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Home Editor's picks It was Sardar Patel who united India after the British left it in tatters

It was Sardar Patel who united India after the British left it in tatters

You can’t become the Loh Purush of India without facing challenging situations. Some Princely States understood persuasion. At times, the pressure was applied. Fear for the future of the Hindu community drove Rajput states to India. Once, a heated discussion led to the Raja of Jodhpur point his gun at V.P Menon.

Amid the rush for the grand inauguration of the statue of Sardar Patel today, on 31st October which is also his birth anniversary, the torchbearers of the Nehru-Gandhi family have made some ridiculous statements. An attempt was made by former Vice President Hamid Ansari to tarnish the contribution of Sardar Patel in integrating India’s 500 odd Princely States into independent India by saying Patel is just as guilty as Mohammad Ali Jinnah for partition in 1947.

A larger propaganda is peddled by Left historians about the unity of India as a nation and civilization. The popular conception spread is that British united a disparate India and had it not been the British, India would never be a single unit. Imperial historians wrote theories calling India as a mere piece of geographical land with no common culture and history. They believe that it is under British that India was united as a nation. If British apparently united India, what was Patel doing?

So who actually united India? Both British and Sardar Patel can’t get the credit simultaneously.

Divide Et Impera- Divide and Rule!

Far from being unitors of India, the British actively ensured that the 500 odd Princely States stay different and totally isolated from India. The reason? British never believed that India was one nation. Sir John Strachey, the Finance Member in Viceroy’s Council used to say to his civil servant probationers that, “The first and most important thing to learn about India is that there is not and never was an India.”

By applying simple logic, if British began the conquest of India by defeating princely states like Marathas, Mysore, Nizam, Oudh and all, how difficult was it to abolish princely states altogether and unite entire India into one single administrative unit? But they didn’t. They ensured the royal families continue ruling these kingdoms but as puppets of British.

The British always kept the Princely States in isolation from the 11 provinces directly ruled by British- like Bombay, Madras, Bengal and so on. The princes were cultivated as loyal supporters of the British empire, hence ensuring that they remain divided from the rest of India. Constitutionally, the Princely States were not part of British India nor were their citizens seen as British subjects. Parliament could not legislate on the Princely States. Only the Viceroy had the executive power to deal with them.

As early as 1825, Sir John Malcolm said, “I am decidedly of an opinion that tranquillity of our vast oriental possessions is involved in the preservation of native principalities. They are so obviously at our mercy…that their coexistence with our rule is itself a source of political strength.

Lord Mountstuart Elphinstone went a step ahead calling the Princely States as cess-pits to absorb all the miseries the British were bringing to India! After the Revolt of 1857, British realized the importance of Princely States being loyal to them in times of conflict. They began cultivating relations with them. A powerless Council of Princes was set up in 1921 by Lord Chelmsford to “advice” Viceroy on certain matters. All this without giving any powers to them.

Come the decade of the 1920s, the entire demand was to create an All-India Federation which will consist of 11 British Provinces and all Princely States. Basically, it was a plan to set up a federal government at union level consisting of provinces as well as the Princely States. The British acceded to this demand in the Government of India Act 1935. But fundamentally being opposed to any unity among Indians, the British deliberately left the question of financial independence of Princely States and constitutional reforms in them, unsolved and pending. As a result, no federation could be made. Moreover, Jinnah was opposed to it because such unity means Pakistan couldn’t be created. Being eternal patrons of Jinnah, the British abolished the All-India Federation in 1940 to appease Jinnah.

The last nail in the coffin was the decade of the 1940s when the British were negotiating their exit from India. Hasty deliberations took place in Cripps Mission (1942), Shimla Conference (1945) and Cabinet Mission (1946). The issue was that when the British had captured the Princely States, treaties were signed with them to protect them provided the States accepted British Paramountcy over them. So what would happen to these treaties if the British left? The question was- Once the British leave, should their Paramountcy over Princely States lapse or should they transfer it to the Independent Indian Government? If the latter happened, it would mean that the Princely States would be integrated with India. So the British deliberately said their Paramountcy over the States would lapse and they would be free to join either India or Pakistan or stay independent! Do note that the British were not insistent in saying the Princely States should compulsorily be integrated into Independent India. This itself proves that the British never really wanted to unite India as one unit, even when they were making it independent.

British created a recipe for disaster. And it did strike badly. The “great unitors” of India left in 1947 leaving India in the condition shown below.


Map of British ruled regions and princely states before independence of India

Patel To The Rescue

Patel accomplished which Nehru couldn’t, and which the British didn’t wish to. The civilizational consciousness was alive in the mind of Patel. He stood as a firm wall between us and anarchy.

After the interim government was sworn in July 1946, Patel became the Minister of State Affairs taking forward the tough task of integrating the Princely States into India (No Independence and No Pakistan). He used tactics of pressure and persuasion ensuring the integration of Princely States into India. The task was quite tough. Sardar’s deputy was V.P Menon who was sent for negotiations. An Instrument of Accession was to be signed by prices surrendering their rights and a Standstill Agreement was signed to maintain status quo till a new constitution was promulgated. The princes were to be paid fat privy purses and could be sent as High Commissioners and Ambassadors to foreign countries.

You can’t become the Loh Purush of India without facing challenging situations. Some Princely States understood persuasion. At times, the pressure was applied. Fear for the future of the Hindu community drove Rajput states to India. Once, a heated discussion led to the Raja of Jodhpur point his gun at V.P Menon.

The efforts of Travancore to become independent and seek recognition from United Nations were foiled. A plebiscite was taken in Junagarh leading to the fleeing of its Nawab to Pakistan. The pinnacle of Patel’s legacy was his Operation Polo leading to the surrender of Nizam of Hyderabad in 1948.

World’s tallest statue is just a small tribute we can give to this man.

As a parting note, let’s leave you with what the arrogant, stubborn and a foolhardy Nizam of Hyderabad was forced to do when Hyderabad was conquered. That’s what our Sardar was:

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Ashutosh Kulkarni
Ashutosh Kulkarni is a New Delhi based public policy analyst. He tweets @PrachinVaani.

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