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Challenges of Nation Building
Integration of Princely States
A ‘princely state’ or a ‘native state’ is a political unit of a larger administrative province, which either is ruled directly by monarchic lineage or serves as a subsidiary coalition with a more powerful monarchic government. These smaller administrative pockets were based on the political, cultural, lingual, and geographical landscape. In the westerns and central India princely states came into existence with the entry of Rajputs into the Indian sub-continent who migrated from Central Asia around 200 AD(CE). The word ‘Rajput’ means ‘sons of kings’. Hence, princely states were established even before the Mughal and British colonial invasion. There were a number of Non-Rajput princely states too some ruled by Nawabs and Nijams, some ruled by native dynasties like Mysore, Travancore and Pudukottai. All those monarchical states subordinated to the British India were termed as Princely States. However, the word ‘princely’ was deliberately retained during the British regime, to ascribe subordination of the rulers in the sub-continent to the British Crown.
As mentioned earlier, the princely states were fragmented administrative pockets and the subject of integration of princely states in the phase preceding Indian independence has a long history even before the Colonial invasion. Many dynasties attempted to integrate the princely states starting from the Maghadan Kings, Bimbisara, and Ajatasatru during Mauryans, Ashoka, Chandragupta and his son Samudragupta, all of them who almost managed to bring many smaller kingdoms together, but consolidating under one rule still remained a far cry. However, when the thirst for power, jealousy and frequent disagreements among kingdoms led to resentment and disunity, it paved way for Arab and Persian invasion, establishing the Moghul empire and eventually conquering the northern part of pre-independent India.
Therefore, by the time European colonisation, i.e. the British, Portuguese, and French, started to take over, the disunity worked in their favour to establish their presence, initially through trade. Among the three, the British managed to institute sovereignty under the crown of many princely states but not all. There were 565 princely states in pre-independent India and, the ‘gun salute’ system under the British rule was an open gesture to announce the level of affiliation of a princely state to the British East India Company. Therefore, there were two kinds of princely states: ‘Salute Princely States’ and ‘Non- Salute Princely States’.
The ‘Salute States’ were States that had the British East India presence, and there were around 117 to 120 salute states. So, the heads, rulers, or princes of these states, were greeted with gun salutes. The number of guns used to salute a particular head of a State reflected the level of honour and prestige granted to a ruler. A 21-gun salute was the highest honour granted to a ruler and rulers of lesser ranks received a minimum of 9-gun salute. Some of the rulers who received the 21-gun salute include:
v His Highness the Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior
v His Highness the Maharaja Gaekwar of Baroda
v His Highness the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir
v His Highness the Maharaja of Mysore
v His Exalted Highness the Nizam of Hyderabad and Berar
Some of the rulers who received 9-gun salutes include:
v The Nawab of Sachin
v The Maharaja of Patna
v The Maharana of Wadhwan
v The Nawab of Loharu
c) Non-salute States
Among the 565 Princely States, only 117 to 120 were salute states, which implied there were many other States which were under the British rule or British Raj were non-salute states. The reasons include:
a) Some were not acknowledged as gun salute states
b) Some princely states were considered of lower prestige
c) Some princely states were obsolete but the rulers were permitted to their royal entitlements and even received pensions
During the pre-independence phase, many princely states enjoyed the patronage of the British rule and were not eager to part with their privileges when the integration of States were proposed. Some of the rulers were looking forward to establishing finally their own independent State, and assert their autonomy, post-independence. A unification of princely states meant the end of British rule, as well as the dissolving of the princely states, and provinces. In 1947, the unification process began amidst high politics, diplomatic negotiations and violence. The British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, when addressing the House of Commons on 15th March 1946 acknowledged the fight for freedom and the lives lost towards the struggle for an independent nation. He also put forth the challenges that India would face given its complex cultural heritage. He said, “I am well aware, when I speak of India, that I speak of a country containing a congeries of races, religions and languages, and I know well all the difficulties thereby created. But those difficulties can only be overcome by Indians. We are very mindful of the rights of minorities and minorities should be able to live free from fear.”
Nevertheless, the process towards nation building and negotiations to merge the States began in April 1947. Some of the problems faced towards nation building were communal riots, partition, and refugee crisis. Once India became independent, Sardar Vallabhai Patel took over as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs and the merging of 565 princely states began. He along with VP Menon, his Secretary, who did the groundwork as he was formerly an Indian civil servant, who had served the last three British viceroys, made political integration possible. Sardar Patel and VP Menon convinced the heads of the Princely States to cooperate by joining the Indian Constituent Assembly. They were also promised that their personal assets and possessions would not be taken over by the government. Many princely states consented, except Junagadh, Kashmir, and Hyderabad who wanted to remain independent.
The Nawab of Junagadh, or his Dewan, Shah Nawaz Bhutto, father of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who later went on to become the President of Pakistan, both rejected the autocratic rule. Three States surrounding Junagadh, chose to be part of India, and the fourth side it is covered by the Arabian sea. The majority of the population were non-Muslims, nonetheless Dewan Bhutto joined Pakistan on 15th August 1947. People started to protest and insisted the Dewan to request the Indian government to take over the administration. By then, the Dewan had already flown with his family to Karachi, the then capital of Pakistan, along with the State’s treasure.
The Nizam of Hyderabad was yet another ruler who headed a State with predominantly non-Muslim population. However, Hyderabad was in the heart of India and anticipated independent status. Lord Mountbatten informed that it cannot become a Dominion. A ‘dominion’ meant a self-governing nation in the British Commonwealth. In addition, it became known that the Nizam became a prisoner of a communal organisation, Ittehad-ul-Musilmeen led by Kasim Razvi, whose armed volunteers were called ‘razakars’. The Nizam had initially encouraged them but later lost control over their activities. In addition, the Nizam had also lifted the ban on imposed on Communist Party in 1943. The collaborated activities of the Razakars and the Communist party resulted in violence. Trains passing through the State were attacked. With barely any help from the Nizam, the Indian troops were sent into the State in September 1948. The Nizam was offered a large portion of wealth and privileges once he declared that Hyderabad will be part of India.
As a result of the Communist anti-landlord uprising in Telangana region of Hyderabad was the Bhoodan movement, meaning the ‘gifting of land’. The Bhoodan movement was initiated by Vinobha Bhave, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, who promoted the voluntary redistribution of land favouring the landless.
Initially, Jodhpur had expressed their desire to join India, but when Maharaja Hanvant Singh took over as the ruler, he preferred joining Pakistan instead of India. Muhammed Ali Jinnah, allegedly offered Maharaja Hanvant Singh, free access to Karachi port, and arms manufacturing and importing them. Seeing the threat posed at the border, Patel made a better offer to Maharaja Hanvant Singh, by permitting importing of arms, rail connectivity between Jodhpur and Kathiawar and supply of grains to farmers during a famine. Fearing communal violence, because the population of Jodhpur were predominantly Hindus, Maharaja Hanvant Singh conceded to join India.
The only Princely State left was Kashmir, which had a Hindu ruler Maharaja Hari Singh. Since the majority of the population were Muslims, Pakistan assumed Kashmir belonged to them. Hence, on August 15th 1947, ruler Hari Singh proposed a standstill agreement allowing the mobility of people and goods. Pakistan consented but India refused, which provoked Pakistan to violate the Standstill agreement. When Hari Singh wanted military assistance from India, Lord Mountbatten clarified that under the International law, India can send her military troops only if the State signs the instrument of accession, which Hari Singh promptly did, on 26th October 1954. On the very next day, 27th October 1954, the army was sent to Srinagar, ousting Pakistan from the Kashmir valley
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