During the time of independence, India was divided into 564 princely states and Patel was given the responsibility to join the Indian union. According to 1947 independence act, states were free to join either Indian union or Pakistan domicile. Let’s look in detail how did India achieve the integration of princely states.
Integration of 565 princely states with India –
Before the Revolt of 1857, the English East India Company had annexed most of the Indian kingdoms and reduced them to a subordinate position to the Company. The Subsidiary Alliance introduced by Lord Wellesley and Doctrine of Lapse introduced by Dalhousie played a crucial role in the annexation of the Indian kingdoms. But there were many, who remained independent but were controlled by the British.
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Post the Revolt of 1857, the British realized that the Indian princes and their public were not happy with the shady policy of the Company. The British agreed on having no more annexation and interference in the state matters of the kingdoms, except in case of disloyalty to the British and mismanagement. In 1876 during the rule of Lord Lytton, the British queen was declared as the Empress of India and India was formally announced as British’s dominion. After this announcement, India was divided into two; one was the British India that was in direct control of the Viceroy and the Princely states who were indirectly ruled by the British Crown.
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The Princely States comprised the kingdoms of those princes, who had accepted the suzerainty of the British or British Paramountcy. In return, the British gave them a certain amount of leverage and indirectly controlled the states.
Problems of integration of the princely states –
Even while the talks of transfer of power were happening around the table, the attitude of the British towards the Princely States remained the same.
According to the Wavell Plan of 1945, the Princely states were to be independent even after the independence of India. The Cabinet Mission Plan was introduced on the same lines as the former and supported the independence of Princely states post the Indian independence. Though the princes were happy with the series of events, it was a huge blow for the Congress.
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However, on the 3rd June 1947, the Mountbatten Plan declared that the Princely States would have to join either India or Pakistan, according to their geographical location.
At that time, India had 565 Princely states; some were small while the others were large. Many of the Princely states readily agreed to accede to the Indian or the Pakistan subcontinent. But the Princely States at the border posed problems in the integration process.
The states that refused to sign the Instrument of Accession and join India were Junagarh, Travancore, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Jammu and Kashmir and Jodhpur.
How did these Princely States accede to India?
The responsibility to accede all the Princely States was held by Vallabhbhai Patel and VP Menon.
How did Junagarh princely state accede to India?
Junagarh was a small state on the coast of Saurashtra (in Gujarat). The state had a majority of Hindu who desired to accede to India but the Nawab of Junagarh announced its accession to Pakistan. This conflict of interest led to a violent movement against the Nawab, involving the Indian troops. Post the movement, a plebiscite was held in the state which resulted in its accession to India.
How did Hyderabad princely state accede to India?
One of the largest Princely states in India, its Nizam was counted among the richest men of India. The Nizam was a tyrant and desired to make Muslim dominion instead of integrating to India. He demanded an independent status for Hyderabad and hence entered into a Standstill Agreement with the Indian government.
During the same time, the public (mainly the peasants from Telangana) were revolting against the oppressive measures of the Nizam. In response, the Nizam unleashed his paramilitary forces against the public. The soldiers maimed, raped, murdered and looted mainly targeting the Hindus.
As a result of this, in September 1948, the India army was sent to invade the state of Hyderabad and overthrow its Nizam. Under Operation Polo, the Indian army invaded the state and overthrew its Nizam resulting in its merger to the Indian union. Hyderabad was the last princely state to join the independent country of India.
How did Manipur princely state accede to India?
During the process of the integration of the states, the India government was willing to give autonomy to some regions. One such region was Manipur, where the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession with the Indian subcontinent after being guaranteed that the internal autonomy of Manipur would continue.
Taking into consideration the public’s opinion, the Maharaja was forced to hold elections in June 1948, which results in making the state a constitutional monarch. Manipur was the first state to conduct elections on the basis of Universal Adult Franchise.
Even after signing the Instrument of Accession with the Indian government, the Indian government pressurized the Maharaja to fully accede to the Indian subcontinent. The constant pressurizing led the Maharaja to sign the Merger Agreement in 1949, without taking any advice from the popularly elected Legislative Assembly.
This resulted in public unrest and anger in Manipur, traces of which still exist in the state.
How did Jammu & Kashmir princely state accede to India?
The Kashmir issue started in 1948 which still continues to be a hot war issue between India and Pakistan. Kashmir had a Hindu ruler but the majority was Muslim, Hindu ruler Hari Singh desired to have an independent status for Kashmir.
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Pakistan was of the opinion that Kashmir belonged to them. Hari Singh tried to negotiate with both the countries and also offered to sign the Standstill Agreement for the same. Pakistan readily signed the agreement while India took a back seat. Soon Pakistan started violating the Standstill Agreement and controlling and causing violence in Kashmir.
As a result of this, Hari Singh looked out to India for military assistance. Under the international law, India could not send troops to Kashmir until and unless it formally acceded to the Indian subcontinent. As a result of this, the ruler signed the instrument of accession and formally acceded Kashmir to India.
What if India would have failed to integrate the princely states into the Indian union?
The question is very interesting. If the Princely states still existed in India, India could never have been a democratic, republic and sovereign nation. There would have been small kingdoms that would be ruled by their respective kings. There would have been border conflicts among kingdoms resulting in political unrest.
A nation with small kingdoms could never be a united republic that India is now. And above all, if the integration of princely states would have been unsuccessful, India could never become world’s largest democracy.
The first election in India (held in 1952) would not have been possible if India was a subcontinent comprising of different nation states. The General election of 1952 was successful due to India’s unity as a subcontinent, as world’s biggest democracy.