Post independence, one of the first and major problems that surfaced was the integration of the princely states into the concept of a single unified, uniformly administered India. Since these princely states, were patronized by the British on a large scale during the 19th and 20th centuries, they were not comfortable with the idea of giving away their power and prestige.
Some of these states that posed problems were Jodhpur, Bhopal and Travancore before independence and Junagarh, Hyderabad and Kashmir post-independence.
After the battles of Plassey and Buxar, the British gained the political authority in the areas of Bengal which facilitated their economic exploitation of the area. Slowly through the instruments of Subsidiary Alliance and Doctrine of Lapse, they were able to gain hold on a vast territory by annexing the princely states, whose sovereignty was surrendered to the British. However, the revolt of 1857 served as an eye-opener. Accordingly, a proclamation was made in the Delhi Durbar held in 1858 by Queen Victoria that no more annexations of princely states would take place. Although this relaxation was a move that was welcomed by the princely states, however, they were still dependent on the British as the latter had control over most of the resources such as the fertile tracts of northern India and the marine resources of coastal parts of India. Geopolitically as well, they were powerful, as they had control over all the border areas adjoining India. The only difference was that earlier they were dependent on the British East India Company and post 1858 they became dependent on the British crown.
Subsequently, after India’s independence, this inheritance of power by the Indian government again compelled the princely states to be dependent on them for a host of their activities as well as survival. This also helped weaken their position in the Indian subcontinent and their demand of being sovereign.
With the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi in Indian politics and subsequently the expansion of Congress movement, the philosophy of the Congress was clearly evident. They aspired to establish a democratic state of India where a person of any stature and repute without the discriminations of caste, class and religion would be able to hold responsible positions in the government. The locals of these princely states too were influenced by the idea of the Congress and formed ‘Praja Mandals’, which the Congress encouraged. In 1927, various Praja Mandals grouped together to form the ‘All India States’ People’s conference’.
However, the attitude of the British even during the period of Transfer of power i.e., post World War II, was not aligned with the ideology of the Congress and the nationalists. For instance,
- Wavell Plan (1945) declared the princely states to be independent even after India’s independence.
- Cabinet Mission Plan (1946) reiterated that princely states would remain independent post India’s independence.
- British Prime minister, on 27th February, 1947 announced on the floor of the British Parliament that the princely states would join the future independent government of India at their own will.
These series of events were definitely a positive indication for the rulers of the princely states and a setback for the Congress and the nationalists.
However, VP Menon brought a change in this view and turned the bill of Indian Independence in India’s favour with respect to the princely states. It made their integration within the Indian state, mandatory and not optional. Following this, the Mountbatten Plan (3rd June, 1947) announced that the princely states will have to join any of the dominions of India or Pakistan according to their geographical location. But still the problem persisted with respect to the princely states lying on the border areas such as states of Junagarh and Kashmir.
Post Mountbatten’s announcement, the Indian National Congress advised all these princely states to join the constituent assembly and surrender their army, communications and foreign affairs initially. Some did join and others refused.
A new department called the ‘States’ department’ was created in June 1947 for the process of the integration of the princely states into the Indian territory. It was divided into three stages:
- In the first stage, V.P Menon would meet the diwans of these princely states.
- In the second, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel would meet the rulers.
- In the third, Governor General Mountbatten would meet these rulers for the last time.
After this, an instrument of accession would be signed between the princely states and the Government of India. But some princely states refused to join the Indian Territory and sign the instrument of accession such as Jodhpur, Travancore, Bhopal, Junagarh, Hyderabad and Kashmir.