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Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi biography

Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi

(1887-1971)

biography

Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi
Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi
     Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi (KM. Munshi) was born on 30 December 1887, at Breach, south Gujarat, in a Bhargava Brahmin family. He was the only son of his parents, father Maneklal and mother Tapiben. It was a higher middle-class family, his father being a mamlatdar at Mandvi in Surat district.  Maneklal had a literary bent of mind and wrote a drama in verse as a child.
His mother, Tapiben, in spite of having little formal education, composed poems and wrote moral discourses in Gujarati. She was extremely religious and told her son stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas, which Munshi used in his literary works when he grew up. Maneklal died when Kanhaiyalal was a teenager, leaving the mother to look after her growing son. Munshi had his early education at home and then Khan Balladur Dalal High School, Broach. Before he passed the matriculation examination in 190î, he was married to a nine-year old girl Atilakshmí. He was thirteen. After passing his matriculation he joined Baroda College in 1902. In 1905, he passed the first year of LLB, getting a first class and the following year, he completed his B.A., winning the Eliot Memorial Prize. In Baroda College, he came under the influence of Aurobindo Ghose, his professor, who instilled in him the spirit of nationalism. He even tried to associate with some terrorist group but did not join it as described in his autobiography In 1910, Munshi passed the final year of LL.B. and decided to settle in Bombay. He enrolled as a pleader on the Appellate side of Bombay high court. Soon he became a successful lawyer. It is said that, as a lawyer, he dramatized his cases, and his briefs read like novels. Munshi’s legal knowledge and perception were praised by members of his profession and the judiciary alike. He was very pleasant in manners and behaviour to his clients, and never lost his temper while arguing a legal case. Success as a lawyer brought affluence and he used to live in an aristocratic style.  
      Munshi’s career as a lawyer and a creative writer dovetailed. His first book, a collection of short stories, came out in 1912. This was the modest start of a prolific writer which left a lasting imprint on Gujarati literature through his novels and plays. That Munshi acquired a great name for himself both as a lawyer and as a literary artist is nothing short of a feat. But between the two, law and literature, I think his first and more abiding love was for the Muses. He gave to law and politics much of the time, energy and enthusiasm which the gods intended he should give to the service of literature. But the artist in him was always peeping from behind the lawyer and the politician."
His first outing in the political arena was attending the turbulent 1907 session of the Congress party at Surat where the Extremists led by Tilak and the Moderates led by Gokhale and Pherozeshah Mehta clashed, and the Extremists were expelled from the Congress party. Munshi’s sympathies lay with the Extremists, Tilak and Aurobindo. Though Munshi continued to produce literary works of merit in Gujarati and devoted much of his time to his legal practice, he was able to associate himself with several political as well as social and educational bodies. In 1915, he joined the Home Rule League founded by Annie Besant and in 1919; he was elected secretary of its Bombay Branch, while M. A. Jinnah was elected as president. In 1917, he became member of the Subjects Committee of the Indian National Congress. In the same year, he was elected secretary of the Bombay Presidency Association, then the premium political association of Western India. In 1920, he resigned from the Home Rule League when Gandhi took over and changed its constitution. It was followed by resignation from the Indian National Congress when it passed the non- cooperation resolution moved by Gandhi. In 1923, he visited Europe to acquire firsthand knowledge of Western culture.
The years 1922-1926 were full of vicissitudes in the personal life of Munshi. In 1922, he started Gujarat, an illustrated Gujarati monthly. In this venture he sought the collaboration of Lilavati Sheth, wife of a rich Jain businessman and fall in love` with her. Her marriage was on the rocks and the couple had almost separated. As willed by destiny, Munshi’s wife Atilakshmí died in 1924 during Childbirth. Two years later, Lilavati's husband died of heart attack. The same year (1926), Lilavati and Munshi got married and they bore the criticism caused by intercast and widow marriage nonchalantly. Lilavati was thirteen years his junior but they led a very happy and fruitful married life, Munshi calling her ‘my undivided soul’.
1n 1927, Munshi was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council from the University Constituency and continued to represent the university till 1945, when he did not contest. He had resigned from the Bombay Legislative Council during the Bardoli Satyagraha led by Sardar Patel (1928), but was re-elected. He was appointed chairman of the Bardoli Committee of Inquiry. He rejoined the Congress which he had left in 1920. This was the time when he and Lilavati came close to Gandhi, though he never became his ‘blind follower'. He and Lilavati participated in the salt Satyagraha movement started by Gandhi. Munshi was sentenced to six months simple imprisonment for offering salt Satyagraha at Bhatia Wadi opposite Victoria Terminus. Lilavati’s sentence was for three months only. After the Gandhi-Irwin Pact (1931), he restarted practicing at the Bombay Bar. The same year he was elected member of Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee as well as of the All India Congress Committee. In January 1932, he was again arrested in the anti-Congress campaign launched by the government and was sentenced to two years simple imprisonment, which he spent in Bijapur jail. On his release in December 1933, he, along with some others, revived the Swaraj Party (founded in 1922 by C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru) as the parliamentary wing of the Congress. He contested the election to the Central Legislative Assembly and lost. But in 1937, he was elected to the Bombay Legislative Assembly (elections held under the 1935 Act) and became Home minister in the Congress ministry, headed by B.G. Kher. The Congress ministries resigned in November 1939. In December 1940, Munshi took part in the individual Satyagraha and was arrested; but was released in March 1941 because of illness.
In 1941, happened the now famous clash between Gandhi and Munshi. The latter had advised the Hindus to join akhara (gymnasiums) to get strength and face the challenge of Muslim goondas (ruffians. Gandhi took it as an attack on his philosophy of non-violence. Munshi has described this episode in detail in his book Pilgrimage to Freedom. When Munshi stood his ground, Gandhi ordered him to leave the Congress party; which he did. Along with Munshi, several others left Congress, including Dr. Satyapal of Punjab, and Bhulabhai Desai. Munshi then founded an organization, Akhand Hindustan' (united India), and went on an all-India tour, propagating the idea of unity of India to meet the challenge of Muslim Leagues divisive politics. In 1944, Munshi again crossed swords with Gandhi when Gandhi pleaded for the acceptance of Rajaji Formula which, in fact, was like accepting Pakistan. Gandhi was so annoyed with Munshi that he sent him a note (12 August 1944) through Munshi’s son Jagdish, a part of which read: “Munshi has raised a new cry (Akhand Hindustan) and I cannot stop him. Munshi very much loves to dominate everywhere and become a leader. I know that everybody hates him for that reason. Everybody believes that even in the Congress he wants to set up his own protagonists. But how can one prevent a person if he is capable of spreading his influence because of his own power. Munshi kept his cool to the annoyance of Gandhi.
Munshi also criticized Gandhi for his advocacy of Hindustani. Gandhi had been in favour of Hindi as national language. However, in the mid-thirties, he started to preach in favour of Hindustani for the sake of the chimera – Hindu-Muslim unity. Even bodies like Hindustani Prachar Sabha were founded by him. Munshi wrote to Gandhi on 12 October 1944 expressing his disagreement with Gandhi’s language policy: "Sanskrit is our most valuable treasure. With its help alone we can make our language as powerful as English and French. The Congress aims to make the colloquial Hindustani a common medium for the whole country. But how can the colloquial Hindustani be the medium of thought or literature. The moment it attempts to be any such thing, it has to seek the of Sanskrit or Perso-Arabic words. Nothing else is possible.”
Munshi rejoined the Congress party in 1946 as advised by Gandhi and was elected member of the Constituent Assembly and played an important role in drafting the Constitution. Early in 1948, however, he was appointed agent-general of the Government of India in Hyderabad and kept the government informed, about the developments in the Hyderabad state especially Sardar Patel. “He had an advocate’s capacity to analyse facts and figures and present them in a logical form. He had also organized a reasonable amount of intelligence in the state. As Agent-General, he had to undergo considerable hardships. He was isolated; he was spied upon; he was looked down upon as a foreigner by a large number of Muslims of Hyderabad. Nizam in one of his telegrams to Monckton (legal and constitutional adviser to the Nizam) has called him a ‘notorious character’ and a ‘dignified blackguard”. The dispatches from Munshi convinced Sardar Patel of the necessity of ‘Police Action’ which was undertaken in September 1948. The role of Munshi in this important historical episode has not been given due recognition by his biographers and historians. Munshi has recorded his experiences in Hyderabad in his book The End of an Era (1957). After the Hyderabad ‘Police Action’, Munshi returned to Delhi and continued his participation in the drafting of the Constitution.
During 1950-52, Munshi served as food and agriculture minister in the Nehru Cabinet and tried to reduce the deficit in food grains which the country was experiencing at that time through his project ‘Grow More Food". He is also credited with the launching of Vanamohatsava (grow more trees), which is still celebrated annually. From 1952 to 1957, he served as the governor of Uttar Pradesh. In 1959, he resigned once again from the Congress party and joined the newly formed Swatantra Party and was elected its vice-president. His political life had come to an end soon after. In 1969, he was felicitated by the president of India, Dr. Zakir Hussain, at the Abhinandan Samaroha (felicitation ceremony) and was presented a souvenir.
Munshi was such a multifaceted personality that it will not be possible to document all his activities. But some of his contributions stand out. As an educationist, his contribution is quite significant. In 1924, he was elected president of the Panchgani Hindu Education Society, which he, in association with the Pandit brothers, had founded. The society was responsible for starting several educational institutions. In 1926, he was elected Fellow of the Bombay University as well as a member of its Senate. In the same year, he founded the Gujarat University Society in association with K.G. Naik and K.T. Shah and became its secretary. He was also appointed a member of the Baroda University Commission. In 1928, he was appointed chairman of the Physical Culture Committee by the Bombay government. In 1938, he founded (with Sardar Patel) the Institute of Agriculture at Anand and was elected its vice-chairman, and later in 1951 became its chairman. In 1946, he founded Meghji Mathradas Arts College and Narrondass Manordass Institute of Science in Bombay. In 1956, he was elected president of the Charotar Education Society which ran colleges in arts, sciences, commerce and engineering. In 1957, he was elected executive chairman of the Indian Law Institute. But the most important, and the one for which he is remembered the most, is the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan which he founded in 1938 in Bombay. He wanted it to be a symbol of the intellectual, literary, educational, ethical, cultural and spiritual life of India. It is a comprehensive national institution with an international outlook. Today it encompasses 355 constituent institutions imparting education in various subjects including languages; journalism et al: it has 120 centers in India and seven centers abroad. Its publication wing has published over 1500 titles on Indian religion and culture. Several journals in English, Gujarati and Hindi are also published. Munshi sponsored a project for writing Indian history by Indian authors, under the generic title History & Culture of the Indian People, in eleven volumes, under the general editorship of renowned historian R.C. Majumdar. It is the most comprehensive Indian history available to this day, and is as unbiased as history can be.
Munshi developed a taste for journalism early in life. As early as 1907, he started writing articles which were published in East & West and the Hindustan Review, journals of all-India repute. In 1912, he promoted the monthly Bhargava, a caste magazine. In 1915, started Young India, jointly with Jamnadas Dwarkadas, but resigned shortly afterwards. In 1922, he started Gujarat, an illustrated Gujarati monthly, and became its joint editor. In 1936, he established Hans Ltd. and took over the Hindi magazine Hans and became its joint-editor with the famous Hindi writer, Prem Chand. It remained a leading Hindi journal for years. He started yet another journal, Social Welfare, English weekly, in 1940 and served as its editor. In 1954, he founded the Bhavans Journal, English fortnightly, devoted to life, literature and culture. It is one of the most widely read English monthlies in the country and abroad today.
Munshi founded, or was associated with, several literary and social welfare societies or associations. In 1910, he joined Gujjar Sabha and became its secretary. In 1922, he founded Sahitya Sansad (literary society) and became its president. In 1924, he worked for framing the constitution of Gujarat Sahitya Parishad, and was elected its president in 1926. During 1938-39 he was elected vice-president of Children's Aid Society and worked for its reorganization. Under its aegis, he founded the Children's Home, and Home for Mentally Deficient Children in Bombay. In 1944, he founded the Bharatiya Itihas Samiti (Indian History Society). In 1946, he was elected president of the Hindu Deen Daya Sangh (Association for Mercy to the Hindu Poor. In the same year he was elected president of the All India Hindi Sahitya Parishad. In 1951, he founded the Sanskrit Vishwa Parishad (International Sanskrit Convention). In 1966, he was elected chairman of the All India Colloquium on Ethical and Spiritual Values. He also acted as chairman of several trusts, too numerous to list here.
Above all, Munshi manifested his total self in his literary writings in Gujarati. He is primarily known as a novelist and a dramatist, though he wrote in all genres of literature except poetry. Since the spirit of nationalism motivated him to generate cultural revitalization of contemporary society, Munshi’s ideology is best represented in his historical and mythological works that recast India’s past traditions in their modern relevance." Munshi wrote fifty-six literary works in Gujarati.
      Munshi was a man of taste and lived in style but never shed his Indianness. He was active till almost his eighty-fourth year. Regular yogic exercise kept him fit. It is difficult to believe how a man could achieve so much in one lifetime. He died on 8 February, 1971 in Bombay.
Munshi represented the spirit of India’s national awakening. His activities had several dimensions. He emerged as a lawyer, literary artist, journalist, politician, statesman, historian and an educationist. His individualism and non-traditionalism were combined with his urge for revitalization of Indian culture which is manifested in the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan. His contribution to the advancement of Indian culture made him a ‘man of the era’.

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