Congress will not interfere in the affairs of Princely India: What Sardar Patel assured States in 1947 | The Financial Express

Congress will not interfere in the affairs of Princely India: What Sardar Patel assured States in 1947

We have no ulterior motive or selfish interests to serve: Sardar’s statement in White Paper on Indian States of July 1948. Photos courtesy: http://sardarpatel.nvli.in/

Congress will not interfere in the affairs of Princely India: What Sardar Patel assured States in 1947
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. (Photo courtesy: sardarpatel.nvli.in)

By Raju Mansukhani

“I should like to make it clear that it is not the desire of the Congress to interfere in any manner whatsoever with the domestic affairs of the States. They are no enemies of the Princely Order, but, on the other hand, wish them and their people under this aegis all prosperity, contentment, and happiness,” Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel said, in a statement on 5 July 1947 documented as an appendix to the White Paper on Indian States prepared by the Government of India in July 1948.

“There appears a great deal of misunderstanding about the attitude of the Congress towards the States,” the Sardar said, explaining that “nor would it be my policy to conduct the relations of the new Department with the States in any manner which favours of the domination of one over the other; if there would be any domination, it would be that of our mutual interests and welfare. We have no ulterior motive or selfish interests to serve.”

Through the 5 July 1947 statement, we discern the concerns of Sardar Patel and his sense of history. “We are at a momentous stage in the history of India. By common endeavour we can raise the country to a new greatness while lack of unity will expose us to fresh calamities. I hope the Indian States will bear in mind that the alternative to co-operation in the general interest is anarchy and chaos which will overwhelm great and small in a common ruin if we are unable to act together in the minimum of common tasks.”

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The warning is clearly spelt out too when he minced no words, stating, “Let not the future generation curse us for having had the opportunity but failed to turn it to our mutual advantage. Instead, let it be our proud privilege to leave a legacy of mutually beneficial relationship which would raise this Sacred Land to its proper place amongst the nations of the world and turn it into an abode of peace and prosperity.”

The White Paper of July 1948 takes a step back in time to June 13, 1947, when the Government of India decided to set up a Department to conduct their relations with the States in matters of common concern. On June 13, 1947, His Excellency the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten invited Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel and Acharya Kripalani (on behalf of the Congress), MA Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, and Sardar Nishtar (on behalf of the Muslim League); and Sardar Baldev Singh (on behalf of the Sikhs) “attend an informal meeting to discuss the problem of the States”.

In a press communique issued on June 27, 1947, it was announced by the Viceroy that “In order that the successor Governments will each have an organisation to conduct its relations with the Indian States when the Political Department is wound up, His Excellency the Viceroy, in consultation with the Cabinet, has decided to create a new Department called the States Department to deal with matters arising between the Central Government and the Indian States. This Department will be in charge of Sardar Patel, who will work in consultation with Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar”.

At a press conference in New Delhi reviewing constitutional progress of the Indian States, January 29, 1948. (Photo courtesy: sardarpatel.nvli.in)

For Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and the States Department, the challenge was to face the aftermath of the Partition which was a severe blow to the political and geographical integrity of India. The economic development and cultural expression of the Indian people was dependent on how the new India would take shape. There was the gravest danger of dismemberment.

As the British historian-civil servant Professor B. Coupland put it, “India could live if its Muslim limbs in the north-west and north-east were amputated, but could it live without its heart?” The first task to which the newly-created States Department had to address itself, therefore, was the conserving of the heart of India. This required a common centre for the whole country including the Indian States, able to function effectively in the Provinces and States alike in matters requiring all India action.

Understanding Pre-Independence India

We often err in our understanding of pre-Independent India. The White Paper on Indian StatesJuly 1948 refers to an earlier report prepared back in 1929. It was titled the Harcourt Butler Committee report which stated, “To politically understand pre-Independent India, it can be safely said there were two India’s. There was the British India or Provinces, governed by the Crown according to the statutes of Parliament and enactments of the Indian Legislature; and the Indian States under the suzerainty of the Crown and still for the most part under the personal rule of the Princes.” The Indian States were often referred to as Princely India or Princely States.

The Butler report also stated that geographically India is one and indivisible. “The problem of statesmanship is to hold the two together”. That is how the problem of the Indian States presented itself to the authors of the White Paper on Indian States, published in 1948. This important report, the White Paper asked the question: Were there really two India’s? And was the problem merely to hold them together?

The geographical set-up of the Indian States did not coincide with any ethnic, racial, or linguistic divisions. The people of the Provinces and the States had suffered alike from waves of foreign invasions and foreign domination. Close ties of cultural affinity, no less than those of blood and sentiment, bound the people of the Indian States and the British Provinces together.

What was it then that separated the Indian States from the rest of India?

Firstly, there was the historical factor. Unlike the Provinces, the States had not been annexed by the British Government.

Secondly, the States maintained the traditional monarchical form of Government. There were Maharajas, Maharanas, Maharawals, Maharaos, Rajas, Nizam, Nawabs, Khans or Mirs who had been the Rulers for generations, if not centuries.

There were States like Hyderabad and Kashmir the size of the United Kingdom: Kashmir State was spread over 84,471 square miles, while Hyderabad State had a territory of 82,313 miles.

There were 150 States which had territories of more than 10,000 square miles and 67 which had territories ranging from 1000 to 10,000 square miles.

There were 202 States having each an area of less than 10 square miles. The Indian States constituted about 45 per cent of the total Indian territories and almost 24 per cent of the Indian population was living in the States, according to the White Paper.

Historically the main common feature that distinguished the States from the Provinces was that the States, unlike the Provinces, had not been annexed by the British Power. In their individual origin, however, the evolution and growth of States represented different processes. The historical perspective has often been ignored in contemporary debates, discussions on the role of Princely India.

The White Paper states:

Firstly, there were the old established States, such as those in Rajputana which were in existence before the main waves of foreign invasion took place.

Secondly, another class consisted mainly of the States with Muslim-dynasties which were founded by the nobles or the Viceroys of the invading foreign Emperors.

Thirdly, there were the States which emerged in the period of decline of the Mughal power and prior to the final stages of the consolidation of British territory.

Then there were the newer States, which the British recognised during the final period of consolidation. Only one State, namely Benares, was set up and recognised since the assumption of the Government of India by the Crown.

Spiritual Legacies Disregarded

Besides the geographical and historical perspectives, the Reports and White Papers disregard the spiritual heritage of Princely India, especially for the centuries-old States established in pre-modern times. They had a divine right to rule; a right which they had internalized, and which had been legitimized by social acceptance over generations and centuries. They drew their political and socio-cultural strength from these spiritual legacies be it Vedic, Shaivite, Vaishnavite, Shaktism, Sikhism or Islamic. It accounted for the cultural diversity of Princely India and their die-hard faith in divinity in sharp contradistinction with modern constitutional rights and privileges.

The White Paper of July 1947 highlights that the internal administration of the States and their political set-up varied greatly. There was a very wide difference in the degree of administrative efficiency reached by the most advanced and the most backward. According to the information circulated by the Chamber of Princes in 1946, over 60 States had set up some form of legislative bodies. Everywhere there was a growing consciousness of the rights and liberties of the people and a new spirit was abroad.

When Sardar Patel made the announcement regarding the formation of the Department to conduct the relations with the States, his words of caution remain relevant till date. His statement refers to “the lesson of history that it was owing to her political fragmentation and our inability to make a united stand that India succumbed to successive waves of invaders. Our mutual conflicts, and internecine quarrels and jealousies have in the past been the cause of our downfall…we cannot afford to fall into those errors or traps again.”

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On the threshold of Independence, Sardar Patel’s words have a ring of regret and pathos. “It is true that we have not been able to preserve the unity of the country entirely; unimpaired in the final stage. To the bitter disappointment and sorrow of many of us some parts have chosen to go out of India and to set up their own Government. But there can be no question that despite this separation…the safety and preservation of these States as well as of India demand unity and mutual cooperation between its different parts.” The White Paper on Indian States, July 1948, did point out the gray areas of the future.

(The author is a researcher-writer specializing in history and heritage issues, and a former deputy curator of the Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya.)

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First published on: 22-11-2022 at 12:47 IST