K. M. Munshi was born 130 years ago on 30th December 1887 in Gujarat. Elected from the Bombay province he was an active member of the Constituent Assembly from its inception in 1946 till 26th November 1949, when the Constitution was adopted.
Munshi was a part of the Congress Experts Committee, set up on 8th July 1946 by the Congress Working Committee. With Nehru as its head, the primary task of this Committee was to prepare materials for the assembly which was to sit for the first time on 9th December 1946. The Experts Committee relying on the Cabinet Mission Plan made several suggestions on matters including amending the power of the Constitution, federalism, power of states. The Experts Committee rejected the Gandhian approach to the state and argued for a parliamentary form of government set up in the context of a loose federation. (Granville Austin, The Indian Constitution Cornerstone of a Nation, OUP)
Munshi was on more committees than any other Assembly member and contributed in his professional capacity as a lawyer to eleven of them. Several historians like Granville Austin and Ramachandra Guha refer to him as ‘a pragmatic leader’ with ‘a formidable mind’ who worked closely with Ambedkar in the Indian Constitution making process.
Munshi as a member of the Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee presented his draft articles on Fundamental Rights on 17th March1947. His draft advocated for several progressive rights to be fundamental rights including: right to privacy – Article V (1) (f) and (g) of his draft (it is interesting to note that the Supreme Court declared this right as a part of fundamental rights in K.S Puttuswamyv.Union of India in 2017); right to work, right against sickness, disablement – Article VII of his draft; right to free and compulsory education – Article VIII of his draft (this right was added to our constitution in 2002 as Article 21A).
Munshi drafted a questionnaire on behalf this Sub-Committee which was sent to minority community leaders. The questionnaire aimed to understand and explore the nature of minority rights that the Constitution had to guarantee. The Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee relied on the replies of this questionnaire and Munshi’s Draft Rights to draft the constitutional scheme for minority rights.
While Munshi’s contribution to the Constitution making process was significant and recognized, not many know of his role in resolving the issue of accession of Hyderabad (then a Princely State) to the Indian State. Munshi,Vallabhai Patel’s close aid, worked with him on this issue and was appointed as India’s Agent-General under the ‘Standstill Agreement’ (Article II) which was signed by the Nizam of Hyderabad. Munshi was stationed in Hyderabad and his first hand reports were crucial in obtaining the complete picture of the state of affairs. He was treated with hostility by the Nizam who even had Munshi placed under house arrest in Hyderabad.V. P. Menon (Secretary, States Ministry, who worked with Patel on the integration of princely states), noted that Munshi had a delicate and difficult role to play in a complex and critical situation. The Indian State eventually annexed Hyderabad on 17th September through military intervention popularly referred to as Operation Polo.
Read Munshi biography here.