A few are born with multi talents and fewer are able to realize and even lesser utilize them for fruition. Such person solo performance comprehending multi roles is breath taking. Kanhiyalal Mankilal Munshi was one such person. He was an eminent lawyer, writer, historian and a freedom fighter who was deeply awed by Gandhian philosophy. And above all, his largest contribution is in making of Indian Constitution.
Born on 30 December, 1887, Munshi got enrolled as an Advocate in 1913 at Bombay. He was a junior to Bhulabhai Desai. Noted historian, P Rajeswar Rao writes that he boldly appeared in Gandhian caps in courts, though it was banned then. His notable characteristics as a lawyer were subtlety and agility of mind. ‘His Cross examination’, writes Rao, reminded one of Eardley Norton, the famous Barrister at Madras and Calcutta.’ He perceived the point with such rapidity that by the time a judge could put it against him; he was fully prepared to meet it and all its implications.
Mediator in Integration of States in India
Ramchandra Guha writes in ‘India After Gandhi’ that during the accession of Hyderabad in India, Munshi played a pivotal role. On the behest of Sardar Patel, Munshi was sent to Hyderabad as the Political Agent of Delhi. This was under’ Standstill Agreement’ that Union of India had entered with Nizam of Hyderabad. Being in Hyderabad, he informed Delhi of Nizam’s perfidy. Rao writes that prior to Police action, he paved way for the integration of the state.
As a Member of Constituent Assembly
After independence, he became the member of the Constituent Assembly. Though a rightist with allegiance towards Sardar Patel, Nehru liked him because of his intellect. Among all the members involved in the making of ‘Magna Carta’ of India, Munshi was a member of 6 committees, thus by far the maximum. Granville Austin in his book, ‘The Indian Constitution-Corner stone of a nation’ mentions, ‘some of the names recommended by working committee such as Nehru, Pant and Rajagopalachari-were those of Congress luminaries. More than a dozen, however, were not Congressmen, and the Working Committee saw to it that they were elected so that their talents in administration, law, & constitutional law and their experience in national affairs would be available to the Assembly.
Champion of Fundamental Rights
Munshi wanted India to adopt British Style of Parliamentary Government as it had been functioning well for last 100 years. Munshi drafted a questionnaire that was sent to all minority leaders to determine what political, social, economic, religious rights should be incorporated so that all they feel safeguarded in the Country and eventually in the folds of Constitution. Austin writes that basis the questionnaire and response, the list of minority rights was framed and included.
While empowering the state with the insurmountable powers contained in the 1935 Government of India Act, the torchbearers of conscience introduced a feature that was absent in colonial law – Fundamental Rights. These included the right to free expression and assembly, equality before the law, and the freedom to decide political representation. Like Nehru, Munshi was equally vocal on these rights. On the question of right of life and liberty, Munshi was of the opinion that no person could be detained without any reason. Also, the detained person should be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of detention. On the Centre-State Federal relationship, Munshi advocated the former having a stronger role.
On the matter of the executive, he opined that the parliamentary system produces a stronger government. Munshi advocated that the President of India should be like a Monarch of England who would act upon the guidance from Council of Ministers. He preferred British System over American Presidential System. In his view, the former was stronger because the members of Government and Legislature overlap. ‘Munshi expounding further said , writes Austin , ‘why should we go back upon the tradition that has been built for over 100 years and try a novel experiment framed 150 years ago & found wanting in America ?’
Views on role of Judiciary
Munshi favored that Supreme Court should act on the matters of dispute involving Centre and States, between State and Individual. He emphasized, in his note on ad hoc committee unifying effect of a uniform interpretation of the laws by Supreme Court. Munshi stated that in the eventuality of regions becoming vociferous for linguistic separations, there can be a fear of fragmentation. He called it ‘petty nation states.’ He went on saying that though Centre can suppress such unwelcomed demands, Supreme Court could have an even greater effect, because ‘the unconscious process of consolidation which a uniformity of laws and interpretation involves makes the unifying unconscious and therefore more stable’.
Not many are aware that due to the efforts of Munshi, Hindi day is celebrated on 14 September. On this day in the year 1946, the committee under Dr. Rajendra Prasad Chairmanship decided that Assembly’s business should be done in Hindustani that comprises of Hindi and Urdu. Munshi was the force behind inception of Bhartiya Vidhya Bhawan that has many schools, colleges and institutions under its umbrella. Rajeswar Rao aptly summarizes his personality, ‘it’s no exaggeration to say that Munshi read history, wrote history and made history’.