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Nehru, the Map Maker

"I do not consider myself an outsider in any State. The whole of India is my home and I claim the right to go to any part. I am not sorry for what has happened. If it makes Rulers and others think hard of the new condition in India and the temper of her people, so be it."

- Jawaharlal Nehru in Delhi, on 23 June 1946 while speaking to members of the press after being forced to come back by the Indian National Congress while he was interned at the Uri Dak Bungalow by Maharaja Hari Singh's forces for two days as he tried to enter Kashmir.

Jawaharlal Nehru was the man who saw tomorrow. In his mind's eye, his idea, ideal and idiom of India has been sharply etched as early as his return from England and moulded during his brutal incarceration in the Princely State of Nabha in 1923. For Nehru, India always meant a whole, not bits and pieces to be handed over by the British on their departure from India. It included the Provinces under direct British Rule and the vast swathes of 565-odd Princely States controlled indirectly by the Paramount Power where 100 million Indians lived in appalling conditions. Undivided J & K alone was bigger than France; Hyderabad was larger than many European countries. Nehru's opposition to the Monarchy — and as a consequence, to the tin pot Maharajas who ruled the States by virtue of their Treaties and other linkages to the Paramountcy — was almost visceral. Nehru chose not just to take on the Monarchy and their extension counters in India — the Princes — but he even repeatedly took on his ideological alter ego, Mahatma Gandhi, in ensuring that the Indian National Congress may be allowed to mobilise political opinion in the Princely States as it strived for full responsible governments which reflected a plurality of viewpoints. For a long time, Gandhi opposed this move due to his own predilection for the concept of 'trusteeship' where the Princes were to function as trustees and oversee the betterment of the populace under them. His own father, Koba Gandhi, was Dewan to the Rajkot Thakore. But this concept of trusteeship soon became archaic in a rapidly changing environment where nationalism and freedom became the overriding — and only — objective. Nehru could not understand how the Indians living in the Provinces could be jingoistic while those residing in the Princely States would remain untouched by the freedom movement sweeping the core psyche of India.This was an anachronism for Nehru; he vowed to fight Gandhi's policy, which he found to be without a clear direction. [pullquote]For Nehru, the map of India as it existed was sacrosanct: One free India, without any compromise.[/pullquote] He constantly talked down to the Princes and showed them their place. To the main saboteur, Nawab of Bhopal, Nehru wrote: "The destruction of the Princes was bound to happen whether we wanted it or not. All we could do was to see that the changes that were inevitable took place in as reasonable and amicable way as possible. Within a short span of 21 months, the Princes were stampeded by Nehru, Mountbatten, Patel and V P Menon through a mixture of threat, coercion, cajoling and grandstanding."

In many ways, the period 1938-1939 was a 'moment of truth' in a large number of Indian Princely States as powerful people's movements flourished against the high-handedness of the ruling dispensation which directly drew its strength from the Paramount Power in the Princely States.The challenge to the Gandhiji-Nehru-Patel troika also came at around the same time. At the Haripura Congress, Subhas Chandra Bose became president of the Congress and a year later in Tripuri, he forced the issue again despite strident opposition from the trio and won the presidency by 95 votes, against Gandhiji's candidate, Pattabhi Sitaramayya. After Bose's convincing win, Gandhi said Pattabhi's defeat was "more mine than his."

At Tripuri in March 1939, G B Pant moved a resolution asking Bose to appoint a Working Committee in line with Gandhi's ideas. In a passionate presidential address on the Princely States on 10 March 1939, Bose's opinions echoed those of Nehru, as he said, "But since Haripura much has happened. Today we find that the Paramount Power is in league with the State authorities in most places. In such circumstances, should we of the Congress not draw closer to the people of the States? I have no doubt in my own mind as to what our duty is today. Besides lifting the above ban, the work of guiding the popular movements in the States for Civil Liberty and Responsible Government should be conducted by the Working Committee on a comprehensive and systematic basis. The work so far done has been of a piecemeal nature and there has hardly been any system or plan behind it. But the time has come when the Working Committee should assume this responsibility and discharge it in a comprehensive and systematic way and, if necessary, appoint a special sub-committee for the purpose." For Nehru, this became a defining moment as it enabled him to expand the scope of the freedom struggle to the Princely States.

His early experience in Nabha was not only mind-numbing, but mind-shaping as well. The rulers of two Princely States in Punjab, Nabha and Patiala, were locked in a bitter dispute. This resulted in the deposition of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha by the British Government of India and the appointment of a British Administrator to rule the State. The deposition of the Maharaja led to a fresh agitation by many Sikhs. Batches of volunteers (Jathas) came to Jaito in Nabha state. These Jathas were brutally assaulted by the police, arrested, and protesters were later abandoned in remote places in the jungle. Accompanied by two fellow Congressmen, A.T. Gidwani and K. Santhanam, Jawaharlal Nehru left for Nabha on 19 September 1923. They addressed a public meeting at Muktsar on 20 September. The next day, while proceeding towards Jaito, they joined the members of a Jatha and were soon halted by the police. The Superintendent of Police asked them to immediately leave Nabha. They refused, and were immediately arrested under Section 188. All were handcuffed, and Santhanam's left wrist was tied to Jawaharlal's right. A police officer led them through the streets by chain and ordered them to board the evening train from Jaito to the main city, Nabha. The handcuffs were removed only after 20 hours. This spell in jail influenced Nehru to a great extent and he became obsessed with the idea of toppling the Princes.

In his book, An Autobiography, Nehru wrote: "In Nabha Jail, we were all three kept in a most unwholesome and insanitary cell. It was small and damp, with a very low ceiling which we could almost touch. At night we slept on the floor, and I would wake up with a start, full of horror, to find that a rat or a mouse had just passed over my face." He wrote of his trial: "....I rejoice that I am being tried for a cause which the Sikhs have made their own. I was in jail when the Guru Ka Bagh struggle was gallantly fought and won by the Sikhs. I marvelled at the courage and sacrifice of the Akalis and wished that I could be given an opportunity of showing my deep admiration of them by some form of service. That opportunity has now been given to me and I earnestly hope that I shall prove worthy of their high tradition and fine courage. Sat Sri Akal."

It is ironic that the next time Nehru chose to make an example of a Princely State, he again headed for Punjab. This time he raided Faridkot on 27 May 1946. The Ruler decided to ban his entry into the State. But Panditji defied the ban and — tearing to pieces the notices served on him under section 144 Cr. P. C. — asked the surging, peaceful mass of humanity to march into the city. The Ruler gave way and requested for a compromise. This was followed by Nehru, Presidentelect of the Congress, trying to force his way into Kashmir to support his friend, Sheikh Abdullah who had been imprisoned by Maharaja Hari Singh for sedition.  He was stopped in Domel on 21 June 1946 and jailed. Each time, Nehru made it a point to show that his instinctual hatred for the Princes was abundantly clear.

It was incomprehensible for Jawaharlal Nehru to think of the Princely States to be outside the orbit and ambit of a future free India. Equally, he could not bear to think of the Indian Princes having a separate channel of communication with the British Crown. They could not be allowed to owe allegiance to any external authority or have any direct or independent relationship with the Crown for that would endanger the internal security of a free India and also arrest the growth and development of the nation. The bedrock of the new Nehruvian ideal of India was that cultural and linguistic contiguity of the Princely States with each other or with surrounding units would be kept uppermost in mind when the amalgamation process would be unveiled. Nehru abhorred the British Monarchial System and its linkages with the Chamber of Princes in India. His anti-colonial views were shaped by his time spent in England where he came into contact with the Fabian Society. Exposed to Fabian thought, his thinking was predicated on Fabian Socialism. As he took the reins of the new independent Indian executive, he framed the economic policy for India on purely Fabian socialism lines. Such was the far-reaching and pronounced impact of Fabian Socialism on Nehru that he committed India to an economy in which the state owned, operated and controlled means of production — in particular, key heavy industrial sectors such as steel, telecommunications, transportation, electricity generation, mining, and real estate development. In fact, one of his mentors in the Indian National Congress, Annie Besant, was also a Fabian Socialist.

Biographer Frank Moraes, writing on Jawaharlal Nehru says: "Jawaharlal's own ideas on religion were hazy, and his tutor Brooks, a determined theosophist, had therefore little difficulty in influencing his pupil his way. He instilled in him an interest in theosophy by introducing him to the works of Madame Blavatsky and by exposing him to discussions on the more esoteric aspects of this creed. Jawaharlal, then 13, was fascinated. He decided to join the Theosophical Society." His father Motilal had also been a member of the Society when Blavatsky was in India and was initiated into it by her. Founded by her in 1875 in New York, the Society had been transferred to Madras in 1882. With the advent of Dr. Annie Besant, friend of Bradlaugh and Bernard Shaw, theosophy began to have an appeal for the urban Indian intellectual. Besant being one of the greatest orators of her time was en vogue and after hearing some of her speeches in Allahabad, Nehru was spellbound.

Though family friend Annie Besant initiated Nehru into the Theosophical Society, the infatuation with theosophy did not last long. Moraes, in his biography on Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru - says that his abiding interest in socialism grew its roots during his Cambridge days, "When the Fabianism of Shaw and Webb attracted him, but he confesses that his interest was academic. He was also drawn to the intellectual liveliness of Bertrand Russell and John Maynard Keynes, many of whose lectures he attended although his own university curriculum was scientific and not economic. This interest he maintained in London. The Fabians were active in London and to the man who later was to propound the principle of peaceful co-existence, the theory of gradualness had its appeal. He was interested in, but by no means overwhelmed by, socialist ideas...He lived in a hazy half world, at home neither in East nor West, in India nor England...He had as yet no settled moorings, social, political or intellectual." In Nehru's case, at the very kernel of his antipathy for the monarchial system of rule and the brutal repression of colonialism was stronger than the other three. Nehru distilled all that he read and heard in England and created his own Fabian Socialist model — one in which he opposed the Crown and its minions, the Chamber of Princes, who had a garrotte like grip on 100 million Indians virtually living in penury under the yoke of tyranny.

When you stitch a quick amalgam of what his biographers have highlighted in their own mono typical ways, one sees the coalescence of myriad strains of Fabianism, Socialism and anti-Colonialism take shape. This convergence drove his wrathful odium for the Empire and the Monarchy. In parallel, the revolutionary in him fought for the millions in vassalage of the Princes. Princes. So, Princes were the byproducts of a vicious system which would ultimately have to go. Only the people of the States could determine the future of these areas. In December 1933, the chief commissioner of Delhi was asked to consider if Jawaharlal could be arrested for a speech denouncing British exploitation and the feudal autocracy of the Princes. The Delhi authorities agreed that the speech was most objectionable; they had no great hopes of successful prosecution. But as it happens with these things all local Governments were asked to keep an eye on Nehru's speeches. By now Nehru was here, there and everywhere. Speaking at the Trade Union Congress in Kanpur the same month, he called for the overthrow of British Imperialism. Result: The Government of India regard him as by far the most dangerous element at large in India, and their view is that the time has come, in accordance with their general policy of taking steps at an early stage to prevent attempts to work up mass agitation, total action against him is what Home Secretary wrote to the Chief Secretary UP on 19 January 1934.

Under direct British rule, the nationalist movement had been confined to the territories. He helped to make the struggle of the people in the Princely States a part of the nationalist movement for independence. The All India States' People's Conference was thus formed in 1927. In 1935 Nehru, who had long supported the cause of the people of the Princely States, was made president of the conference. He opened up its ranks to membership from across the political spectrum. The body would play a crucial role in the political integration of India, helping stalwarts like Sardar Patel and V P Menon (to whom Nehru had subsequently delegated the task of integrating the princely states into India) negotiate with hundreds of Princes.

Nehru personally stormed the bastions of the Princely States to send a message that he opposed the enslavement of people when another part of the same country in contiguous areas was rebelling against the British in search of freedom from the chains of servility. He was constantly rattling their cage with fiery speeches, personal interventions and policy adjustments. In the scrimmage that became India's run towards independence, it was always Nehru and then Mountbatten and Sardar Patel who ran the relay to systematically demolish the egos of the Princes and bring them on board through a mix of cajoling, duress and even threat. This outright opposition to serfage and bondage gives him a unique place in history. And if not the real 'Iron Man of India', then he certainly is the man who saw tomorrow, anticipated it and planned adequately for it to near perfection and was the undisputed progenitor of the idea and ideal of an integrated and unified India. As a rebellious Sir CP Ramaswami Aiyyar, powerful Dewan of Travancore which flirted with the idea of independence, wailed before Viceroy Lord Mountbatten when all seemed lost and accession to India proved to be the only alternative averred — Nehru is unstable and Patel, ruthless, and it is impossible to deal with them.

Quick-tempered Nehru made it his mission to cut the umbilical cord that the Princes maintained with British Paramountcy and enfeeble them completely. At every opportunity that presented itself, he spewed venom against the Princes, making it crystal clear to the States' Rulers that he despised them and would have nothing but their integration at any cost. Small or big did not matter for Nehru; every single one of them had to be lassoed. He followed a two-tiered approach — it was critical for him to mainstream the people of these States and bring them into the prevailing consciousness of freedom and independence that existed at the time in the Provinces. For that it was imperative to be seen and heard by the people in the States and that is why he opposed the tyrannical rule in Nabha, Faridkot and Kashmir with bravado and derring do. At the same time, he attacked the Princes publicly at every opportunity from platforms of import to tell them where they stood. His clarion call at every step being that they had no future of their own and amalgamation and integration with the rest of what was to become independent India was the only prescribed way forward.

In terms of formalising a broad policy for the vast array of Princes and their States and then neutralising them, it was Nehru who front-ran the whole operation. Nehru's role in this herculean task of crippling egotistical men can never be undermined nor can his lucid thought in asphyxiating these Rulers be underscored. Nehru has never been given his due in this regard. Known as a statesman and international leader, Nehru has been shown as someone who played an exceptional role in fashioning India — a free and a unified India — one that included the Provinces and the Princely States under the same flag would never have fructified without Nehru's persuasive ways. His friendship with Mountbatten was equally important in breaking the back of the Princes and securing their acquiescence by even putting them under the cosh at times if they did not come forward willingly. The construct of modern India which included both royalty and serfdom was sculpted by a strong-willed Nehru who deep down could never accept the colonisers or their slaves in India — the Princely Order. Nehru's overarching vision was to have one India to administer, with every single free Indian irrespective of whether he belonged to the Provinces or the States to live, breathe and enjoy the fruits of freedom. Once the baton was handed over to Sardar Patel and V. P. Menon in the States ministry, they implacably and remorselessly ground to dust the hopes and aspirations of the Princes who contemplated their own independent status within the boundaries of India. In between, of course there was the resolute and sometimes feral Mountbatten who played an equal part in this massive amalgamation process with Menon egging him on. And this troika was not bit players in fashioning a united India, one that has survived the test of time. A consolidated India, which has faced civil strife off and on but remained one entity nevertheless.

Protected by the British power, the Rulers of Princely States neglected their subjects; they not only collected rent, but also various illegal levies and subjected people to forced labour while squandering away a major part of the State revenues for upkeep of their luxurious lifestyles, denying the masses their civic and democratic rights. This infuriated Nehru. In 1927, the All India States' Peoples Conference was born to coordinate the people's movements in various Princely States. At first the Congress hesitated to take up the cause of people's movements on legal and practical grounds, but Nehru himself was at the vanguard of change. In the end the Fabian Socialist triumphed, bringing different instrumentalities to bear against all those who opposed him in his endeavour to create a united and unified India. To stampede the Princes, he used Lord Mountbatten; to corall them he used the combination of Patel and Menon; to overturn the Dickie Bird Plan for Independence, he used Edwina Mountbatten who in turn chose to pack V. P. Menon off to Simla to offer his version instead and got it approved by both Mountbatten and Nehru who, as luck would have it, were both present in the Queen of the Hills recouping. The India that one sees is the India envisioned by Nehru, brick by brick.

(This is a Preview to the author's new book, "Princestan: How Nehru, Mountbatten & Patel Foiled It". The book is being published in early 2017 by Harper Collins. It recounts Jawaharlal Nehru's role in dismantling the recalcitrant Chamber of Princes, led by the saboteur Nawab of Bhopal who was working in conjunction with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Viceroy Lord Wavell and founder of Pakistan Mohd. Ali Jinnah to stay independent as a Third Dominion called 'Princestan'.)

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Sandeep Bamzai

Sandeep Bamzai

Sandeep Bamzai is a Visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He is Editor-in-Chief of Financial Chronicle ...

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