Formation of Department for Indian princely States immediately preceding independence

Sardar Patel and V.P. Menon.
Lord Mountbatten in conversation with V.P. Menon.

A couple of months before independence, during a meeting of the Viceroy and Governor-General Lord Mountbatten with leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League, a decision was taken to set up a new States Department. Shri V.P. Menon was given the responsibility of preparing, in consultation with the Political Adviser, a note which would present definite proposals.

Shri Menon presented a memorandum, suggesting that the proposed department should function as a single organization with two ministers, one each from the Congress and the Muslim League. It was proposed to have two secretaries in charge, so that the department could be divided into two on the partition of the country. The memorandum was approved by Lord Mountbatten, and circulated among the members of the Cabinet. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, on behalf of the Congress, included the name of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as Minister. At the time, Sardar Patel was member for Home and Information & Broadcasting in the interim Cabinet, Mohammad Ali Jinnah suggested the name of Abdur Rab Nishtar on behalf of the Muslim League.

A few days later, Sardar Patel asked V.P. Menon to take up the post of Secretary of the States Department. Menon was reluctant and told Sardar Patel that he wanted to take all the leave that he had accumulated and to retire from Government service after 15th August 1947. For thirty years he had been dealing with constitutional reforms. He was indeed overworked and was feeling the strain, not having taken a break in several years. He had never expected that he would see freedom for India in his lifetime. But since that had materialized suddenly, he felt that his life’s ambition had been achieved.

Sardar, though, would have none of it. He told Menon that because of the abnormal situation in the country, people like him should not think in terms of rest and retirement. He stressed that Menon had played a prominent part in the transfer of power, and that he should consider it his bounden duty to work for the consolidation of freedom. Menon agreed that the country’s interests, and not his own personal preferences, should be the guiding factor.        

Since Menon was Constitutional Adviser to Lord Mountbatten, and the appointment was to take place immediately, he mentioned it to the Governor-General and Viceroy. Lord Mountbatten said that he was proposing Menon’s appointment as Governor of one of the more important States. But Menon replied that Sardar Patel felt that he should remain, for some time at least, with the Government of India, in the interests of the country. Lord Mountbatten advised Menon to accept Sardar Patel’s offer. Menon then intimated to Sardar Patel the acceptance of his offer.

Sardar Patel and Menon had got on well together since they had met for the first time on 21 August 1946, resolving occasional differences of opinion by mutual and amicable discussion. Menon stated that he had always made it a point to consult Sardar Patel, as far as possible, on important developments in the constitutional field, and that it was the latter’s powerful support that had made possible the transfer of power. The position at that time was that, though Menon consulted Sardar Patel, the responsibility for whatever advice he gave to the Governor-General was finally Menon’s. Menon hoped that as Minister and Secretary, they would be able to work well together. Sardar Patel replied that things would sail through smoothly.

Menon was apprehensive that there was a feeling that Congress leaders mistrusted the permanent Services, but Sardar Patel allayed those fears. He added that, whatever might have been the attitude of politicians to the Services in the past, he was confident that in the future everyone would play the game. For his own part, he would do everything possible to bring about a most cordial atmosphere between the Cabinet and the Services. And he kept his word.

They then discussed the general situation in the country as a result of partition, and the problem of the princely States in particular. Menon told Sardar Patel that under the Cabinet Mission plan, the States need not join any of the Constituent Assemblies, but that they could have particular arrangements with the Government of the Dominion to which they were geographically contiguous.

After the announcement of the partition, the rulers on the Indian side of the border realized that they should strengthen the Indian Union and so were gradually coming into the Constituent Assembly. They, however, zealously guarded their sovereignty, and Menon felt strongly that they should not be rubbed the wrong way.

At the same time, the attitude of some of the rulers of the big States was disconcerting and Pakistan was playing with the idea of getting some of the border States to cast in their lot with it. Sardar told Menon that the situation held dangerous potentialities, and that if they did not handle it promptly and effectively, the hard-earned freedom might disappear through the States’ door.

(Adapted from ‘The Story of the Integration of Indian States’ by Shri V.P. Menon).

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