India becomes a Republic: Somnath Temple in Gujarat, The First General Elections, Bharat Ratna to Nehru
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India becomes a Republic: Somnath Temple in Gujarat, The First General Elections, Bharat Ratna to Nehru

January 25, 2020

By Dr. C.D. Sreenivasa Murthy

[Continued from yesterday]

The famous Somnath temple was in Junagadh State (or Junagarh, a Princely State in Gujarat) before Independence and was known for its splendour and wealth. It was first plundered and destroyed by Gazni Mahamood in 1025 and subsequently by many more foreign invaders. After India’s Independence and the accession of Junagarh State into Indian Union, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Union Home Minister, pledged that Somnath should be reconstructed and restored to its original glory. When Patel broached this subject with Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhiji endorsed the plan but said that the contribution for the reconstruction of the temple should come from the public. Patel accepted this advice. With the demise of Patel, the task of the restoration of the temple was ably led by K.M. Munshi, a Cabinet Minister in the then Prime Minister Nehru’s Government.

Nehru never liked the idea of restoring this ancient monument and more than once criticised Munshi for its reconstruction. At the end of a Cabinet meeting, Nehru called Munshi and said: I don’t like your trying to restore Somnath. It is Hindu revivalism. Munshi did not utter a word but later wrote to Nehru a long letter saying, “… 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.”

When the then President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, was invited to inaugurate the temple, Nehru advised the President “against participating in a significant function which unfortunately has a number of implications.” Rajendra Prasad ignored Nehru’s advice and added, “I would do the same with a mosque or a church if I were invited.” So, on 11th May 1951, Rajendra Prasad, while presiding over the opening ceremony of the temple, gave a stirring speech. He said that “the physical symbols of our civilisation maybe destroyed, but no arms, army or king could destroy the bond that the people had with their culture and faith. Till that bond remained, the civilisation would survive. He added that it was the creative urge for civilisational renewal, nurtured in the hearts of the people through centuries that had once again led to the “praan-pratishta” of the Somnath deity. Somnath was the symbol of economic and spiritual prosperity of ancient India, he said. The re-building of Somnath will not be complete till India attains the prosperity of the yesteryear.”

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The First General Elections and The Presidential Election 1952

The first general elections were held in 1952 and was the first major milestone for the infant Republic. While the world watched sceptically, Indian elections with the universal franchise and the biggest electorate in the world went on peacefully and a democratically elected Government was installed in New Delhi. Congress got a spectacular majority under Nehru’s leadership. Nehru had emerged as the undisputed supreme leader of India. After the general elections, new election for election of President was to be held.

Against the wishes of Nehru, the Congress party nominated Rajendra Prasad again for the President. The other parties supported Professor K.T. Shah as they believed that a politically neutral person should occupy the post. Professor Shah was associated with the labour organisations. He had completed his studies at the London School of Economics. Professor Shah was also a member of the First Planning Commission, made under the leadership of Nehru in 1938. In the 1952 elections, the Congress got 364 out of 489 seats. Being a Congress candidate was the only condition to become President of India. Rajendra Prasad got 5,07,400 votes in this election, whereas Shah got only 92,827 votes. An interesting aspect of this election was that 65 MPs and 479 MLAs of Congress did not cast their votes. It was later stated that since Rajendra Prasad’s victory was certain, many people did not bother to vote. Nehru in full control of the Congress party after the 1952 elections to Parliament, easily got the Hindu Code Bills passed and President Prasad, as a true democrat, signed those Bills without any protest.

Presidential Election-1957

While he accepted the party’s will in 1952, in the elections of 1957, Nehru had the opportunity to elect the President of his own choice. So, this time, his favourite was the first Vice-President Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan — who was a philosopher, sanskrit scholar, prolific writer, former professor of east west philosophy in Oxford and a former ambassador to Soviet Union. To the utter disappointment of Nehru, the choice of the Congress party was Rajendra Prasad once again and he was easily elected. Dr. Radhakrishnan was upset and wanted to resign. Nehru changed the order of precedence to placate Radhakrishnan. Previously the order was President, Prime Minister and the Vice-President. He made the Vice-President second, demoting himself to the third position. Dr. Prasad is the only President in Indian history to have occupied Rashtrapati Bhavan for twelve long years.

Bharat Ratna to Nehru

The procedure for awarding the Bharat Ratna has been straightforward: The Prime Minister recommends the names to the President of India, who then accepts such nominations. The process under which the Prime Minister or the Cabinet nominates names to the President to confer the Bharat Ratna is a convention and not the law of the land. On July 13, 1955, Nehru had returned from a successful tour of European countries and the Soviet Union, a tour aimed at the promotion of peace as the Cold War was rapidly escalating. Nehru’s efforts to establish India as a major player in world affairs found popular support outside India. On Nehru’s return to Delhi, the then President of India, Rajendra Prasad, went to the airport to receive him, disregarding protocol. He also hosted a special State Banquet on July 15, 1955, at Rashtrapati Bhavan in honour of Nehru. It was at this event that Prasad announced his intention of conferring the Bharat Ratna on Nehru. Prasad described Nehru as the ‘great architect of peace in our time.’ The President himself confessed that he had acted unconstitutionally as he had decided to confer the honour “without any recommendation or advice from my Prime Minister” or the Cabinet.

Nehru being honoured with Bharat Ratna by Dr. Rajendra Prasad

Contrary to the popular myth, Patel and Nehru were not rivals. Though they disagreed on many issues, they acted as partners in laying the administrative foundations of the infant Republic. Similarly, Rajendra Prasad and Nehru, in spite of strong differences, admired and respected each other. President Prasad was a true Gandhian and believed in simple living. The official salary of the President was Rs. 10,000 per month. But he drew only Rs. 5,000 per month. After he left office in 1962, he did not stay in Delhi, but went to live in Sadaqat Ashram in Patna. He donated all the jewels of his wife to National Defence Fund at the time of war with China. India’s highest honour Bharat Ratna was conferred on him in 1962. He died on 28th February 1963.

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When India attained freedom in 1947, most of the world leaders and western press were pessimistic of its future. They had felt that this multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious vast country would break up in ten years. In the first two decades, the young nation faced many challenges like the integration of 565 Princely States, Police action in Hyderabad, Tribal and Pakistani invasion of Kashmir, Chinese war of 1962 and the 1965 war with Pakistan. Time and destiny have proved our detractors wrong. From being one of the poorest countries of the world in 1947, we have progressed to become the world’s fifth biggest economy in 73 years. Our Founding Fathers gave us a good Constitution, rule of Law, established Democratic institutions, facilitated a Free Press and allowed an independent Judiciary to function and gave us a vibrant democratic Republic.

On this 71st anniversary of the establishment of The Republic of India, let us bow our heads and pay our tributes to all our Founding Fathers who laid the strong foundations of modern India and pray (borrowing the words of Abraham Lincoln) “that this Nation, under God, and that Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

[Concluded]

10 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “India becomes a Republic: Somnath Temple in Gujarat, The First General Elections, Bharat Ratna to Nehru”

  1. R.RAJA CHANDRA says:

    My friend and author Dr. CDS says: After India’s Independence and the accession of Junagarh State into Indian Union, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Union Home Minister, pledged that Somnath should be reconstructed and restored to its original glory….

    I think he has missed in stating an important footnote in the story of integration of Indian sates . Junagadh an important state in the kathiawar Region of Gujarat was ruled by Nawab Sir Mahabat Khan Rasulkhanji. It also had tiny independent states of Manavadar and Mangrol within its territories which also was headed by Muslim rulers. Junagadh was a maritime state with Arabian sea on its South and Southwest borders. Karachi was just 300 miles away from its port at Veraval. This made its position unique as the only Princely State which was not land locked by either the dominion of India or an Indian state and was headed by a Muslim Ruler. Travancore and Cochin were the other Indian States but they were headed by Hindu Rulers. To further compound the havocs caused by the creation of two Dominions by the indian independence Act of 1947 , Junagadh was at that time headed by Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto – a staunch Muslim league leader from karachi as its Dewan. For the uninitiated , Sir Shahnawaz was the father of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ! After much dithering , Junagadh decided to accede with pakistan on Aug 15, 1947. Pakistan accepted the instrument of Accession on 13 sept and also signed a stand Still agreement.

    On Nov 01, Indian Forces occupied the tiny states of Manavadar and Mangrol . In the mean time Nawab of Junagadh fled to karachi along with his family , Dogs and Jewellery etc leaving his Dewan to manage the chaos. The fast evolving ground situation and economic blockade forced Dewan to a virtual surrender to India on Nov 08 pending further negotiations between the two domnions. Indian forces and administrators took over by Nov 09 by which time even Bhutto had left for karachi. Pakistan has never reconciled to this position even today and uses it to its advantage to its claim over kashmir.
    Sardar patel promptly visited junagadh on Nov 13 itself and took the decision to restore Somanath temple then and there. Jamsahb of Navanagar promptly gave a donation of 1 lakh and soon more donations poured in spontaneously.

    Though Nawab of Junagadh later made overtures to accede to India and appoint Sir Mirza ismail as his Dewan the same was simply ignored.

    A referendum was held on 24-2-1948 with 190870 / 91 votes in India’s favour finally legitimised Junagadh’s merger with india.

  2. jalandhara says:

    Nehru was right in his preference of the candidates for the president of India. When the country became a republic, his choice was Rajagopalachari, the first Indian Governor general, an eminent criminal lawyer and a staunch friend of Mahatma Gandhi. Nehru’s choice for the second time was , Radahakrishnan , the well know philosopher and the former of chair of Eastern Philosophy at Oxford, a towering intellectual that even Stalin listened to. Rajendra Prasad’s selection and support by Patel was an act of Northern parochialism, as both the above were head and shoulders above Rajendra Prasad. The result was there was a president who would not challenge Nehru about his policies or conduct of the government. That would not have been the case with Rajagopalachari, who was known to grasp the issues very quickly, disect the problem and provide solutions. Similarly with Radhakrishnan. Rajendra Prasad’s long tenure was spent mostly in him getting ill frequently, and hospitalised often, and in his absence, it was Radhakrishnan who provided guidance and support to Nehru.
    It was right that Nehru was chosen the first PM, as he was well known nationally and internationally, having known every major world leaders, and hence was a political colossus. Patel was old, mainly indigenous familiarity and would have struggled to talk to world leaders, who were not familiar to him. For example, when Nehru attended the Commonwealth conference in London , after the independence , as the leader of free India,, he noted that Churchill, not known for respecting Indian leaders, accorded him a warm greeting and was friendly in the discussions of the Conference. Nehru’s and indeed Gandhi’s legal education and training in London as barristers, in the famous Inns of Court, were something all leaders respected and admired. No wonder, Mahatma, as a barrister of the above Inns of Court, could argue so eloquently with the British.

  3. Srikrishna Bhagwan says:

    @Jalandhara , the points you praise , the English education is exactly is the malady that started affecting the health of the nation right from its birth. Those guys who were western educated although had world view didn’t had no understanding of the problems and fears of the common people who were spread across the huge country separated different religions and languages. They failed completely when it comes to having a independent Judiciary and law enforcement department the absence of which is the root cause of all the problems in today’s India.

  4. jalandhara says:

    What has failed is not the English education, using which you are prospering, but the corruption of the politicians and the judiciary. The judiciary s NOT independent in India as the judges are patrons of politicians , otherwise, they would not have been appointed. Indian democracy is a sham because of the corruption-universal in every fibre of the country: the institutions and the society. You are looking somewhere and some one else except your politicians, your institutions an your people to blame. What a shame, as every Indian I encounter blames others, except themselves and their rulers-the politicians.

  5. jalandhara says:

    @Bhagvan Just add to the aove: Your prejudice shows so clearly. Starting from Kengal to Nijalingappa to today’s CM for example, none of them Western educated, but yet Kengal Hanumanthiah in the pretext of constructing a massive Vidhana Soudha, many time over-budgeted became rich through contracts he gave to his friends; Njialingappa made sure that his opponent in the legislative assembly election withdrew, and hence every time he was elected unopposed and became the CM. He did this serve his people.
    JKust have a look at your own MLA or MP and see how they live. In all probability they will be India -educated having rich tastes for foreign goods and travel.
    Without those leaders , India had in 1950, two of them I mentioned including the Mahatma, India would have sunk to still greater depths of misery.
    Finally, Modi, it appears is educated in India, no one knows what education he had and similarly Amit Shah. Look at the mess they have created in introducing the CAA, to solve the problem of illegal immigrants.
    India thrives on corruption and nepotism which hasve dragged the country to the cesspit.

  6. Srikrishna Bhagwan says:

    @jalandhara when I say English Educated , I don’t mean the medium of instruction rather Educated in England. Although the leaders you mention were not honest they were 1000 times better than the current day leaders. Just compare the layouts developed right after Independence in Bengaluru like Jayanagar and ITI Colony which were so well planned. The leaders of those days although Educated in India had passion and real desire to improve the living conditions compared to the current day leaders. The reason why I bring up the Western educated people is their attitude of looking down upon anything that is Indian. Corruption is there today because the political leaders know they can get away and what is the reason for that ? Absence of Independent Judiciary and Law Enforcement Agency.

  7. jalandhara says:

    @Bhagavan So you do not the language English, only those Indians who are educated in English in the West! This is the typical hypocrisy of Indians. Every Indian I meet ho holds the same view as yours in private asks me to help his son to get into a Western country for education and job!
    Corruption is typically Indian-made , nepotism is typical Indian made and treating the poor as dirt is also typical Indian made. Way back in 1950s, a clerk in the local municipal office asked me to give him Rupees 50 to move a paper. In those days, that money was significant. This is an example of a typical corrupt Indian, who is not a politician, but some one who is just a clerk, who wants an illegal incentive to do his job.
    Indians are greedy about materials and comfort and they do not hesitate to cheat to get them. You need to think about the maladies that have afflicted India , since the independence and it is a cop out to focus on those who are educated in West as the villains. Indian problems are made In India .
    Can you tell me what is good about India today? No one seems to be honest in my personal experience. The poor are struggling to feed themselves where as the rich through their ill-gotten wealth indulge themselves massively. without any regard to their fellow Indians who through their ill-luck are mired in poverty. There is no recognition for merit in any sense of the term. Caste-based reservations in professional colleges and jobs to the extent of 90%, leaves very little for those with real merit and willing to work hard to succeed. Young women are molested, raped and treated inhumanely. I can go on. But, I am afraid, I do not see anything good in India to day.
    You should recognise that those Western-educated Indians have seen better institutions, better society and better politics in the countries in which they are educated and compare them in respect of India, Those who have had merit and qualities not recognised in India, because of the aforementioned institutionalised corruption and consideration of caste, thrive when they move to a Western country. Why?
    My comment on Nehru and Gandhi were based on the fact that they were through their fervour to contribute to India, and serve India with honesty and righteousness were best place to be the leaders at that time. They did not take part in the cheap events like ” howdy Modi” type, but went to jail to free their country. They will be mightily depressed seeing the state of India today.

  8. Srikrishna Bhagwan says:

    @jalandhara don’t get emotional. You don’t have to win every argument. Please read my comments slowly and try to understand. Man, just because you can freely post comments doesn’t mean you can write anything and everything. Have a great day or night based on wherever you are living. I will stop responding to this article and your comments.

  9. jalandhara says:

    @Oh, Bhagvan. I do not care whether you win or lose. You are wrong and I do not get emotional as I do not live in India and pity ignoramuses like you who never contributed anything in India. Hence, your jealousy in regards to those who get educated abroad.

  10. What a culture! says:

    @ Bhagvan Hare Bhagvan, you are a jealous person who knows next o nothing about those who studied in the West and who contributed to India. That includes many doctors in both government and missionary hospitals and many professors in the IITs during those days who trained some of the best scientists and engineers in India. The latter included Homi Bhabha, the scientist who pioneered nuclear science in India. This included a Karnataka scientist called CNR Rao.
    You appear to be a mere non-achiever with no significance. India is full of people like you who suffer from pangs of jealousy and outright ignorance.

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