Freedom Files: A Battle Against Imperialism
It is a fallacy to say that Sardar Patel was arch-enemy number one of the Indian Princes, it was actually Nehru who consistently threw down the gauntlet

Si vis pacem, para bellum is a Latin adage translated as, “If you want peace, prepare for war” (usually interpreted as meaning peace through strength — a strong society being less likely to be attacked by enemies). Throw in another template  —  Special Forces operators have a slogan when it comes to urban combat: “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.” Modern infantry combat centres around mobility — if you can’t move you get pinned down, but if you move too fast, you get surrounded and outflanked. Jawaharlal Nehru typified this attitude and spirit as far as dealing with the recalcitrant Indian Princes led by the saboteur Nawab of Bhopal Hamidullah Khan was concerned. It is a fallacy to say that Sardar Patel was arch-enemy number one of the Princes, it was actually Nehru who consistently threw down the gauntlet at the errant princes. His thinking predicated on Fabian Socialism, he was always the very antithesis of Monarchists. Of course, as Minister of States in the Indian National Congress government, Sardar Patel ran the relay race and corralled the Princes resulting in their integration, amalgamation and homogenisation. The baton was handed by Nehru to Lord Mountbatten who button-holed them with one of the greatest exhibitions of virulence in the Viceregal Lodge on July 25, 1947, telling the Princes unequivocally that their time was up. The baton again changed hands and Sardar using his craft of statesmanship then dealt the final blow. Lashing out against the symbols of accrual of pelf and power, Nehru had a visceral hatred for Indian Princes. Many people mistake Nehru for being a pacifist, but this was a gross judgmental error, for he was one followed the law and equally stood for his ideals.

It was incomprehensible for Jawaharlal Nehru to think of the Princely States to be outside the orbit and ambit of a future free India. Equally, he could not bear to think of the Indian Princes having a separate channel of communication with the British Crown. They could not be allowed to owe allegiance to any external authority or have any direct or independent relationship with the Crown for that would endanger the internal security of a free India and also arrest the growth and development of the nation. The bedrock of the new Nehruvian ideal of India was that cultural and linguistic contiguity of the Princely States with each other or with surrounding units would be kept uppermost in mind when the amalgamation process would be unveiled. Nehru abhorred the British Monarchial system and its linkages with the Chamber of Princes in India. Frank Moraes, in his biography on Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, says that his abiding interest in socialism grew its roots during his Cambridge days, “When the Fabianism of Shaw and Webb attracted him, but he confesses that his interest was academic. He was also drawn to the intellectual liveliness of Bertrand Russell and John Maynard Keynes, many of whose lectures he attended although his own university curriculum was scientific and not economic. This interest he maintained in London. The Fabians were active in London and to the man who later was to propound the principle of peaceful co-existence, the theory of gradualness had its appeal.

He was interested in, but by no means overwhelmed by, socialist ideas...He lived in a hazy half world, at home neither in East nor West, in India nor England...He had as yet no settled moorings, social, political or intellectual." In Nehru's case, at the very kernel of his antipathy for the monarchial system of rule and the brutal repression of colonialism was stronger than the other three. Nehru distilled all that he read and heard in England and created his own Fabian Socialist model — one in which he opposed the Crown and its minions, the Chamber of Princes, who had a garrotte-like grip on 100 million Indians virtually living in penury under the yoke of tyranny.  

He constantly talked down to the Princes and showed them their place. To the main saboteur, the Nawab of Bhopal, Nehru wrote: “The destruction of the Princes was bound to happen whether we wanted it or not. All we could do was to see that the changes that were inevitable took place in as reasonable and amicable way as possible.”

Within a short span of 21 months, the Princes were stampeded by Nehru, Mountbatten, Patel and V P Menon through a mixture of threat, coercion, cajoling and grandstanding. “In many ways, the period 1938-1939 was a 'moment of truth' in a large number of Indian Princely States as powerful people's movements flourished against the high-handedness of the ruling dispensation which directly drew its strength from the Paramount Power in the Princely States. The challenge to the Gandhiji-Nehru-Patel troika also came at around the same time. At the Haripura Congress, Subhas Chandra Bose became president of the Congress and a year later in Tripuri, he forced the issue again despite strident opposition from the trio and won the presidency by 95 votes, against Gandhiji's candidate, Pattabhi Sitaramayya. After Bose's convincing win, Gandhi said Pattabhi’s defeat was “more mine than his.”

At Tripuri in March 1939, G B Pant moved a resolution asking Bose to appoint a Working Committee in line with Gandhi's ideas. In a passionate presidential address on the Princely States on 10 March 1939, Bose's opinions echoed those of Nehru, as he said, “But since Haripura much has happened. Today we find that the Paramount Power is in league with the State authorities in most places. In such circumstances, should we of the Congress not draw closer to the people of the States? I have no doubt in my own mind as to what our duty is today. Besides lifting the above ban, the work of guiding the popular movements in the States for Civil Liberty and Responsible Government should be conducted by the Working Committee on a comprehensive and systematic basis. The work so far done has been of a piecemeal nature and there has hardly been any system or plan behind it. But the time has come when the Working Committee should assume this responsibility and discharge it in a comprehensive and systematic way and, if necessary, appoint a special sub-committee for the purpose." For Nehru, this became a defining moment as it enabled him to expand the scope of the freedom struggle to the Princely States.


The same year, in his presidential address at the 1939 Ludhiana session, Pandit Nehru had spoken extensively about the treaty of rights of princes. Nehru was opposed to the idea of autocracy and shared Sheikh Abdullah’s vision of freedom and democracy for Kashmir instead of the clutches of serfdom. In many ways, he was taking his battle against imperialism to its logical culmination by drawing the line on the princelings which represented autocracy in the country.

Nehru had argued that, “we are told now that the so called independence of the states and of their treaties with the Paramount Power which are sacrosanct and inviolable and apparently must go on forever and ever. We have recently seen what happens to international treaties and the most sacred of covenants when they don’t suit the purpose of imperialism. We have seen these treaties torn up, friends and allies basely deserted and betrayed and the pledged word broken by England and France.

“But when reaction and autocracy and imperialism stand to lose, it does matter and treaties, however moth eaten and harmful to the people they might be, have to be preserved. It is a monstrous imposition to be asked to put up with these treaties of a century and a quarter ago, in the making of which the people had no voice or say. It is fantastic to expect people to keep on their chains of slavery, imposed upon them by fraud and force, and to submit to a system which crushes the lifeblood out of them. We recognise no such treaties and we shall in no event accept them. The only final authority and paramount power that we recognize is the will of the people, and the only thing that counts ultimately is the good of the people.”

This was the foundation of Nehru’s vision for an independent India and while Sardar Patel chose different methods, the idea was the same. The princes had to integrate, they had no choice. At the Udaipur session of the All India States People’s Conference six years later, his vision remained unaltered. In fact, his resolve had strengthened for he believed that the princelings were mere mirror images of the British Imperialists. He said, “Frequently we criticize and blame the rulers of these states, and often they are deserving of this censure. But it is well to remember that they are mere shadows cast by the Imperial power and the responsibility of the backward condition of the state rests with the power which has deliberately kept them as they are and prevented their progress. It is well known that princes with advanced or independent views are not favoured by the Political Department of the Government of India. Many of them are saddled with ministers imposed by the Political Department. In dealing with the states, therefore, we deal with British government in another guise. As soon as the British go from India, the problem changes completely.”

Sir Geoffrey de Montmorency, a British historian in his book, The India States and the Indian Federation 1942, wrote: “The states are still so numerous in India that they offer a grave conundrum in evolution to which no solution is at present forthcoming. Their disappearance and absorption would, of course be inevitable if the British ever ceased to be the supreme power as regards India”. It is interesting to note that the Nizam of Hyderabad, who later claimed independence, echoed these sentiments in a semi ‘firman’ issued by him.

De Montmorency said that no solution of the problems was forthcoming and yet he himself suggested the obvious solution – the elimination of British power from India. The freedom movement’s clarion call of Quit India was obviously based on this theorem.

Incidentally, of the 562 states, only 40 or so had these treaties. The relations of the other states with the British paramount power were regulated by ‘engagements, ‘sanads’, usage, sufferance, political practices and conventions’. It is against this background that the Quit Kashmir and Naya Kashmir movements gathered steam. In fact, a resolution passed by the Working Committee of the All J&K national Conference on January 17, 1946 on the treaty rights claimed by the princes manifested itself in these words: “The advice tendered by the Crown Representative to the princes regarding the steps to be taken in making the administration of these states progressive did not amount to anything. In fact, it lost all its significance when he (viceroy), made such progress conditional on the maintenance of the treaties and the consent of the princes.

“These treaties and engagements which are outdated, reactionary and questionable have always stood and will always stand in the way of the states people’s progress and to think that the rulers will give up their privileged positions that they enjoy under them at their sweet will is nothing but wishful thinking. The NC has at several occasions made it clear that these treaties have been made in times and under circumstances which don’t obtain now and have been framed without seeking the consent of the states people. Under such circumstances, no treaties or engagements which act as a dividing wall between their progress and that of their brethren British India, can be binding on the people.”

In Kashmir’s case, it was the Treaty of Amritsar signed on March 16, 1846 between Sir Henry Hardinge, governor general and Maharaja Gulab Singh.  Most of these treaties were usually made after a conflict between the officers and agents of the East India company and persons who, many thought, had no status of independence, but who had come to exercise authority over part of the country, after the collapse of the central authority, which resulted from the fall of the Mughal Empire.

Panditji was clearly anti-autocracy and his views had been moulded by his fight for freedom against the British Imperialists. Sometime in April 1946, he asked his private secretary DN Kachru to prepare a note on the problems of the Indian states. This note provides a perspective on what was to transpire later and in many ways is prescient:

The British Cabinet Mission has arrived in India for what seems to be a serious attempt to solve the Indo-British conflict and forge a final settlement between the two countries. The fateful talks between the Indian spokesmen and the British delegates have thus begun and soon the British plan or formula will be known to us. The position of the Indian states would naturally not be clear in the initial stages of the talks as their future depends, to a great extent, on the shape of political structure that will ultimately emerge as a result of these negotiations.

“The future of the states naturally depends on the outcome of the talks. Yet the problem of the states is a part of the main problem and is thus inevitably linked up with the issue of Indian independence. Discussion about it may be postponed, but it can never be ignored or even bypassed for any longer period.

“Thus in the event of the negotiations coming to a successful conclusion two main problems will confront us so far as the Indian states are concerned. First the problem of convening a Constituent Assembly, which must inevitably follow the success of the negotiations and the coming into it of the representatives of the states’ people on a democratic basis.

“Regarding the first problem – the Constituent Assembly – the position with regard to the states has so far shown no improvement whatsoever. The ambiguity with regard to them still continues and recent statements of the secretary of state for India, strengthens our doubts and misgivings as to the British intentions. The stand taken by the British in the announcement of the viceroy – September, 1945 – with regard to the position of the states in the Constitution making body stands unaltered.

“Briefly stated, the position with regard to Indian states is this: That while representatives of the provinces, who will be invited to discuss the constitution of the Constitution making body will be the duly elected representatives of the people of the province, the representatives of the Indian states, who will sit with them for such discussions will hardly have any representative character to inspire the confidence of the people of the states. The British stand regarding the States would seem to be that the representatives from the states should be nominees of the princes or at best of the present government of the state. The Indian princes have also not shown any tendency to accommodate popular elements with their governments and it is highly unlikely that at the time of selecting representatives for the constitutional discussions due regard will be paid to the opinions and wishes of the states’ people.

The recent Cabinet crisis in Kashmir, which resulted in the resignation of Mirza Afzal Beg, the popular minister, reveals in a striking manner the inherent defect of this type of diarchy. Then there is the problem of the smaller states which number more than 500. There are no legislature in most of them and even popular political organizations have not developed within them. The problem of their representation was solved in the Act of 1935 by grouping them into smaller groups for the purpose of representation in the federal legislature. If the same method is adopted in the case of the Constitution making body, who is to select their representatives?

Recently, however, some statements have been made which suggest a possibility of compromise between the Indian princes and the people. Sir Manubhai Mehta, chairman of the States’ Ministers Committee, has clearly stated that the Indian princes would have no objection to introducing responsible governments in the states provided the monarchial form of government in states is guaranteed. I believe the guarantee which he refers to is demanded from the Indian political leadership and the people of the states and not from the British government. This I believe should serve as the basis of a detailed talk and compromise.

The second statement which I referred to is the announcement of the Secretary to the Chamber of Princes emphasizing the importance of a settlement between the Indian national leadership and the Indian princes. He further stated that very soon Indian princes will initiate discussions with the British Indian parties on the basis of talks and suggestions initiated at the round Table Conference. I need hardly comment upon these statements for they only show the anxiety of the princely order to try and come to some sort of agreement with their people.

It is, however, doubtful if the demands of the princes can be acceptable to the people of the states but if the rulers of the states bring about a real transfer of power to their people by way of guaranteeing the responsibility of the executive to the legislature; by transferring real and essential powers to the legislature; by increasing the franchise and by defining the position and powers of the ruler will no doubt created for the continuance of the princely order and for the existence of larger Indian states even after the final transfer of power from the British to Indian hands.

But much will depend on the content of the government set up in the states at that time and on the behaviour of the Indian princes during the interim period. As regards the second point – Transfer of Paramountcy’ – which is in the final analysis only a part of the first one, there can be no two opinions. Indian states, if they survive the new political shake up, cannot be allowed to have a separate existence outside the orbit of independent India. Inevitably they shall have to fit into the political structure that will finally emerge and obviously, therefore, they must owe allegiance, not to any foreign authority but to the central governing authority of the country”.

In many ways, this note became the basis of Panditji’s dealing with the princes for it provided a lucid analysis of where the new Indian stood vis a vis the princes and their amalgamation into the Dominion of India. There were some among the princes who thought differently but all that came to pass ultimately. Kachru’s note drafted in Anand Bhawan, Allahabad, approaches the problem from all angles:

“With the dawn of Indian independence, the problem of national reconstruction and political consolidation will naturally assume primary importance; and Indian states, wherever they exist, shall have to fit into the future plans of the country. Independent existence of states is thus unthinkable and can never be permitted under any circumstances.

“Looking at the map of India, we find scattered over the whole country and in small clustered groups, five hundred and odd feudal protectorates enjoying various degrees of autonomy and occupying territories of great significance. Living within these territories, we also find about 10 crore people who have indissoluble ties of race and religion, culture and behaviour, with their countrymen across the states’ borders. They are also Indian and though Britain’s Imperialist necessities have forced them to live under feudal tutelage, they have neither recognized the princely domination nor agreed to the separation from their countrymen.

“The latest national struggle, popularly called the Quit India movement, enlarged considerably the scope and conception of India’s battle for freedom and the Indians in the states participated actively, in their own right in the nation’s battle for independence.

Viewed in this context, the problem of the states have two aspects – national and local. Nationally, the Indian states will have to find a place for themselves in the future free India and fit into the new scheme of things. The place that they will occupy will naturally not be of their choosing but will be determined by the requirements of the country. Therefore the Indian states as they exist today shall have to be abolished and replaced by new political structures in consonance and harmony with the general scheme of things.

At the same time, it is futile to argue about the representative capacity of the Indian princes. The princes don’t represent anybody excepting the class which they belong to. They cannot be taken to represent their states or the people within them. That position is reserved for the people’s chosen representatives and not for those who, more than anyone else, have been responsible for their backwardness and degradation. The territories of the Indian states, belong to the people and not to the princes and if they hold these under their suzerainty, it is because the British bayonets make such an unnatural and an authoritarian system possible.

“As to the treaties, it would be equally puerile to parade them as justification for the continuation of the princely order. These treaties as is well know were brought about at different times during the long history of British consolidation in India and under circumstances and exigencies which no longer exist. During this long period, these treaties have undergone change from time to time and have often been interpreted according to the Imperialist necessities of Britain. Existence of a treaty of friendship and alliance has never prevented the paramount powers from interfering in the internal affairs of the states, or from deposing or even humiliating a prince publicly.

The system of central direction and control developed under a doctrine of paramountcy has reduced the so- called treaties to meaningless scraps of paper, which the paramount power may or may not honour. No document, howsoever legal and scared, has any moral justification for its existence if it is intended to enslave a people and to prevent their liberation. Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer has sensed this danger underlying the tall talk of the princely order and in one of his comments, “to put it bluntly, much of what is stated about treaty rights and treaty relationships is beside the point. I would rather rest upon the bonafides of the governing power in India and I would request Rulers to put the so called treaty rights aside and ask for fair and equitable treatment’”.

As such Nehru and his ilk decided to base their demands of a new India on this very paradigm. The bulwark of which was:

Abolition of smaller states in terms of the Udaipur resolutions of the All India States People’s Conference;

The states thus affected may either be merged in the surrounding provinces or amalgamated among themselves, with a view to form suitably big units for purpose of administration and federation;

While enforcing this decision due regard shall be paid to the wishes of the people thus affected and to the cultural and linguistic contiguity of these states either with each other or with the surrounding provinces; and

Suitable arrangement will also be made for the maintenance of the princes thus affected and they may be given ample opportunities to prove useful to society.

With the bigger states, numbering around twelve, a separate set of demands was set aside:

Annual the so called treaties and such other arrangements, entered into between the British and the princes;

Transfer of powers and prerogatives of the British paramountcy to the central federal authority of the nation and abolish system of separate relationship with the princes. The princes to have no direct relations with the Crown or its representative in India; and all powers and authority possessed and inherent in the Crown with respect to the status to be immediately transferred to the Sovereign people of India or their duly elected Central Government;

States to be units in the federal scheme with position and status similar to that enjoyed by other units;

Abolish the Imperial Service troops and State Forces and substitute them by arrangements provided in the other units, for the maintenance of law and order; and

All cases of accession or like disputes to be settled by the federal authority in accordance with the wishes of the people of the States concerned.

Now lets us examine the position of the ruler as it existed then. Think of the constitutional problems that the new government would have had to grapple with. The position, power and prerogatives of the ruler were nowhere clearly defined or limited. Aundh was perhaps the solitary instance of an Indian state where a definite change was stipulated under these three parameters. No real attempt was made to transform the Indian princes into Constitutional Monarchs.

The Aundh constitution laid down that the Raja of Aundh shall ‘be the first servant and conscience bearer of the people’. Transferring the state government into the hands of the popular and responsible ministry, and reserving, to himself only, “the relations with Paramount Power and other states”.  Regarding legislation, the ruler of Aundh enjoyed only a suspensive veto like the King of England and his privy purse, which is limited to one tenth of the state revenues, was also subjected to the veto of the legislature.

Cochin, which was the first Indian state to introduce diarchy in the state, got the position of ruler defined by the Constitution which clearly stated that, “though the administration of these departments will be normally carried out in accordance with the advice of the ministers, it is necessary that the Maharaja’s prerogatives should be preserved unimpaired”.

The Rajkot scheme went a step further and laid down the powers conferred upon the people are ‘subject to the absolute veto powers of the Ruler and his discretion. The Government of Baroda Constitution Act of 1940, reiterated the position still further. It stated: “Notwithstanding anything contained in this or any other Act, all powers, legislative, executive and judicial, in relation to the State and its Govt are hereby declared to be and to have always been inherent in and possessed and retained by His Highness and nothing contained in this or any other Act shall affect or be deemed to have affected the rights and prerogatives of His Highness to make laws, by virtue of his inherent authority”.

In Hyderabad, a peculiar theory of kingship was developed in the Constitutional reforms of the state. The Hyderabad reforms stated: “The Head of the State represents the people directly in his own person, and his connection with them, therefore, is more natural and abiding than that of any passing elected representatives. He is both the supreme Head of State and embodiment of the people’s sovereignty. Hence it is that, in such polity, the Head of State not merely retains power to confirm or veto any piece of legislation, but also enjoys a special prerogative to make or unmake his executive change the machinery of government through which he meets the growing needs of his people. Such sovereignty forms the basis on which our Constitution rests and has to be preserved”.

Power was not easily going to be relinquished by the princes and with absolute power corrupting, some of them suffered from delusions of grandeur and thought of either going with Pakistan or establishing independent entities with the help of the British Political Department. Kashmir was one such prominent case. Using the so-called loophole over the Treaty rights with the British, they dreamt the dream of independence. The Butler Committee described paramountcy as – “Paramountcy must remain paramount; it must fulfil its obligations defining or adapting itself according to the shifting necessities of the time and progressive development of the state.” Well known political officer Sir William Barton put it more aptly when he said, “Paramountcy is the outcome of military supremacy over the great sub continent of India, an inevitable corollary of a military protectorate”.

In the end, the new government’s thinking on the legality of paramountcy was governed by these facts:

After the unsuccessful revolution of 1857, the paramountcy of the East India company was transferred to the Crown of England. By the Act of 1858, the Queen of England assumed the title of Empress of India including the states. The consent of the Indian states to such a transfer as also that of the people of the provinces was taken to be implied in the instrument of transfer;

Till the enactment of the Act of 1935, the relations between the states and the British government were carried on by the governor general in council; and the states in the various agencies were under their respective provincial governors;

The state owes allegiance and subordinate cooperation to the British Crown not in its individual or personal capacity, but to the emperor of India in his political capacity or aspect;

The relation of the states were therefore, with the King Emperor of India and not the King of England;

Having succeeded to the company, the Crown of England as the sovereign of India as a whole was also the legal entity which functioned also as the paramount power in respect to the states;

Thus on assuming the supremacy over India, the Crown immediately and automatically became the sovereign of states which were and always were pars of India; and

There is thus nothing to prevent the British Parliament from transferring its Paramountcy over the whole of India by statute to ministers responsible to an Indian legislature.

Kachru summed up his paper by suggesting “It is evident that the final transfer of power from British hands to that of the Indians must also include the transfer of the powers and prerogatives of the Crown held by the Crown in relation to the Indian states. India went under the Crown as a whole and she must be freed from its supremacy as a whole”.


Sandeep Bamzai