indian People, a series of eleven volumes on the history of India, from prehistoric times till 1947.
Some of KM Munshi’s best-known works in English, Gujarati and Hindi are Gujarat and its Literature (1935); Akhand Hindustan’ (1942); Glory that was Gujardesh (1943); Imperial Gurjars (1944); ‘The Ruin that Britain Wrought (1946); The Creative Art of Life (1946); Pilgrimage to Freedom (1968); Verni Vasulat (1914); Swapna Drashta (1925); Sneha Sambhram (1932); Prithivi Vallabha (1921); Bhagwan Kautilya (1925); Jai Somnath (1940); Sidhan Chandan (1943).
Being a prolific writer and a conscientious journalist, Munshi started a Gujarati monthly called Bhargava. He was joint-editor of Young India and in 1954, started the Bhavan’s Journal which is published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan to this day. Munshi was President of the Sanskrit Viswa Parishad, the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad, and the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan.
Apart from founding Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Munshi was instrumental in the establishment of Bhavan’s College, Hansraj Morarji Public School, Rajhans Vidyalaya, Rajhans Balvatika and Panchgani Hindu School (1924).
He was elected Fellow of the University of Bombay, where he was responsible for giving adequate representation to regional languages. He was also instrumental in starting the department of Chemical Technology.
Besides being a politician and educator, Munshi was also an environmentalist. He initiated the Vanmahotsav in 1950, when he was Union Minister of Food and Agriculture, to increase area under forest cover.
Since then Van Mahotsav a week-long festival of tree plantation is organised every year in the month of July all across the country and lakhs of trees are planted.
Munshi was a prolific writer in Gujarati and English, earning a reputation as one of Gujarat’s greatest literary figures. He was also a barrister and an eminent jurist. He was an active participant in the Indian Independence Movement ever since the advent of Mahatma Gandhi. He was arrested several times, including during the Quit India Movement of 1942. A great admirer of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Munshi served in the Central Legislative Assembly in the 1930s.
K.M. Munshi was also associated with the ad hoc Flag Committee that selected the flag of India in August 1947, and on the committee which drafted the Constitution of India under the Chairmanship of B.R. Ambedkar. On his birth anniversary in 1988, Indian Post issued a commemorative stamp depicting K.M. Munshi and a tree symbolising his interest in the Van Mahotsav.