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Monday, March 2, 2015

when India obtained freedom in 1947 ~ Instrument of accession & Princely States

Our Mahan Bharat is a Free Independent Nation.  After the recent reorganistaions, we have 29 States and 7 Union territories.  Reading of its past history, the ‘Indian Independence Act 1947’  was as an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that partitioned British India into the two new independent dominions of India and Pakistan. The Act received the royal assent on 18 July 1947, and Pakistan came into being on August 14, and India on August 15, as two new countries.  The legislation was formulated by the government of Prime Minister Clement Attlee and the Governor General of India Lord Mountbatten, after representatives of the Indian National Congress, the Muslim League, and the Sikh community - came to an agreement with the Viceroy of India, on what has come to be known as the 3 June Plan or Mountbatten Plan.

Leonard Mosley [1913 – 1922]  a British journalist, historian, biographer and novelist. A chance reading of an article about him makes us wonder how complex the Independence was ~ not merely passing of power by the erstwhile rulers to democracy. We have read the Indian freedom struggle – role of Congress – the other martyrs, the situation that prevailed after World War, the ever increasing pressures in UK and many other factors which hastened the freedom.  Perhaps one area that is not much known to us – is that there were too many other players too who impacted, the transfer of power.  Among them was the no. of Princely States. 

In the 1940s, just prior to India becoming free, 565 princely states existed in India during the period of British rule. These were not parts of British India proper, having never become possessions of the British Crown, but were tied to it in a system of subsidiary alliances. The Government of India Act 1935 introduced the concept of the Instrument of Accession, wherein a ruler of a princely state could accede his kingdom into the 'Federation of India'. The federation concept was initially opposed by the Indian princes, but ascension of all the princely states was almost complete when World War II occurred. In 1947 the British finalized their plans for quitting India, and the question of the future of the princely states was a conundrum for them. The Indian Independence Act 1947 provided that the suzerainty of the British Crown over the princely states would simply be terminated, effective 15 August 1947. That would leave the princely states completely independent, even though they were dependent on the Government of India for defence, finance, and other infrastructure.  While much has been talked about the accession executed by Maharaja Hari Singh, ruler of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, there were hundreds of others, some of whom fell in line and many others brought together by Sardar Vallabhai Patel and other tall leaders.

Here is the reproduction of the article in Daily Mail – titled ‘How the nation of India was born’ that appeared on 19th Feb 2015.  Writing in the Last days of the British Raj, Leonard Mosley provides a graphic account of the fluid state of play in the days and months prior to independence in the chapter Downfall of Princes. Mosley wrote that that just before assuming his job as the last Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten was summoned by his cousin King George VI. During the conversation, King George said that he was particularly worried about the position of the Indian Princes in the coming negotiations, since they enjoyed direct treaty relations with Britain and these would inevitably be broken with the onset of independence. King George said that the Princes would find themselves in a dangerous vacuum, and urged Mountbatten to persuade them to accept the inevitability of the transfer of power and come to some arrangement with the new dispensation beyond their frontiers.

Mosley went onto say that Mountbatten did not have much time or admiration for the Indian princes whom he considered semi-enlightened autocrats at their best and squalid degenerates at their worst. He called them a bunch of nitwits for not taking the path of democratisation when they saw the rapid emergence of Congress-led nationalism.  To quote Mosley: “The bold front which saw some of the princes, particularly the Nawab of Bhopal, had hoped to present to the politicians in British India was already in disarray by the time the Congress and Muslim League had agreed to accept the Indian independence plan.  "As Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes, Bhopal was given a prior look at the general outline of the Independence Bill (even before the Congress and the Muslim League saw it), for it was felt his word not to divulge its contents was rather more likely to be kept than that of politicians.  “His immediate reaction was to ask whether it was the intention of His Majesty’s government to grant Dominion status to individual princely states in the same way as Pakistan and India. The Viceroy replied that it was not HMG’s intention.”  Bhopal thereafter bitterly complained that the British were once more letting the princely states down, and that he, as the Muslim Ruler of a Hindu state would be at the mercy of the Congress.  Three days later he resigned his position as Chancellor and announced that he would consider himself free and independent the moment the British departed from India to choose the destiny of his State for himself. The scramble for shelter had begun.

King George said that the Princes would find themselves in a dangerous vacuum and urged Lord Mountbatten to persuade them to accept the inevitability of the transfer of power.  The wily princes and with their Machiavellian thinking wanted to carve out independent niches. In the hurly burly of independence and each man for himself type of credo, the Maharaja of Bikaner was instrumental in gathering a considerable number of princes into a rump which expressed its willingness to join the Indian federation before independence.  The truth however, was that Indian princes were on the verge of panic and practically on the run.  The political adviser Sir Conrad Cornfield, a convinced royalist himself, was the centrifuge of the machinations. At the very core of his strategy was to save at least two to three of the bigger Princely states from Congress engulfment, in the main Hyderabad and Bhopal.

As such he was at constant loggerheads with Mountbatten and blindsiding the Viceroy began back channel dialogue. He opened a direct channel of communication with Secretary of State for India in London Lord Listowel. Listowel included a clause in the Indian Independence Bill, which lapsed Paramountcy only on the day India became independent, so that India – unless it could make arrangements by agreement before hand – would be confronted on August 15 by nearly 600 princely states containing 100 million people, each state completely independent.  But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. On June 13, a meeting convened by the Viceroy attended by Pandit Nehru, Mohd Ali Jinnah and Corfield among others saw Nehru boiling with rage and blasting Corfield for his shenanigans saying: “I charge the Political Department and Corfield particularly with misfeasance. I consider that a judicial enquiry at the highest level into their actions is necessary.” But Corfield’s sweet talk worked. First Travancore announced that he would become an independent sovereign state after August 15, going according to Corfield’s interpretation of the Indian Independence Bill.

Travancore even said that he was appointing a trade agent with Pakistan. The next day, the Nizam of Hyderabad followed suit. Corfield had not contended with Sardar Patel and his trusted lieutenant V. P. Menon who were not willing to give an inch.  Their formula was simple: Approach each prince and negotiate by asking them to accede to the Indian Union under three subjects only – defence, external affairs and communications.  Further Sardar and Menon secured Lord Mountbatten’s assent to negotiate with the Rulers which turned out to be a masterstroke.

Menon had devised an Instrument of Accession and on July 25, 1947, the princes were told that there was a ‘take it or leave it’ political offer from the Congress which would not be repeated.  One by one the princes queued up to sign. Hyderabad stood aloof, as did Travancore, Bhopal, Indore and Jodhpur. As the Ministry of States began to break new ground, Baroda signed, but Hyderabad, Mysore, Bhopal, Jodhpur and the Nawab of Junagadh held out.  Maharaja Hanwant Singh of Jodhpur was more or less convinced by Corfield not to sign the Instrument of Accession, and instead choose Pakistan. Menon was on the ball, he took the young Maharaja to meet Mountbatten where a decisive breakthrough was achieved.

To foil the Nawab of Bhopal’s ambition of a combined state of princes on par with Pakistan and India, Sardar Patel moved with alacrity, parallel to Panditji’s activities at calling their bluff.  Together they brought the vagrant princes around after they disclosed the role of Nawab of Bhopal as a saboteur. Congress used the Maharajas of Bikaner, Patiala and Cochin to frustrate Sir Hameedullah Khan of Bhopal who was using the Chamber of Princes as a bargaining lever to protect and perpetuate the princely order.

Thus was born a United India.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
23rd Feb 2015.



Photo : Indian freedom 1947 circulating in e-mail.  Source not known.  If subjected to copyright – will be removed upon information.

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