Versatile”, “a philosopher in action”, “a man of great ideas and great courage”, “a multi-faceted genius”-these are the ways in which friends and admirers described Dr. Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi, the founder of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.The versatility of Munshiji is seen in his roles as lawyer, creative writer, constitution-maker, freedom fighter, administrator, organization-builder and champion of Indian culture. Dr. Munshi looked upon himself as a “sea shell thrown up by the mighty flood of Indian renaissance.”
He founded the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan along with a few friends late in 1938. He said, “We, the Bhavan’s family, whether it is the smaller one or the larger one, must make every effort in restoring an awareness of these values-Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram-Truth, Love and Beauty-in personal and collective life.” The Bhavan, in the words of Dr. Radhakrishnan, is the greatest monument of Munshi’s life.
Born in Broach on December 30, 1887, Munshiji came under the influence of Sri Aurobindo while studying at Baroda College. A prize winner at the B.A. and LL.B. examinations, he enrolled himself initially as a Pleader and later as an Advocate in the Bombay Bar. He first joined Dr. Besant’s All India Home Rule League in 1916 and later the Indian National Congress.
He married Lilavati Sheth in 1926 (who was one of his literary critics) after the death of his first wife, Atilakshmi Pathak, whom he married when he was just 13.
He was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council in 1927. He took part in the Salt Satyagraha in 1930 and was imprisoned for 6 months. In 1932 he was sentenced to two years’ rigorous imprisonment. He was elected to the Bombay Legislative Assembly in 1937 and appointed the Home Minister in the first Congress Government. He served as India’s Agent-General in Hyderabad when the Nizam was trying to keep his State independent of the Indian Union. He became a member of the Constituent Assembly in 1948. He was Food and Agriculture Minister of the Government of India in 1950. He was Governor of Uttar Pradesh during 1952-57. He resigned from the Congress and became the Vice President of the newly formed “Swatantra Party” standing for free enterprise. Till his death in 1971 he devoted all his energies to the building up of the Bhavan as the premier cultural organization of the country.
Dr. Munshi is reckoned as one of the luminaries of the Gujarati literature and established his reputation as an outstanding novelist, particularly of the historical romance. His “Kulapati’s Letters,” contributed to the Bhavan’s Journal, were widely read and appreciated.