The Princes had loomed so large in the public eye that it was interesting to study their evolution from the state of helpless infancy to all powerful divinity
Masters of intrigue and subterfuge, the Indian Princes through linkages with Paramountcy thought they were infallible. Birthed by the British who chose them to be their allies against the nationalist headwinds with the Congress as its vanguard, the Rulers only viewed themselves from the prism of their relationship as the Rajas with the suzerain. Beyond that they couldn't care less, but the reality was that one sixth of the Indian people suffered due to the continued exclusion from civilised human rights. Such was the impoverished nature of the populace under the Indian Prices that it was practically a life of serfdom. However, they were smart enough to understand that the sands were shifting and that decolonisation was the way forward with India and England parting ways. Playing the role of pious piranha, they chose to muddy the waters in every way possible. The Princes themselves had loomed so large in the public eye, both in Great Britain and in India, that it was interesting to study their evolution from the state of helpless infancy to that of all powerful divinity. Their excesses were legendary and yet they ruled with British Paramountcy backing them to the hilt. Though they built a moat around themselves by creating a Chamber of Princes or Narendra Mandal, a hot house of chicanery and deceit, in the ultimate analysis a cleave on communal lines crippled it as both Lord Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru worked on their psyches. In pursuance of the Montagu-Chelmsford Report on Constitutional Reforms in India dealing primarily with the question of Indian States, it was inaugurated in Delhi by His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught on February 8, 1921. A proclamation from His majesty the King Emperor was read in which the hope was expressed that the united counsels of the Princes and Rulers, assembled for formal conclave, will be fruitful of lasting good both to themselves and their subjects and by advancing the interests that are common to their territories and to British India will benefit my Empire as a whole." The proclamation went onto say - the Chamber will be a means by which the bonds of mutual understanding will be strengthened and the growing identity of interests between the Indian States and the rest of my Empire will be fostered and developed. The Duke while opening the Chamber gave the Princes and Rulers more hope when he said - I know that your Highnesses will appreciate the trust reposed in you by His Imperial majesty and his government and will worthily respond both as pillars of the Empire and as Rulers striving ever for the greater happiness and prosperity of your own subjects. Now as new challenges emerge to the idea, ideal and idiom of India with Kashmiri militants, Maoist insurgents and North eastern guerrillas waging war against the state, it is time to re-examine how India was turned into a whole, how systematically the Indian Princes who had visions of a Third Dominon over and above Pakistan, and India were whittled down and brought to heel.
Emboldened the wily Nawab of Bhopal who became the Chancellor of this Chamber tried at every twist and turn in the run up to independence to keep his flock together and out of the Indian National Congress' dragnet. By December 1944 as talk of independence swirled around the dust bowls, they decided to amplify their first major protest!! The Standing committee of the Chamber of Princess resigned en bloc and the session of the Chamber of Princes was postponed sine die. And what was more important, prominent members of the Princely Order including the Chancellor of the Chamber left the capital in a huff to fight their battle from their citadels. These were significant developments and although the Princes are maintaining an apparent calm, the situation seemed to be much more serious than it looked like for the (Indian Princes were not used to protesting so very publicly and instances of joint action on their part were minuscule. That they chose this step after careful deliberation revealed the acute differences between them and the Government of India regarding not only the future Indian Constitution but also the internal reforms in the Indian States. That India was going to have a new political shake-up, followed immediately after by a probable constitutional advance was admitted by one and all and could not be denied, even by the most conservative die hards. The London Times clearly sensed the real situation and broadly hinted that the “Princes have been sufficiently impressed by the needs of the moment to ask for a certain assurance regarding the effect of recent tendencies upon their position”. The worry of the Princely Order, which they made abundantly clear in the Draft Resolution, drafted for discussion in the Chamber and which was later made public. The Princes reiterated that “the Crown's” relationship with the States and the Crown’s power in respect of the States could not and should not be transferred to any third party or other authority without the consent of the states concerned” and further that the Crown Representative should convey to the British Government “the grave misgivings and apprehensions aroused in the States by the recent tendency to alter the State’s relationship with the Crown,” the inviolability of which had been guaranteed and assured by various Royal pronouncements and other official announcements. The Princes, in short, wished to know what position was to be assigned to them in the future scheme of things and what steps the Paramount Power intended taking, in order to protect and safeguard them against the new forces and factors which must dominate the post-war era. This brought into bold relief the problem of Indian States and also their future and it would therefore be highly interesting to analyse the whole question in the light of the present dispute and the recent, no less significant developments, in the Indian political situation. India was ripe for a transfer of power as the War wound down. The British themselves were fatigued after a six-year War.

Main points of Dispute
Before the Princes tried their hand at a stand off with the Congress, they had to deal with their British Masters. Briefly stated, the main points of dispute between the Indian Princes and the Paramount Power seemed to be:

The Merger scheme, introduced in the Western Indian States with the possibility of being introduced in other zones also;

Treaty Rights and obligations; Future Constitutional Changes in India and their repercussions on the Indian States; Joint Administrative and Judicial Reforms; Arbitration of disputes between the States and the Paramount Power; Appointment of Political Officers in the Indian States and the Right of consultation and consent in all matters affecting the Indian States.

The genesis of the dispute was that on 15th and 16th September 1944, the Princes delegation met the Viceroy and put before him their fears and suspicions. This was followed up by a letter to the Political Adviser to the Crown Representative on October 13, wherein the Princes put down all their demands and grievances including also the resolutions to be moved before the Princes Chamber in December. The reply from the Political Department came on the December 2 and the Princes were definitely told to behave according to the instructions contained therein.
It was learnt that the Princes had prepared three main resolutions the third of which demanded:

a) right of consultation before the transfer of power from the British

b) that while the Princes would consider the amendment of Treaty rights in favour of Indian Constitutional advance the Crown Representative should give definite assurance that the bilateral agreements would remain inviolable and

c) lastly that the Princes should be given the right to negotiate with the third party, which could constitute the Free India government. This resolution, it was felt, was seriously objected to by the Political Department and the Princes were ordered not even to discuss the resolution much less move it in the open session of the Chamber.

Panic-stricken and worried
Looked at from the point of view of the Princes the situation is not difficult to understand. Having been protected and preserved by the mighty arm of the Paramount Power and having done nothing to deserve the goodwill of their people, they naturally felt upset at the prospect of British abdicating in favour of an Indian National government. A series of events during the 1940s convinced them that even the mighty British Government must inevitably submit to greater and more powerful forces and while conceding the demands of India as a whole, they must naturally ask the “protected Princes” also to set their “houses in order”. These events that began with Sir Stafford Cripps telling them “Gentlemen we are quitting; you must settle with the Congress” and followed soon after by the Scheme of Merger enforced in the Kathiawar States convinced them that the times were really changing and that they must try to wake up. The addresses of Lord Linlithgow to the Chamber of Princes assured them that the British too wished them to adjust a little to the changing times and when the Gandhi-Jinnah negotiations finally came about, they were convinced of the delicacy and the insecurity of their position. The British position at the same time was not difficult to fathom. The British Government in Indian could not continue to rule with ordinances much longer and when they bowed to political forces in British India, they could not hold in check similar demands of the people of the Indian States. The response, which the August Movement received in the Indian States, convinced everybody that the Indian States’ people would not rest until they have also secured a substantial measure of constitutional reforms in their States. Thus, while it would be wrong to suppose that the British government would wish the Indian Princes to concede fully responsible governments to their people, one could safely presume a certain amount of anxiety on the part of the British to make the Indian States System more efficient in order to play its part as the great bulwark of British rule in India. It is from this prism that one needed to look at the recent schemes of merger, common High Courts and of other administrative reforms in Indian States. Side by side with this, the British seemed to aim at extending the principle of Paramountcy from the political to the economic sphere also, which would not serve the purpose of enlarging the scope of economic welfare to the poor, downtrodden and underprivileged who inhabited these states.

The position, thus, was clear-cut for the Princes. Unfortunately they could not help it, for there was an element of fait accompli and many of the larger Princes thought they had been jettisoned by the British. Having become a part and parcel of the British Imperial system, they could not now find any independent position or existence for themselves outside it. They therefore needed to accept the dictates of those who ran the Imperial machinery and tried to find a justification for their existence in their so called Treaties and Engagements So as far as the ten crore people of the Indian States were concerned, it was a huge opportunity to join the nationalist movement and contribute to building full responsible governments in their own states. In many ways a double democracy was on the anvil, freedom from the Maharaja and the British themselves.
These people weren’t concerned or interested in the Treaties or Engagement of their Princes. These Engagements were neither entered into on their behalf nor with their consent and as such they could not be bound by them. The argument of the Princes’ spokesmen that the States were not the creation of the British and further that the Princes were sovereign did not appeal to them. They regard themselves a part and parcel of India and did not hold themselves bound by the territorial and political divisions made by the British. If British India had sovereign political rights restored to her, the people of Indian States would expect and in fact struggle for the restoration of these inherent human rights to them. The only concession they would probably make to the Princely Order would be to accept them as Constitutional Heads of the States with sovereign rights vested in the people and their duly elected legislatures and government. The position in Indian States, therefore, their future becomes clear. It resolves into a great conflict between irresponsible autocracy and a mass popular movement for popular rights. The movement for independence thus goes on in the Indian states also and with the acceptance of the principle of Self Determination, conceded in the Cripps Offer and recognised by the Indian National Congress; the mass movement in the Indian State needed to gain added importance. At that time the demand in the major Indian States was to become a cry for merger with the Home Provinces and it would well be well neigh impossible to resist the forces, which this new set-up would release. The Princes very well understood this also and that is why their spokesmen as also they themselves have shouted hoarse against the principle of Pakistan. But nothing could change the course of super-elemental forces and whatever has to be must come with the gradualness of inevitability.

Such was the prevalent mood in India, the British leaving was to complicate life for the INC, after all it was a bitter freedom won, but one that came with several casualties and needless bloodletting. It resulted in one of the biggest mass migrations the world has ever seen, enormous blood was spilled and what was remarkable through this scrum and frenzy was that a new India emerged as a whole, one that brought in the British ruled provinces and the vast swathe of inglorious Princes who plotted and connived till the end to stay out of the ambit of the Congress. They went screaming and kicking, but they succumbed to the pressure tactics of Mountbatten, Nehru and eventually Sardar Patel when the reorganisation of the States took place.

Sandeep Bamzai