FREEDOM FILES: Nehru's stalking horse

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The perilous road to becoming a new India, free from British manacles, was a path to perdition but Nehru's self fulfilling prophecy of a whole India finally came true

FREEDOM FILES: Nehru's stalking horse
The Indian National Congress or one of its principals Jawaharlal Nehru had a B Team in place to extend its political activism across the spectrum of the Princely States, which were aligned with the British through the inexorable umbilical cord of treaty relations under the aegis of Paramountcy. Nehru's stalking horse - The All India States People's Conference - was actually meant for the Congress as well, to act as a pressure point on the larger than life persona of Mahatma Gandhi who believed that the Princes needn't be touched since they governed over their people through the concept of trusteeship. Nehru's idea of India was different, he wanted a whole that included the Provinces and the Princely States bundled together. A large number of people’s organisations in the Princely States were established in Mysore, Hyderabad, Baroda, Kathiawad, Jamnagar, Indore, Nawanagar, etc. Praja Mandals or States’ People’s Conferences were established. In December 1927, an All India States’ People’s Conference was held and attended by about 700 delegates from different States. Balwantrai Mehta, Maniklal Kothari and GR Abhayankar assumed the leadership of the movement. The Conference eventually got affiliated to the Indian National Congress and Jawaharlal Nehru became its president in 1939 and remained so till 1946. The Conference dissolved itself on 25 April 1948, all its constituents merging into the Congress. Later, Nehru appointed his point man Dwarkanath Kachru as the Secretary General of the AISPC. Kachru was his eyes and ears. On April 16, 1947, he wrote to Nehru on the assimilation and absorption of the gaggle of Princes and the rapidity with which the Princes would have to be incorporated into the new India.

INDIAN STATES IN AN INDEPENDENT INDIA

In view of the rapid pace of events in India and the withdrawal of British Power from this country by June 1948, this Conference is of the opinion that it should define in definite and clear terms the position of Indian States in the future free India.

The Conference feels that the classification of the country in what has come to be called “Indian India’ and “British India” is unnatural and a continuous offence to our sense of national unity and solidarity. The people living in the Indian States are also Indians and have indissoluble ties of unity and social and political affinities with the people outside the State borders. They have always stood for the indivisibility of the country and have regarded Indian States as constituent parts of India as a whole. As such the Conference is of the opinion that in the future constitutional set-up of the country Indian State’ people should participate fully and in their own right as co-sharers and partners in the constitutional and political progress. With the recognition of Indian Independence in June 1948 it therefore naturally follows that the people of the States should also find themselves in the enjoyment of similar liberties and should have freedom to choose their own form of government.

The bigger States, which satisfy the conditions and requirements laid down for a unit of the Federation will no doubt exist. Their Rulers will be recognised as constitutional heads of these States with powers and prerogatives, dignities and honours due to the constitutional heads of the States or units. Power will naturally rest in the people of these States as it will rest in the people of other units of the Indian Federation. As these States will be the units of the Federation, it will be in the interests of the Federation and also in the larger interests of the country to have forms of Government and other institutions in those States, which harmonises with the conditions and institutions in the other units.

The Indian States forming units of the Federation will naturally enjoy equality of status with the other units of the Union.

Smaller States which do not satisfy the requirements laid down for a unit will naturally have to be merged in the surrounding units of amalgamated among themselves in order to form them into stable and organic units. The governing factor in this reorientation will however be the geographical contiguity and cultural affinity of these States with the surrounding units or with each other.

But the Conference regrets to note that certain States’ Rulers have started giving an impression to the world at large that on the termination of British rule in this country the Princess would automatically become free and sovereign and as such independent of any obligations to the country or to their people. The Conference would like to make it clear that this attitude of the Princes would unfortunately lead to bitterness and consequent conflict, not only between the people of the States and the Ruler but also between Indian national aspirations and the Princely Order. It must be clearly understood that while Indian Princes would continue as constitutional heads, of their States they shall never be allowed to take up an independent stand even in matters commonly called “Internal” much less will they be allowed to remain outside the orbit of an Independent India.

The people of the Indian States in the event of such an unfortunate development will consider themselves also to be free to declare their independence and in furtherance thereof take some practical steps to express their unity and solidarity with the people outside the State.

Kachru extremely active as Secretary General of the AISPC then evolved to become Private Secretary to Nehru who appeared set to take over as PM of independent India. Kachru worked tirelessly in the background on the impending grouping of the 560 odd Princely States. Here is another undated sample of the background work he was doing for Nehru and the road ahead was paved with imponderables, for no one size fits all could be used with the Princely Order:

TOP SECRET

NOTE ON GROUPING AND CONFEDERATION OF STATES INTENDED TO SERVE AS A BASIS OF DISCUSSION

GROUPING OF STATES ESSENTIAL UNDER THE CABINET DELEGATION’S PLAN

1 The proposals of the Cabinet Delegation as they affect the States were considered at the recent meetings of the Standing Committee of Princes and the Committee of Ministers in Bombay in the light of the elucidation, given by Sir Conrad Corfield (Head of the British Political Department). The most important point, which emerged from these discussions was the question of grouping of States with a view to fitting them in the all-India constitutional structure at the Union Level. The salient points relating to grouping which were discussed in the course of the confabulations are summarized below:

BASIS OF GROUPING:

(a) The definition of a States Unit, which could join the proposed All-India constitutional structure at the Union Level would have to be settled by the Negotiating Committee with the corresponding Committee of British India Members of the Constituent Assembly.

(b) It is most likely that the States’ Unit, which is considered eligible to adhere at the Union Level will have to be comparable to a Provincial Unit. The detailed basis of this comparison will have to be settled trough negotiations with the parties concerned, but prima facie area, population and resources will be included amongst factors to be considered States which individually cannot satisfy the criterion prescribed will presumably have to join some other unit or units to form a group comparable to a Province on the basis of the criterion laid down.

(c) Such combinations may inter-alia take the form of affiliation of a small State to a neighbouring large State or of a group of States combining for this purpose. The component part of such grouped units should as far as possible be contiguous or at least they should be sufficiently near each other as to make the group an effective e unit. Certain isolated States, not big enough to stand by themselves, which are surrounded by British Indian Territory would obviously find it necessary to affiliate with a neighbouring Province. Practical details must vary considerably according to the divergent conditions in different areas. No uniform formula could be applied to all the States or groups of States.

(d) The terms and the purpose of various groups of States must be settled amongst States inter-se subject to the group conforming to the prescribed criterion for adherence to the All-India structure at the Union Level.

(e) The States so desiring can form confederation or confederations inter-se on such terms and for such purposes as may be agreed upon. These confederations may, for instance, be entrusted with certain functions in regard to some of the central subjects which may revert to provinces and States and may be entrusted by British India to Provincial groups. It is obvious, however, that if such confederations of States are desired to be recognised by the all-India Union, this would require negotiation with the British Indian parties concerned.

(f) The groups of States set up for the purpose of adherence to the all-India constitutional structure would prima facie be expected to have come definite common purposes and services which may make the group an effective nit and not merely a paper proposition. The measure of cooperation of individual states composing such a group would be a question for settlement by the States inter-se.

VARIOUS REGIONS ALREADY FORMULATING PLANS

2 Various regional groups of States have already set about examining this question of grouping in the light of questions and formulating plans in the light of the latest proposals of the Cabinet Delegation. The immediate consideration of this problem is imperative for all regional groups of States – big and small.

NEW GROUPING DIFFERENT FROM PREVIOUS SCHEME OF JOINT SERVICES.

3 It must be emphasised that the proposals of grouping now under consideration differ substantially from the scheme of grouping of joining services which had been discussed in the past. In the first place, the primary object of the present scheme is to enable the States to take their due place in the all-India structure at the appropriate level. Secondly, these new groups would actively function when the future constitution of India begins to operate. At that time, Paramountcy would have terminated and there would be no risk of outside interference of political officers in the internal administrations of States which has been often cited in the past as an argument against the scheme of joint service.

LARGE GROUPS DESIRABLE

4 The Adherence if any State to a group under the new plans should initiate on a voluntary basis. It is confidently hoped, however, that the terms proposed for grouping will be such as to enhance the survival value of the States big and small – and of their reigning dynasties, which may induce all States in the region to join the group. Moreover, the political structure envisaged for the future India makes it obvious that the bigger a group the greater its utility to its component States.

STATES IDEALLY SITUATED FOR FORMING GROUPS AND CONFEDERATION

5 The extract quoted below from the report of the Drafting Committee will show that most to the States are ideally situated for the purposes of forming convenient groups and that these could be affiliated to all-India Confederation of the States so desiring.

(a) “Broadly speaking, the States of Rajputana, Western India, almost all the Gujarat States, the more important Central India States and the States of Bahawalpur and Khairpur in the Punjab are contiguous. This big area of Rajasthan is separated by small tracts of British Indian territory from two other regions of the India States comprising:

(i) The other Central India States, the Eastern States almost all the States in the Central Provinces;

(ii) The other Punjab States except Kapurthala, Tehri and the Simla Hill States.

(b) “Hyderabad lies in the south connected only with the State of Baster and separated by small tracts of British Indian territory from Mysore on the one side and the Eastern States on the other side.

(c) “Travancore and Cochin lie close to each other and separate by a tract of British Indian territory from Mysore.

(d) “Certain States such as the Bengal States, Rampur, Benares, Kapurthala, Travancore, Cochin, Puddukottai, some of the Deccan States, Kashmir and the Hill States of the Punjab are separated from other States by tracts of British Indian territory which are either large or difficult to traverse.”

POPULATION AND REVENUES ETC. OF PROVINCIAL UNITS

6 It seems obvious that such Units or groups of States are likely to be considered eligible to adhere to the all-India structure at the Union Level as are comparable to a Province. The statement (Appendix A) shows that the populations of the eleven main provinces vary from about 30 lakh to 6 crores and their individual revenues from 283 lakhs to 41 crore. Sir Conrad Corfield emphasized at the recent meetings in Bombay that it could hardly be presumed that unit comparable with a small Province, which in itself was inadequate in any of the basic tests of efficiency and stability would be taken as a comparable Unit. Decision on this question has to be reached at the forthcoming discussions between the Negotiating Committee set up by the States and a corresponding Committee from British India.

7 The statement (appendix B) gives the areas, populations and revenues of the Member States of the Chamber of Princes arranged according to regions etc. some of the figures in this statement may need revision but they provide a reasonable basis for the formation of groups of States.

8 Closely allied with the question of regional grouping of States is the proposal to set up a Confederation of States or group of States, which may so desire and on such terms and for such purposes as may be agreed upon. The following factors relevant to the proposal to set up an all-India Confederation of States might inter-alia be mentioned.

(a) The proposed Confederation is not intended to bring about a division of India. It is sought to facilitate coordination of the States with the all-India constitutional structure.

(b) The confederation would provide a convenient buffer between the individual monarchical governments in the States and the democratic government at the Centre. It will eliminate friction and ensure coordination and goodwill.

(c) If some States do not wish to join the Confederation they are free to stay out but the should not grudge the option being available to other States which may so desire. Moreover, even in the case of States, which do not wish to join the proposed confederation, the fact that it is open to them to join would place them in a better position in the forthcoming negotiations.

(d) The proposed confederation would, particularly in the transitional period, avoid conflict in different regions between the democratic governments of Provinces and the governments of the States.

(e) If individual States join Provinces, or groups of Provinces or States, for the purpose of adherence to the all-India Union, without a Confederation of States there would be no strong and effective organization with the backing of the all-India States to protect the continuance of reigning dynasties, the integrity of States and other special rights under the Constitution which particularly affect the States. Collectively, the Indian States will be in a better position to negotiate and deal with the future forces in India and to adjust themselves with the changing times that they can hope to do so individually or each through regional groups.

(f) States have certain fundamental common interests such as the continuance of the reigning dynasty, and of the territorial integrity, defence, fiscal and financial relations etc. In all these matters States generally are likely to get a better deal if they have a confederation of their own than if they merge with the regions.

(g) If the States form groups on regional basis and some of them join Provinces, without any central organization like the proposed confederation to represent the common interests of States, they could not claim weightage on the group of their his historic or military importance, or as backward areas to make up the leeway of the past. Generally speaking the States would constitute back benches of the Provincial Groups and could not expect special treatment to which they are entitled.

(h) There will be many questions, however, on which regional interests may require Provinces and States in one region to pull together. This could be ensured by a suitable provision to the States joining the Confederation will be free to enter into suitable regional arrangements with the adjoining Provinces and States for the furtherance of common regional interests.

(i) The regional groups of States may be formed in convenient blocks, but these may all be affiliated to the proposed all-India States Confederation. This body would be best suited to provide requisite machinery, in agreement with the States, for dealing with cases of succession and minority etc., which may arise after the interim period when Paramountcy will have terminated in the absence of such a body, there will be a strong tendency for the future Indian Government, with British Indian majority, to interfere in these personal and dynastic matters.

(j) After many detailed discussions at the time of federal negotiations the official representatives and witnesses on behalf of the Chamber of Princes at the Joint Parliamentary Committee were instructed to urge that the States so desiring should have the option to join all-India Federation through a confederation inter-se.

9 It may be interesting to recall the opinion given at the time of the federal discussions by such an eminent lawyer and patriot as the late Bhulabhai Desai on the proposal to set up a confederation of State for the purpose of fitting them in the all-India constitutional structure. He came to the conclusion that in the interest of the States no less than in the interests of India as a whole, the scheme of confederation would be indispensable and urgently necessary if the States wish to retain their existence and authority.

The perilous road to becoming a whole as a new India free from British manacles was a path to perdition, but Nehru's self fulfilling prophecy of a whole India finally came true even as the Princes tried their machinations to stay out of the ambit of the Indian National Congress governed India.

@sandeep_bamzai

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