The Somnath Temple is in the news following a visit by Rahul Gandhi. This was followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reference to Jawaharlal Nehru opposing the reconstruction of the temple.
The visit by Rahul Gandhi created a controversy after a debate on the social media over the entry in the visitor's register where his name found a place in the non-Hindu column. Further Modi during a rally at Pranchi in Gir Somnath district of Gujarat spoke about Nehru's opposition to the re-construction of the temple.
Modi said when Sardar Patel took up the work of re-construction, Nehru was unhappy. Nehru further wrote a letter to Dr. Rajendra Prasad the then President of India expressing unhappiness over his visit for the inauguration of the temple.
We need to now revisit history to find out what exactly had happened over the re-construction of the Somnath Temple.
What transpired in the Nehru Cabinet?
Soon after the merger of Junagarh with Indian in 1947, the Nehru led Cabinet approved the reconstruction of the Somnath Temple, records suggest.
It was Sardar Patel who first discussed the re-construction of the temple with Mahatma Gandhi who was also in favour of the same. However, Gandhi felt that the Centre should not fund the project. Sardar agreed to the suggestion and said that the funding should be done through public donation.
The work on the temple was taken up by the Ministry of Works, Mines, and Power under N Gadgil. As part of the work undertaken, the installation of the Jyotirlingam too was part of the project. In 1950 following the demise of Sardar Patel, the work was supervised by Food and Agriculture Minister, K M Munshi. Following a meeting in early 1951, Nehru is said to have told Munshi,"I do not like your trying to restore Somnath. It is Hindu revivalism."
Munshi writes to Nehru:
Following this Munshi wrote a letter to Nehru stating, "Yesterday you referred to Hindu revivalism. You pointedly referred to me in the Cabinet as connected with Somnath. I am glad you did so; for I do not want to keep back any part of my views or activities....I can assure you that the 'Collective Subconscious' of India today is happier with the scheme of reconstruction of Somnath sponsored by the Government of India than with many other things that we have done and are doing."
"The intention to throw open the temple to harijans has evoked some criticism from the orthodox section of the Hindu community. However, the objects of the Trust Deed make it clear that the temple is not only to be open to all classes of the Hindu community but, according to the tradition of the old temple of Somnath, also to non-Hindu visitors. Many have been the customs which I have defined in personal life from boyhood. I have laboured in my humble way through literary and social work to share or reintegrate some aspects of Hinduism, in the conviction that alone will make India an advanced and vigorous nation under modern conditions."
It is my faith in our past which has given me the strength to work in the present and to look forward to our future. I cannot value India's 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."
V P Menon, the civil servant who assisted Sardar Patel in the integration of princely states on reading the letter said, "I have seen your masterpiece. I for one would be prepared to live and, if necessary, die by the views you have expressed in your letter."
The Rajendra Prasad episode:
After the temple was ready, Munshi approached Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India with the request that the temple is inaugurated by him. Dr. Prasad readily agreed and said that he would do the same with a Temple of a Mosque if invited. This is the core of Indian secularism. Our state is neither irreligious not anti-religious, he said.
Nehru protested the President's decision. He wrote to the President stating, " I confess that I do not like the idea of your associating yourself with the 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." Nehru is said to have written.
However, Dr. Prasad, disregarded the objections and kept his promise and inaugurated the temple.