Junagarh State had acceded to become a part of the Indian Union. Home Minister Sardar Patel wanted the Somnath temple to be restored to its old glory. He approached Mahatma Gandhi with the plan and Gandhi accepted. But, Gandhi added that the funds for the reconstruction should come from the public. Sardar Patel accepted the advice.
With the passing away of Patel, the task of the restoration of the temple was now in the hands of KM Munshi who was a minister in Nehru’s cabinet. Munshi was strongly in favour of the temple’s restoration and mentioned it to Nehru.
Munshi expressed his deep emotions about the temple: “I was clear in my mind that the temple of Somnath was not just an ancient monument; it lived in the heart of the whole nation and its reconstruction was a national pledge.”
But, Nehru had other ideas. He didn’t like the idea of restoration of the iconic temple. He even criticised Munshi many times for working towards the temple’s reconstruction.
In 1951, just few weeks before the temple inauguration, Nehru called Munshi at the end of a cabinet meeting and said:“I don’t like your trying to restore Somnath. It is Hindu revivalism(emphasis added).”
Nehru had at last expressed his true self. For a temple that symbolized Hindu glory and one that had been destroyed by invaders, restoring it somehow meant ‘Hindu revivalism’ for him.
Naturally, this agitated Munshi immensely. Next day he wrote to him a long letter: “Yesterday you referred to ‘Hindu revivalism’. I know your views on the subject; I have done justice to them; I hope you will equally do justice to mine. It is my faith in the past which has given me the strength to work in the present and to 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…this shrine once restored to a place of importance in our life will give to our people a purer conception of religion and a more vivid consciousness of our strength, so vital in these days of freedom and its trail.”
Nehru still wasn’t convinced. Sometime later, President Rajendra Prasad, was invited to inaugurate the temple. Nehru had the nerve to even question him for accepting the invitation. He wrote: “I confess that I do not like the idea of your associating yourself with a spectacular opening of the Somnath Temple. This is not merely visiting a temple, which can certainly be done by you or anyone else but rather participating in a significant function which unfortunately has a number of implications”.
The ‘number of implications’ meant that the president’s inaugurating a temple would ‘hurt’ the secular fabric of the nation. Rajendra Prasad ignored Nehru’s advice and added, “I would do the same with a mosque or a church if I were invited.”
The pledge of Patel, the approval of Gandhi and the dedicated effort of Munshi led to the restoration of the temple despite the staunch opposition of Nehru.
Many years later, reflecting on the Somnath incident, Munshi, penned the most devastating critique of Nehruvian secularism. He stated: “In its (secularism) name, anti-religious forces, sponsored by secular humanism or Communism, condemns religious piety, particularly in the majority community.”
Munshi went on: “In its name, again, politicians in power adopt a strange attitude which, while it condones the susceptibilities, religious and social, of the minority communities, is too ready to brand similar susceptibilities in the majority community as communalistic and reactionary. How secularism sometimes becomes allergic to Hinduism will be apparent from certain episodes relating to the reconstruction of Somnath temple.
“These unfortunate postures have been creating a sense of frustration in the majority community.
“If, however the misuse of this word ‘secularism’ continues…if every time there is an inter-communal conflict, the majority is blamed regardless of the merits of the questions; if our holy places of pilgrimage like Banaras, Mathura and Rishikesh continue to be converted into industrial slums…, the springs of traditional tolerance will dry up.”