Integration of Princely States
The Cabinet Mission of 1946 made only a brief comment in relation to the states in its recommendations.
The ‘Partition Plan’ of 3 June 1947 stated that the British government’s policy towards the states remained as explained in the Cabinet Mission’s memorandum. Indeed, until this point the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, had been preoccupied with the negotiations with Congress and Muslim League on Pakistan. With just a little over two months left for transfer of power, the future of the princely states hung in the balance.
The question of the states was further complicated by the opposing positions adopted by the Congress and the Muslim League. The Congress leaders held that the states had to join either of two dominions. Mohammed Ali Jinnah claimed they could also opt to stay independent. By mid-June 1947, Travancore and Hyderabad, on encouragement from Jinnah, announced their decision to remain independent and sovereign entities. Congress leaders feared that this might lead to a ‘Balkanization’ of India. They passed a stern resolution stating that the lapse of paramountcy did not mean independence for the states, and that the people—as opposed to the princes—should decide the question of accession. Jinnah, for his part, issued statements espousing the right of the rulers to decide on accession and to remain independent.
Thus the problem facing Mountbatten was to devise a form of accession that would simultaneously convince the princes to give up independence and remove the concerns of the Congress leadership. More importantly, the states would have to be convinced to accede prior to 15 August 1947. The solution to this conundrum was devised by Mountbatten’s constitutional advisor, V.P. Menon. Menon came up with a simple yet ingenious idea.
The states would be asked to accede only in respect of defence, foreign affairs, and communications—issues over which they had long ago lost control. In all other matters, they would be unconstrained by the Union government.
Even if it was not openly brandished by New Delhi, the states knew that they were weak and vulnerable to economic blockade. The measures taken against Junagadh (and later Hyderabad) would have reinforced this perception. Further, the princes realized that following Indian independence their subjects also expected democratic transformation.
The states ‘People’s Congresses’ and ‘Praja Mandals’ were already engaged in mobilizing the people to press for such change. The wider currents of political change were increasingly proving difficult to resist.
These considerations eventually led the ‘governors’ of newly amalgamated entities to sign fresh instruments of accession, ceding to the Union the powers to pass laws in respect of all matters falling within the federal and concurrent legislative lists of the Government of India Act of 1935.
These entities, in short, merged with the Union of India. In return, these princes were offered a handsome ‘privy purse’, its size pegged to the revenue earned by the state. In addition, most of the rulers of the biggest states were given a place in the new constitutional order as governors and lieutenant governors, or offered attractive ambassadorial appointments.
When the Indian Constitution came into force, it contained a fourfold classification of the States of the Indian Union:
- Part A: Consisted of nine erstwhile Governor’s Provinces of British India.
- Part B: Consisted of 9 erstwhile Princely States with Legislatures.
- Part C: Consisted of Erstwhile Chief Commissioner’s Provinces of British India and some of the erstwhile Princely States, total 10 in number.
- Part D: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands were kept as the solitary State.