The position of sovereign Indian States on the eve of independence, ultimately leading to integration with the Union of India later

Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla is seated third from left. To his left is the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, the famous cricketer Ranjitsinhji.

It had been a long process but finally the rulers of all the sovereign States geographically contiguous to India, with the exception of Junagadh and two small States under Muslim rulers in Kathiawar, Manavadar and Mangrol, had signed the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement by 15th August 1947. The accession of the rulers was only the prelude to a final solution of the issue of princely States. They continued to be under the rulers.

By the policy of accession, Government of India had ensured the fundamental unity of the country. India had become one federation, with the provinces administered by the Government and the sovereign States under their rulers as integral parts.

The Standstill Agreement had provided the basis for retaining intact the many agreements and administrative arrangements which had been built up over nearly a century for ensuring that all-India interests were safeguarded, and which, with the termination of British paramountcy, had threatened to disappear, and in the process throw the whole country into a state of confusion.

All this was done in an atmosphere of cordiality and goodwill. Government of India realised the strength of the rulers’ antagonism to anything which smacked of ‘paramountcy’. The Government’s object was, as set out in the Statement of 5th July, to ‘make laws sitting together as friends’. The Government’s efforts in this direction were successful.

The Government heaved a sigh of relief. The threatened fragmentation of India after independence had been averted, and the whole country had come under one political umbrella. The prophets of gloom who predicted disruption had been belied. Government of India had obtained breathing space during which they could evolve a permanent relationship between the Government and the princely States.

With regard to Kashmir, the States Ministry had made no approach to the ruler at all, though the Viceroy Lord Mountbatten visited Kashmir at the beginning of July 1947 to try and persuade Maharaja Hari Singh, who was a very old friend of his, to make up his mind to accede either to India or Pakistan.

On 14th August the States Ministry of Government of India took control of all the residencies from the British Political Department. At one place, the Resident refused to allow the Indian flag to be hoisted at the Residency on the morning of 15th August 1947. An untoward incident was averted when the officer realised his error in time and allowed the flag to be hoisted. But for this one incident there was no trouble anywhere.

There remained only the question of the creation of an organization to fill the vacuum created by the disappearance of the British Political Department and its local agencies in the sovereign States or groups of States. These British officials had served not only to exercise paramountcy functions, but to do a considerable amount of routine administrative work, such as operating various controls, issuing passports and arms licences and performing other similar duties. In order to continue this administrative work, especially in relation to the smaller States, the Government appointed Regional Commissioners in Rajkot, Kolhapur, Rajputana, Central India, the Simla Hill States, the Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand States and the Eastern States. Thus the gap which had threatened to balkanize the country was effectively stopped.

In his address to the Constituent Assembly on the morning of 15th August 1947, Lord Mountbatten referred to the success of the accession policy and paid tribute to Sardar Patel as a far-sighted statesman:

“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.”

The masterly handling of the rulers by Sardar Patel was the foremost factor in the success of the accession policy. The rulers soon came to recognize him as the 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 hesitation.

Another factor that went a long way in winning over the rulers was 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. 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. He rendered priceless service at a critical juncture in India’s history.

Nor can one forget the rulers, but for whose willing and patriotic co-operation, the policy of accession could not have been implemented. They gave ample evidence of imagination, foresight and patriotism and, as Sardar Patel himself remarked, they might justifiably claim to be co-architects of a free and united India.

Trouble, though, began on the very first day, 15th August 1947. The Nawab of Junagadh, which lay in the south-west of Kathiawar, announced his accession to Pakistan, to which it was not at all contiguous. Government of India took action and ultimately took over the administration of Junagadh on 9th November. By then the invasion of Jammu and Kashmir by the raiders from Pakistan had already begun on 22nd October, and the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession four days later.

Disturbances broke out in the Eastern States, and after hectic negotiations, the sovereign States of Orissa became the first to merge with the Union of India on 15th December 1947. The floodgates were open. Not long after, followed merger of sovereign States from other regions, formation of Unions of States in areas like Saurashtra, Rajasthan, and Punjab and East Punjab States (PEPU), while some groups of States came to be administered directly by Government of India through a Chief Commissioner or Lieutenant-Governor.

It all happened suddenly and one after the other. But at the stroke of the midnight hour on 15th August 1947, when India attained independence, no one had an inkling that the beginning of the integration of the sovereign States into the Union of India would begin within months.   

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

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