While the Congress party has not issued any official statement on the Bhoomi Pujan for the Ram Mandir on 5th August, the party leaders have been giving issuing opposite reactions to the same. While some leaders went to the High Court to stop the ceremony, others are complaining of not being invited to the program. At this point, a letter has emerged which reminds of a similar situation 70 years ago, when the Congress party was similarly divided in two halves over attending the inauguration of Somnath Temple in Gujarat.
The ancient Somnath temple was destroyed and looted by several Muslim invaders, including Mahmud of Ghazni, Alauddin Khalji, Aurangzeb and others. The temple was rebuilt after India’s independence at the initiative of first union home minister Vallabhbhai Patel. It is known that PM Jawaharlal Nehru didn’t like the idea of reconstruction of the ancient temple, who had opposed it terming it as an act of Hindu revivalism.
When the temple committee invited India’s President Rajendra Prasad for inauguration of the temple, Nehru had advised him not to attend it. The PM had written to the President, “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”. While Dr. Prasad still attended the inauguration because for him, the state should be neither religious or irreligious, his grand speech at the ceremony was blanked out by official channels on Nehru’s insistence.
Now a letter written by India’s first ambassador to China, K. M. Panikkar, to then PM Nehru shows that Nehru’s hatred for Hinduism was shared by his handpicked diplomate. In the letter dated 21st March 1951, Panikkar refers to an “amazing letter” he had received from the trustees of the Somnath Temple requesting him to send water of some Chinese rivers and twigs from Tibetan Shan mountains, to be used for the reconsecration of the Somnath Temple. He had also highlighted that the present has been invited to be the chief guest at the ceremony.
Narrating how he opposed the idea of rebuilding temples destroyed by Islamic invaders, Panikkar wrote, “if an unofficial Hindu organisation wanted to restore that temple, no one could have any objection. Even then, where is one to stop? Kutub Minar to be pulled down and the stones which came from temples used for restoring the shrines? Is Aurangzeb’s tomb in Banares to be pulled down and Kashi Viswanath restored to original glory? If we start on this Path, where are we to stop? This is the state of mind that leads straight to RSS and the desire to revive Hindupada padishahi in India. I was rather surprised to see that some members of the Government were associated with it and the suggestion that the President of India should be the chief yajaman of this obscurantist revivalslism, I confess, was a little frightening”.
The Ambassador to China had also alleged that the “Somnathists” were trying to forget the period of Indian history after the Muslim invasion. “These are the real founders of the India of today and our “Somnathists” unfortunately desire to forget them. I am sorry to inflict this on you, but I think you should know how strongly some of us feel at all this dangerous “revivalism” which seems to have affected even those closely associated with Governments Ln the Provinces and even at the Centre”.
It is intriguing that in his letter to Nehru, Panikkar had labelled the effort to rebuild Somnath temple as Hindu revivalslism, Nehru had also made the same allegation to K M Munshi, the cabinet minister in Nehru govt who had led the task of the temple construction.
Before mentioning Somnath Temple, K M Panikkar had also expressed worry that his daughter Devaki Panikkar may become a communist, after she didn’t get any job despite having a degree from Oxford. He had suggested to Nehru that she may be given a job at National Herald, so that she can be weaned away from Communists. It may be noted that Devaki had later married Communist Party of India leader M. N. Govindan Nair.
K M Panikkar not only opposed the reconstruction of the Somnath Temple, he had also supported China in occupying Tibet. During a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai after China had announced its intention to ‘liberate Tibet’, Panikkar had promised on his own that India would not move in case Tibet is forcefully liberated. He had also single headedly changed India’s position on Tibet, without consulting the Indian govt.
During the British government, India’s Tibetan policy was China only had the “suzerainty” over Tibet, which means Tibet as an independent state and China had control only over its foreign policy. It meant that Tibet was a tributary state of China. After independence, India had continued the same policy. But it was short lived, as in a journal published in August 1950, Panikkar wrote that India’s policy towards Tibet was “autonomy within the framework of Chinese sovereignty”. This was complete opposite of the policy of the Indian govt.
In fact, Nehru govt didn’t agree with Panikkar’s statement, and Panikkar had tried to rectify his ‘mistake’. But his comments were taken as official position of India by China, and they believed that Indian govt wouldn’t mind if they invade Tibet.