Many people reckon that Lord Mountbatten’s July 25, 1947, full regalia replete with Royal Family spit and polish became a defining moment in breaching the princes’ stockade.
Mountbatten held a meeting with the Chamber of Princes, where he addressed the question of the princely states, of which there were about 565. The treaty relations between Britain and the Indian States would come to an end, and on August 15, 1947, the suzerainty of the British Crown was to lapse. It was a tour de force from Mountbatten who called out the princes who still believed that the British would save them from the Congress.
During the course of his speech, he made several telling points, none more seminal than: The first step was to set up some machinery by which it was possible to put the two future Governments of India — the Dominions of India and Pakistan — in direct touch with the states. “So I conceived the scheme of setting up two States Departments within the future governments,” Mountbatten declared.
These States Departments are not successors of Political Departments. “They have been set up simultaneously and side by side,” Mountbatten clarified. It left the Princes present in a complete daze and with a deep sense of betrayal.
The Nawab of Bhopal did not attend the meeting of the rulers and states. He felt, as he put it, that they were being invited like the Oysters to attend the tea party with the Walrus and the Carpenter. He, along with the Maharaja of Indore, headed a group of rulers who strenuously opposed accession.
The Nawab was firmly of the opinion that it would be impossible for Bhopal to become an organic part of either Dominion. He suggested that he should enter into treaty relations with both the Dominions. He was handled throughout by Lord Mountbatten.
According to V.P. Menon, he was present at most of their meetings. Lord Mountbatten’s long-standing personal friendship with the Nawab played its part in the latter’s decision to accede. By the first week of August the Nawab had realised that the vast majority of the rulers had opted for accession and that, if he did not come in, Bhopal would be left in an anomalous and difficult position.
He wanted to know whether he could sign a Standstill Agreement without acceding. Mountbatten and Menon told him that Standstill Agreements would not be signed with rulers who refused to accede. He then sent his Constitutional Adviser, Sir Mohammad Zafarullah Khan, to clarify the terms of the Instrument of Accession.
The confabulation continued. Menon made it clear to Sir Mohammad that it would be impossible to make any alterations in the Instrument of Accession and that Bhopal would have to join on the same terms as all other states. At last the Nawab signed, but with the stipulation that his signature should be kept secret for 10 days after the transfer of power. There was no difficulty in complying with this request.
In his address to the Constituent Assembly on the morning of August 15, Lord Mountbatten referred to the success of the accession policy and paid a tribute to Sardar as a far-sighted statesman.
He said: “It is a great triumph for the realism and sense of responsibility of the rulers and the governments of the States as well as for the Government of India that it was possible to produce an Instrument of Accession which was equally acceptable to both sides; and one, moreover, so simple and so straightforward that within less than three weeks practically all the states concerned had signed the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement. There is thus established a unified political structure.”
Menon writes: “The masterly handling of the rulers by Sardar was the foremost factor in the success of the accession policy. The rulers soon came to recognise him as a stable force in Indian politics and as one who would give them a fair deal.
“Added to this, his unfailing politeness to the rulers, viewed against his reputation as the Iron Man of India, endeared him to them and created such confidence that all accepted his advice without demur. Nehru was feared by the Princes so they preferred to talk to Sardar.”
Another factor which went a long way in winning over the rulers was of course the infectious charm and inborn tact of Lord Mountbatten. It was because of his abundant love for India, and not merely because he was obliged to do so, that he had taken upon himself the task of negotiating with the rulers on the question of accession. And once he undertook any task, he invariably put the whole weight of his personality into what he was doing and spared himself no effort. Half-hearted methods and half-hearted measures are alien to him. India can never forget the magnificent service he rendered at a critical juncture in her history.
Nor can one forget the rulers, but for whose willing and patriotic cooperation the policy of accession could not have been implemented. They gave ample evidence of imagination, foresight and patriotism and, as Sardar himself remarked, they might well claim to be co-architects of a free and united India.
Menon writes: “It is not possible to name all the many rulers who cooperated with us. Sir Pratap Singh, Gaekwar of Baroda, was the first ruler actually to sign the Instrument of Accession, though I think the first announcement of accession was made by the Dewan of Gwalior, M.A. Srinivasan, on behalf of the Maharajah, Sir Jivaji Rao Scindia of Gwalior. The latter had been of great help during the negotiations and had undoubtedly exercised a healthy influence on several rulers. But the greatest share of the credit for giving a patriotic lead to the rulers and convincing them that it was in their own interest to accede to India must go to the late Maharajah Sir Sadul Singh of Bikaner and Maharajah Sir Yadavindra Singh of Patiala.
“The former’s valuable help was acknowledged in several letters which Sardar addressed to him. Lord Mountbatten publicly referred to it in his speech at Bikaner while investing the Maharaja with the G.C.S.I. By the untimely death of Sir Sadul Singh, the country lost a patriotic ruler who had made the utmost sacrifices without bitterness. For myself, I lost a very great personal friend.
“Maharaja Sir Yadavindra Singh of Patiala had cooperated with us ever since my first meeting with him at the Hotel Imperial. This young ruler, who was only thirty-four years of age at that time, showed remarkably robust patriotism and his contribution cannot be lightly forgotten.
“The Jam Saheb, too, was a tower of strength in those days of hectic negotiations. He always brought a practical mind to bear upon our problems and many an otherwise trying hour was enlivened by his sparkling humour.”
Forewarned is forearmed is an old saying. Freedom and independence had a different connotation for the Princes. Take the Maharaja of Nawanagar and his acerbic comment to the rest of his brethren: “Without entering into some kind of organic relationship with the Central Government, Your Highnesses would be totally exposed to the Congress Party-inspired agitations with no help to come as until now from the Reserved Crown Police under the Political Department.”
Another major calamity for the Union of India was averted by Mountbatten and Sardar when he managed to convince Jodhpur to stay on this side after the Maharaja flirted with Jinnah. And he was even trying to wean away fellow border Hindu Princes.
As Narendra Singh Sarila, Mountbatten’s ADC, writes in ‘Once a Prince of Sarila: Of Palaces and Tiger Hunts, of Nehrus and Mountbattens’: “Bhopal Ruler Nawab Hamidullah Khan with some neighbouring Hindu Princes did not attend the July 25, 1947, meeting of the Chamber addressed by Mountbatten saying that they were being invited like the Oyster to attend the tea party with the Walrus and the Carpenter (reference to Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’, which ended in an unfortunate manner for the oyster). Thhe Rulers of J&K and Travancore-Cochin were also not present (the former had not been invited).
“The Nizam never attended Chamber meetings thinking it was beneath him since he was the Exalted Highness. The Nawab of Bhopal as explained repeatedly earlier was by now an open rebel having entered the Pakistani camp and was busy persuading his Hindu Princely friends whose territories lay between Bhopal and the western wing of Pakistan, such as Indore, Baroda and Rajasthan States, not to accede to the Indian Dominion.
“Mountbatten himself records how he foiled Bhopal’s plan: A serious effect which Jodhpur’s planned defection from New Delhi would have been to open up opportunities to contiguous States such as Jaisalmer, Udaipur and Jaipur to accede to Pakistan through contiguity provided by Jodhpur. …
“The young Maharaja of Jodhpur was next taken to see Mr Jinnah in the presence of Nawab of Bhopal and Sir Mohd. Zafarullah Khan, the latter’s adviser who later became the first foreign minister of Pakistan. Mr Jinnah offered the Maharaja the use of Karachi as a free port, free import of arms, jurisdiction over the railways which ran between Jodhpur and Hyderabad in Sind, and a large supply of grain for famine-threatened areas in the State — all on the condition that Jodhpur would declare its independence on August 15 and subsequently join Pakistan.
“Jodhpur is reported to have said later: After explaining the offer Mr Jinnah pushed across the table a blank paper with his signature on it asking me to fill in our other terms for acceding to Pakistan. Expecting trouble from the Congresswallas after independence, was frankly tempted. But the heir apparent of Jaisalmer who was with me suggested we consult my mother, the Dowager Maharani, and the Sardars at Jodhpur. So I thanked Mr Jinnah for his offer and said we would think about it and then return. As soon as I said this Jinnah pulled away rather brusquely the blank paper with his signature that I held in my fingers.”
Mountbatten’s own report goes on to say: “A family council attended by some headmen was held in Jodhpur on August 5 where the majority was against joining Pakistan. The Maharaja still thought that Mr Jinnah’s offer was the best and telegraphed to the Nawab of Bhopal saying he would meet him to fix up details in Delhi on August 11. On August 7, the Maharaja of Jodhpur left for Baroda to persuade the Gaekwar not to sign the Instrument of Accession. The same day a telegram was sent to the Maharaja saying that I wanted to see him at once.”
It was apparent that Sardar Patel was prepared to go to any length to prevent this from materialising. Patel agreed that Jodhpur should continue to allow his Rajputs to carry and import arms without restrictions. Patel also undertook to provide food for their famine-stricken districts and finally assured that he would give the highest priority for the building of a railway from Jodhpur to a port in Kutch.
On these terms — and no doubt on account of the Viceroy’s pressure — young Dhanwant Singh gave in Mountbatten then turned his attention to other wayward and sluggard Princes.
Indore, another of Bhopal’s friends, refused to come and see Mountbatten: “I got hold of the maharaja of Baroda and the maharaja of Kolhapur and asked them to collect other Maratha Rulers to fly down and bring the Maharaja of Indore with them.”
When Indore finally agreed to show up in Delhi on August 5, Mountbatten told him caustically: that he had shown a lamentable lack of sense of responsibility towards his people apart from discourtesy which he had shown for the Crown Representative. Mountbatten noted: “The Maharaja handed me a long letter that argued that my policy was against the one announced by the British Government in Parliament.”
He went back to his State without signing the Instrument of Accession. But he sent it to the States Ministry by ordinary post so that it reached on August 15, 1947. The Maharaja of Baroda told the Viceroy that the Prime Minister of Indore, a British ex-police officer named Ralph Albert Horton, in conjunction with the Nawab of Bhopal was behind his recalcitrance.
All this would not have been possible without Menon. He was the mason who laid the edifice for the integration of the Princely States. From Mountbatte’s Counsellor, he became Sardar Patel’s instrumentality, a potent weapon.
Menon kept himself up to speed with everything that was happening with Jinnah, the princes and of course the Political Department, which was the source of mischief. He had his own network and intelligence service which he used most effectively. In November, 1946, Jinnah had told Lord Wavell: “The British should give me my own bit of territory, however small it may be.” Obsessed with the idea of Pakistan, he told Mountbatten on April 10, 1947: I don’t care how little you give as long as you give it to me completely.”
The outline of this deal with the British that Jinnah obsessed over was:
- Partition of India on the Wavell Plan, that is, the smaller Pakistan.
- An immediate transfer of power.
- As this could only be done by amending the Act of 1935, which was in force (rather than wait for the labours of the Consembly or Assemblies to be completed), this procedure would ipso facto mean the two successor States would become independent as British Dominions and as part of the Commonwealth, or whatever was decided by their respective Constituent Assemblies ultimately.
*And to make India accept the amputation of the NWFP (ruled by the Congress) and Baluchistan from its territory, Mountbatten was to give a verbal assurance to Patel that he would persuade the Princes to accede to one or the other Dominion and oppose any princely state from trying to become independent. Such an assurance would mean 90 per cent of the territories of princely states would go to India and more than compensate it for the territory lost to Pakistan.
(Sandeep Bamzai is the Editor-In-Chief of IANS and author of ‘Princestan: How Nehru, Patel and Mountbatten Made India’ (Rupa), which won the Kalinga Literary Festival (KLF) Book Award 2020-21 in the non-fiction category.)