How ‘the threatened fragmentation’ of India was averted by the rulers of sovereign Indian States by signing the Instrument of Accession and Standstill Agreement just before independence. Excerpt from ‘The Story of the Integration of Indian States’ by V.P. Menon

The following is an excerpt from the book ‘The Story of the Integration of Indian States’ by Shri V.P. Menon who was Secretary in the States Ministry under Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel:

In view of the special position and peculiar problems of Hyderabad both (Jawaharlal) Nehru and Sardar (Patel) felt that Lord Mountbatten should continue to negotiate with the Nizam even after 15 August. Accordingly, on 12 August Lord Mountbatten informed the Nizam that the offer of accession would remain open in the case of Hyderabad for a further period of two months.

The rulers of all the States geographically contiguous to India, with the exception of Junagadh and two small States under Muslim rulers in Kathiawar, had signed the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement by 15 August. With regard to Kashmir, the States Ministry had made no approach to the ruler at all, though Lord Mountbatten took the trouble to visit Kashmir personally at the beginning of July to try and induced the Maharajah, who was a very old friend of his, to make up his mind to accede to either India or Pakistan.

On 14 August the States Ministry took control of all the residencies from the Political Department. At one place, the Resident refused to allow the Indian flag to be hoisted at the Residency on the morning of 15 August 1947. An ugly situation threatened. The officer realized his error in time and allowed the flag to be hoisted. But for this one incident there was no trouble anywhere.

By the policy of accession we had ensured the fundamental unity of the country. India had become one federation, with the provinces and the States 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 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. We realised the strength of the rulers’ antagonism to anything which smacked of ‘paramountcy’, and our object was, as set out in the Statement of 5 July, to ‘make laws sitting together as friends’. Our efforts in this direction were crowned with success.

There remained only the question of the creation of an organization to fill the vacuum created by the disappearance of the Political Department and its local agencies in the States or groups of States. These 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, we 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 15 August, Lord Mountbatten referred to the success of the accession policy and paid a tribute to Sardar as a far-sighted statesman. He said:

“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.”

My feeling was one of profound thankfulness to God. The threatened fragmentation had been averted and the whole country had come under one political umbrella. The prophets of gloom who predicted disruption had been belied. We had obtained a breathing space during which we could evolve a permanent relationship between the Government of India and the States.

The masterly handling of the rulers by Sardar 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 demur.

Another factor that went a long way in winning over the rulers was of course 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. And 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. India can never forget the magnificent service he rendered at a critical juncture in her 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 himself remarked, they might well claim to be co-architects of a free and united India.

It is not possible to name all the many rulers who co-operated with us. Sir Pratap Singh, Gaekwar of Baroda, was the first ruler actually to sign the Instrument of Accession, though I think the first announcement of accession was made by the Dewan of Gwalior, M.A. Srinivasan, on behalf of the Maharajah, Sir Jivaji Rao Scindia of Gwalior. The latter had been of great help during the negotiations and had undoubtedly exercised a healthy influence on several rulers.

But the greatest share of the credit for giving a patriotic lead to the rulers and convincing them that it was in their own interest to accede to India must go the late Maharajah Sir Sadul Singh of Bikaner and Maharajah Sir Yadavindra Singh of Patiala. The former’s valuable help was acknowledged in several letters which Sardar addressed to him. Lord Mountbatten publicly referred to it in his speech at Bikaner while investing the Maharajah with the G.C.S.I. By the untimely death of Sir Sadul Singh, the country lost a patriotic ruler who made the utmost sacrifices without bitterness. For myself, I lost a very great personal friend.

Maharajah Sir Yadavindra Singh of Patiala had co-operated with us since my first meeting with him at the Hotel Imperial. This young ruler, who was only thirty-four years of age at that time, showed remarkably robust patriotism and his contribution cannot be lightly forgotten. The Jam Saheb too, was a tower of strength in those days of hectic negotiations. He always brought a practical mind to bear upon our problems and many an otherwise trying hour was enlivened by his sparkling humour.


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