The recent controversy surrounding the Congress party’s soon-to-be President Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the Somnath Mandir in Gujarat tells us the depths to which politicians can sink during an election in order to be on the right side of the electorate till the day of voting. But the biggest irony is that Rahul, who is now on a temple-hopping spree, claiming to be an ardent Shiv bhakt, will head the grand old party that carries his great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru’s pseudo-secular and anti-Hindu legacy.
One of the main reasons why Rahul’s ‘Operation Somnath’ floundered is that India has not forgotten that Nehru, its first prime minister, did everything possible to stall the reconstruction of the Somnath Mandir that had been plundered, looted and despoiled over a dozen times by Mahmud Ghazni, Allauddin Khilji, Aurangzeb and several others who claimed to be warriors of Islam.
Soon after Independence, when the majority of the people felt that the reconstruction of the Somnath Mandir—one of their holiest shrines—was central to the restoration of national glory, the Nehru government wanted the dilapidated temple to be handed over to the Archaeological Survey of India so that it be preserved in its battered state. However, Sardar Patel, K M Munshi and N V Gadgil, members of Nehru’s Cabinet and Dr Rajendra Prasad, the country’s first president, stood their ground and declared that the nation’s hurt pride would never be assuaged until Somnath was rebuilt and the Lingam, the first of the jyotirlingams revered by the Hindus, was reinstalled. Given the history of Muslim invasions and the assault of these invaders on Hindu temples, they all felt that India’s Rashtriya Swabhiman can never be restored until Somnath was restored to its pristine glory. But Nehru remained adamant.
He opposed reconstruction on the grounds that it would hurt the ‘secular’ credentials of his government. Nehru’s objections to the reconstruction of Somnath disturbed his equations not only with Sardar Patel but also Rajendra Prasad and K M Munshi, an erudite member of the Union Cabinet.
Nehru’s first objection was that government funds should not be invested in this project. Second, he said members of his government and the president should not be associated with the project. Sardar Patel beseeched Mahatma Gandhi. The Mahatma fully supported the temple reconstruction project but said that it must be done by a trust that would raise funds from the public. Undeterred by Nehru’s objections, Patel, Munshi and Gadgil quickly acted on this advice, established a trust for the purpose, raised funds from the public and began the work of reconstruction. As regards Nehru’s advice against their non-involvement in this project, they brushed it aside. Sardar Patel declared that the restoration of Somnath was a holy task in which everyone should participate.
K M Munshi quotes a letter of Patel in which he says: “The Hindu sentiment in regard to this temple is both strong and widespread … the restoration of the idol would be a point of honour and sentiment with the Hindu people”. Sadly, Sardar Patel did not live to see the realisation of his dream. He died on 15 December 1950.
However, work on the temple proceeded at a quick pace and the administrators were ready to reinstall the Lingam and consecrate the temple. Nehru objected to Prasad attending the ceremony. He said it would hurt the government’s secular credentials. Prasad ignored Nehru’s unsolicited advice and took part in the consecration of the renovated temple. Nehru hit back and said his government would have nothing to do with the inauguration of Somnath even though the president had decided to do the honours. Even Munshi, the chief organiser of the function, had to cope with Nehru’s anger over the Somnath project and suffer the prime minister’s jibes in meetings of the Union Cabinet. In one meeting, Nehru dubbed the Somnath project as an act of “Hindu Revivalism”. But Munshi remained firm. In a letter dated 24 April 1951 he said, “I assure you that the collective subconscious of India is happier with the scheme of reconstruction of Somnath … than with many other things that we have done and are doing”. Also, he concluded his letter outlining what he perceived was at the core Indian nationalism.
He said: “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. 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 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 trials”.
If only Nehru and the Congress has listened to Patel and Munshi, Nehru’s great-grandson would not have had to bend over backwards to prove his and the Congress party’s “Hindu” credentials! Brushing aside Nehru’s objections, President Rajendra Prasad participated in the ceremony to reinstall the Somnath Lingam on 11 May 1951. Rahul Gandhi’s sudden gush of reverence at Somnath has enabled us to turn the spotlight on Nehru’s attitude towards Somnath—in particular—and to Hindu sentiments in general and to the anti-Hindu and pseudo-secular policies pursued by the Congress.
Finally, it must be said that in view of the damning evidence we have on hand in regard to the ‘Nehru Doctrine’ vis-a-vis Hindus, Rahul Gandhi’s Prayaschitth at Somnath is too little and too late.
A Surya Prakash
Chairman, Prasar Bharati