P V Kane in Parliament
For a long time, Dr. P V Kane ('PVK') was managing his court work, along with writing of History of Dharma-śāstra. Although he was offered several posts at various junctures in his life, he emphatically denied such posts or positions; he was glued to his chair for completion of the work. As he advanced in his age, he felt that court work had increasingly been coming in the way of the completion of the work. One fine day, when he turned seventy, he decided to stop all the court work and limit himself to chamber practice. This meant that he would only provide legal opinions, title reports, etc. and discontinue from active court practice. No sooner than he started limiting himself to chamber practice, Dr. S Radhakrishnan (former President of India) approached him with a view to nominate him as a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha. PVK expressed his unwillingness to take up the offer but Radhakrishnan insisted. Finally, he relented and became a Member of Parliament. One of the major reasons for PVK to accept this nomination was that Radhakrishnan had informed him that the Nehru government was keen to codify the Hindu laws and without people like PVK being present, the essence of the Dharma-śāstras might be lost while enacting the laws. SK mentioned that another reason for PVK to accept the nomination might have been unbridled access to the Parliament Library!
During our two-and-a-half-year study of PVK’s work under the guidance of Dr. Ganesh, a question that often came up was – Why was a person such as Pandurang Vaman Kane not a part of the Constituent Assembly of post-Independent India?
And before SK narrated this episode of PVK’s Rajya Sabha nomination, I asked him the same question. “Why wasn’t Dr. Kane’s name proposed for the Constituent Assembly? Our country would have greatly benefited by the presence of such a great mind in moulding the Constitution!” SK told us that PVK was indeed approached by many eminent persons like Radhakrishnan regarding nomination to the Constituent Assembly. But PVK apparently remarked, “Radhakrishnan, many of you can sit and write the constitution. But who will write this?” pointing to the History of Dharma-śāstra. PVK had always placed this monumental work above all.
I personally feel that PVK perhaps misjudged the importance of our Constitution vis-à-vis the draftsmen’s belief and knowledge in Indian culture and heritage. Be that as it may. PVK’s criticism of the Constitution of India is for all to see in the last volume of his work. His clinical comments and sharp criticism of the holy text of Independent India is highly commendable but sadly his views have remained as an obiter. PVK would later remark to his family that despite his presence, the drafting would not have changed much because he wouldn’t have been given a free hand. However, it is erroneous to assume that PVK’s views and ideas would have found no support from any corner of the assembly.
Later, Radhakrishnan would frequently visit PVK, to intimate him of the details of the proposed Hindu Code Bill and take his views. He would say, “Being in the chair, I can’t object like any other Member of Parliament. However, if you would raise your hand to indicate you wish to speak, I will immediately give you a chance to speak and your views will carry considerable weight among members.” And at times, it would happen accordingly. SK told us that as a result, the reformative views expressed in the earlier volumes of History of Dharma-śāstra regarding the Hindu Succession Act, Hindu Marriage Act, and the Hindu Adoption Act suggested by PVK were included.
“During his stint as the Member of Parliament,” said SK, “my grandfather would be attending the parliamentary sessions and when there was no session, he would be at the Parliament Library to the extent possible. Halfway through his first term, as he turned 75, he had to really toil to complete his magnum opus and therefore stopped even his chamber practice. His loss of eyesight in one of the eyes further made his resolve stronger to complete the work at the earliest.” PVK’s prayer to the almighty not to take away his eyesight till the completion of the work, as he himself records in his work, will move any honest reader. He did complete the work as planned without any further interruptions thereafter.
Speaking about his grandfather’s tour de force, SK remembered yet another fascinating aspect of his work during the 1940s. “By the way – all wasn’t well even while he wrote this work. As he was midway into this project, the second World War had begun, and with that there was imposition on manufacture of paper. There was a huge shortage of paper. Paper wasn’t available in the market and importing it was either impossible or unreasonably expensive. And so, for a long period, my grandfather had to mentally make notes and wait for availability of paper to continue his writing of the book.” In today’s world of the internet and Google searches at the drop of a hat, all this looks like stuff of legend.
Vice-Chancellor, Bombay University
At this point, one of us asked SK if PVK ever accepted any government post or was he always difficult to convince? SK had a grin on his face when he heard this question and said, “The favourite answer of my grandfather was: No. Well, the problem was, when he said ‘No’ to something, no man on earth could make him change that decision. Many positions and posts would be offered to him every now and then; all the time, he would refuse to take up anything. But there’s one interesting episode when the ‘No’ was averted. You see, we lived in a house in a chawl. One day, in 1947, a family friend who lived on an upper floor happened to see the peon of the Chief Minister in the corridor of our house, walking towards my grandfather’s room. Everyone in the city knew that if this man is approaching any house or office, he would be carrying a certain order or information from the Chief Minister. The family friend knew the goings on around town, so he immediately guessed that the Chief Minister must have sent the peon to offer some post to Grandfather, and if things went in the usual way and he were to mechanically go up to Grandfather and give the government order, it would lead to a predictable refusal. He immediately called my father and told him to come and talk to PVK at once, before he would say ‘No.’ My father rushed to Grandfather’s chamber. Then he inquired if the peon had brought a message from the Chief Minister. My grandfather said that the Chief Minister had sent a request to him to take up the post of Vice-Chancellor of Bombay University. He then told my father that he was inclined to refuse the offer as it would interfere with his writing. My father first confirmed that Grandfather had not sent a rejection letter. And then the two of them – my father and our family friend, persuaded my grandfather to accept the offer.”
By next morning, the acceptance letter was typed and sent, all due to the efforts of PVK’s son. And Bombay University would get one of its best Vice-Chancellors.
PVK was the first Vice-Chancellor of the university who would travel to work by tram and walk the rest of the way. He wouldn’t take cars or receive any benefits from the government. During those days, the post of Vice-Chancellor was an honorary position and there was no remuneration paid. Working on his coveted post without much fanfare had raised several eyebrows in the city. By the end of the first term, the Chief Minister wanted PVK to continue for another term. PVK refused. Then the Chief Minister personally met him and said that the rule pertaining to the payment of remuneration to the Vice-Chancellor was being reconsidered; he would be paid a good amount of money. Also, it was a rule those days that a Vice-Chancellor served a single term, but that rule would be amended and PVK would be re-nominated. PVK said, “In that case, you’ve made my resolve stronger not to accept it. If I were to say yes, people will think that I agreed to continue for the sake of the money. And, more importantly, if you change the rule for me—thinking that it will benefit the university—this amended rule can be later misused by others who may bear this post. You should never set such precedents!” With this came the end of the glorious period of PVK adorning the post of Vice-Chancellor, Bombay University.
To be continued...
My heartfelt thanks to Dr. Shantaram G Kane, the grandson of Dr. P V Kane, for sharing so many wonderful anecdotes about his grandfather with me and my friends. Further, he promptly reviewed the present essay, offering wonderful suggestions as well as fact-corrections. I wish to express my thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh and Dr. S L Bhyrappa for encouraging me to record the highlights of my meeting with Dr. Shantaram Kane. Thanks to Hari Ravikumar for his thorough editing of the essay.