• At the time of Indian independence in 1947, India was divided into two sets of territories:
    • First being the territories under the control of the British Empire, and
    • second being the territories over which the Crown had suzerainty, but which were under the control of their hereditary rulers.
  • In addition, there were several colonial enclaves controlled by France and Portugal. The political integration of these territories into India was a declared objective of the Indian National Congress, which the Government of India pursued over the next decade.
  • Through a combination of factors, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and V. P. Menon convinced the rulers of the various princely states to accede to India.
    • Having secured their accession, they then proceeded to, in a step-by-step process, secure and extend the central government’s authority over these states and transform their administrations.
    • By 1956, there was little difference between the territories that had formerly been part of British India and those that had been part of princely states.


  • In the 1940s the relationship between the princely states and the crown remained regulated by the principle of paramountcy and by the various treaties between the British crown and the states.
  • Neither paramountcy nor the subsidiary alliances could continue after Indian independence.
    • The British took the view that because they had been established directly between the British crown and the princely states, they could not be transferred to the newly independent dominions of India and Pakistan.
  • At the same time, the alliances imposed obligations on Britain that it was not prepared to continue to carry out, such as the obligation to maintain troops in India for the defence of the princely states.
    • The British government therefore decided that paramountcy, together with all treaties between them and the princely states, would come to an end upon the British departure from India.


  • There were almost 600 princely states. The Saurashtra and Kathiawar regions of Gujarat were home to over two hundred princely states, many with non-contiguous territories.
  • The termination of paramountcy would have in principle meant that all rights that flowed from the states’ relationship with the British crown would return to them, leaving them free to negotiate relationships with the new states of India and Pakistan “on a basis of complete freedom”.
  • Early British plans for the transfer of power, such as the offer produced by the Cripps Mission, recognised the possibility that some princely states might choose to stand out of independent India. This was unacceptable to the Indian National Congress, which regarded the independence of princely states as a denial of the course of Indian history, and consequently regarded this scheme as a “Balkanisation” of India.


A) The Prince’s position

  • The rulers of the princely states were not uniformly enthusiastic about integrating their domains into independent India.
    • Some, such as the kings of Bikaner and Jawhar were motivated to join India out of ideological and patriotic considerations, but others insisted that they had the right to join either India or Pakistan, to remain independent, or form a union of their own.
  • Bhopal, Travancore and Hyderabad announced that they did not intend to join either dominion.
    • Hyderabad went as far as to appoint trade representatives in European countries and commencing negotiations with the Portuguese to lease or buy Goa to give it access to the sea.
    • Travancore pointed to the strategic importance to western countries of its thorium reserves while asking for recognition.
    • Bhopal attempted to build an alliance between the princely states and the Muslim League to counter the pressure being put on rulers by the Congress.
  • Some states proposed a subcontinent-wide confederation of princely states, as a third entity in addition to India and Pakistan.

B) Why they failed?

  • A number of factors contributed to the collapse of this initial resistance and to nearly all non-Muslim majority princely states agreeing to accede to India.
  • An important factor was the lack of unity among the princes.
    • The smaller states did not trust the larger states to protect their interests.
    • Many Hindu rulers did not trust Muslim princes, in particular Hamidullah Khan, the Nawab of Bhopal and a leading proponent of independence, whom they viewed as an agent for Pakistan.
  • Others, believing integration to be inevitable, sought to build bridges with the Congress, hoping thereby to gain a say in shaping the final settlement. The resultant inability to present a united front or agree on a common position significantly reduced their bargaining power in negotiations with the Congress.
  • Many princes were also pressured by popular sentiment favouring integration with India, which meant their plans for independence had little support from their subjects.
    • The Maharaja of Travancore, for example, definitively abandoned his plans for independence after the attempted assassination of his dewan, Sir C. P. RamaswamiIyer.
  • In a few states, the chief ministers or dewans played a significant role in convincing the princes to accede to India.
  • The key factors that led the states to accept integration into India were, however, the efforts of Lord Mountbatten, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and V. P. Menon. The latter two were respectively the political and administrative heads of the States Department, which was in charge of relations with the princely states.

C) Mountbatten’s role

  • He played an important role in convincing reluctant monarchs to accede to the Indian Union.
    • Mountbatten believed that securing the states’ accession to India was crucial to reaching a negotiated settlement with the Congress for the transfer of power.
    • As a relative of the British King, he was trusted by most of the princes and was a personal friend of many, especially the Nawab of Bhopal, Hamidullah Khan.
  • The princes also believed that he would be in a position to ensure the independent India adhered to any terms that might be agreed upon, because Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Patel had asked him to become the first Governor General of the Dominion of India.
  • Mountbatten used his influence with the princes to push them towards accession.
    • He declared that the British Government would not grant dominion status to any of the princely states, nor would it accept them into the British Commonwealth, which meant that the states would sever all connections with the British crown unless they joined either India or Pakistan.
    • He pointed out that the Indian subcontinent was one economic entity, and that the states would suffer most if the link were broken.
    • He also pointed to the difficulties that princes would face maintaining order in the face of threats such as the rise of communal violence and communist movements.
  • Mountbatten stressed that he would act as the trustee of the princes’ commitment, as he would be serving as India’s head of state well into 1948.
  • He engaged in a personal dialogue with reluctant princes, such as the Nawab of Bhopal, who he asked through a confidential letter to sign the Instrument of Accession making Bhopal part of India, which Mountbatten would keep locked up in his safe. It would be handed to the States Department on 15 August only if the Nawab did not change his mind before then, which he was free to do. The Nawab agreed, and did not renege over the deal.
  • At the time, several princes complained that they were being betrayed by Britain, who they regarded as an ally, and Sir Conrad Corfield resigned his position as head of the Political Department in protest at Mountbatten’s policies.

D) Pressure and diplomacy

  • Vallabhbhai Patel as Minister for Home and States Affairs had the responsibility of welding the British Indian, provinces and the princely states into a united India.
  • By far the most significant factor that led to the princes’ decision to accede to India was the policy of the Congress and, in particular, of Patel and Menon.
  • The Congress’ stated position was that the princely states were not sovereign entities, and as such could not opt to be independent notwithstanding the end of paramountcy. The princely states, it declared, must therefore accede to either India or Pakistan.
  • In July 1946, Nehru pointedly observed that no princely state could prevail militarily against the army of independent India.
    • In January 1947, he said that independent India would not accept the divine right of kings.
    • In May 1947, he declared that any princely state which refused to join the Constituent Assembly would be treated as an enemy state.
  • Other Congress leaders, such as C. Rajagopalachari, argued that as paramountcy “came into being as a fact and not by agreement”, it would necessarily pass to the government of independent India, as the successors of the British.
  • Patel and Menon, who were charged with the actual job of negotiating with the princes, took a more conciliatory approach than Nehru. They adopted policy of carrot and stick.
    • The official policy statement of the Government of India made by Patel on 5 July 1947 made no threats. Instead, it emphasised the unity of India and the common interests of the princes and independent India, reassured them about the Congress’ intentions, and invited them to join independent India “to make laws sitting together as friends than to make treaties as aliens”.
    • He reiterated that the States Department would not attempt to establish a relationship of domination over the princely states. Unlike the Political Department of the British Government, it would not be an instrument of paramountcy, but a medium whereby business could be conducted between the states and India as equals.

E) Instruments of Accession

  • Patel and Menon backed up their diplomatic efforts by producing treaties that were designed to be attractive to rulers of princely states.
  • Two key documents were produced.
    • Standstill Agreement
      • It confirmed that the agreements and administrative practices that existed as between the princely state in question and the British would be continued by India.
    • Instrument of Accession:
      • By this, the ruler of the princely state in question agreed to the accession of his kingdom to independent India, and to granting India control over specified subject matters.
  • In the Instrument of Accession, the nature of the subject matters varied depending on the acceding state.
    • The states which had internal autonomy under the British signed an Instrument of Accession which only ceded three subjects to the government of India—defence, external affairs, and communications, each defined in accordance with List 1 to Schedule VII of the Government of India Act 1935.
    • Rulers of states which were in effect estates or talukas, where substantial administrative powers were exercised by the Crown, signed a different Instrument of Accession, which vested all residuary powers and jurisdiction in the government of India.
  • The Instruments of Accession implemented a number of other safeguards:
    • Clause 7 provided that the princes would not be bound to the Indian constitution as and when it was drafted.
    • Clause 8 guaranteed their autonomy in all areas in which authority was not expressly ceded to the Government of India.
    • This was supplemented by a number of promises. Rulers who agreed to accede would receive guarantees that
      • their extra-territorial rights, such as immunity from prosecution in Indian courts and exemption from customs duty, would be protected,
      • that they would be allowed to democratise slowly,
      • that none of the eighteen major states would be forced to merge, and
      • that they would remain eligible for British honours and decorations.
  • Mountbatten, Patel and Menon also sought to give princes the impression that if they did not accept the terms put to them then, they would subsequently have to accede on substantially less favourable terms.
  • The Standstill Agreement was also used as a negotiating tool, as the States Department categorically ruled out signing a Standstill Agreement with princely states that did not sign an Instrument of Accession.


  • The limited scope of the Instruments of Accession and the promise of a wide-ranging autonomy and the other guarantees they offered, gave sufficient comfort to many rulers, who saw this as the best deal they could strike given the lack of support from the British, and popular internal pressures.
  • Between May 1947 and the transfer of power on 15 August 1947, the vast majority of states signed Instruments of Accession.
  • A few, however, held out. Some simply delayed signing the Instrument of Accession. Piploda, a small state in central India, did not accede until March 1948.
  • The biggest problems, however, arose with a few border states, such as
    • Jodhpur, which tried to negotiate better deals with Pakistan,
    • Junagadh, which actually did accede to Pakistan, and
    • Hyderabad and Kashmir, which declared that they intended to remain independent.

A) Border states

  • The ruler of Jodhpur, Hanwant Singh, was antipathetic to the Congress, and did not see much future in India for him or the lifestyle he wished to lead.
    • Along with the ruler of Jaisalmer, he entered into negotiations with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was the designated head of state for Pakistan.
  • Jinnah was keen to attract some of the larger border states, hoping thereby to attract other Rajput states to Pakistan and compensate for the loss of half of Bengal and Punjab.
    • He offered to permit Jodhpur and Jaisalmer to accede to Pakistan on any terms they chose, giving their rulers blank sheets of paper and asking them to write down their terms, which he would sign.
  • Jaisalmer refused, arguing that it would be difficult for him to side with Muslims against Hindus in the event of communal problems.
  • Hanwant Singh came close to signing.
    • However, the atmosphere in Jodhpur was in general hostile to accession to Pakistan.
    • Mountbatten also pointed out that the accession of a predominantly Hindu state to Pakistan would violate the principle of the two-nation theory on which Partition was based, and was likely to cause communal violence in the State.
    • Hanwant Singh was persuaded by these arguments, and somewhat reluctantly agreed to accede to India.

B) Integration of Junagadh

  • Junagadh was a princely state located in what is now Gujarat.
  • The Nawab of Junagadh, Muhammad MahabatKhanji III, a Muslim whose ancestors had ruled Junagadh and small principalities for some two hundred years, decided that Junagadh should become part of Pakistan, much to the displeasure of many of the people of the state, an overwhelming majority of whom were Hindus.
  • The Nawab acceded to the Dominion of Pakistan on 15 September 1947 by signing instrument of accession, against the advice of Lord Mountbatten, arguing that Junagadh joined Pakistan by sea if not by land.
    • Although the states were in theory free to choose whether they wished to accede to India or Pakistan, Mountbatten had pointed out that “geographic compulsions” meant that most of them must choose India. In effect, he took the position that only the states that shared a border with Pakistan could choose to accede to it.
  • The principality of Babariawad and Sheikh of Mangrol reacted by claiming independence from Junagadh and accession to India. ‘
    • In response, the Nawab of Junagadh militarily occupied the states.
    • The rulers of neighbouring states reacted angrily, sending their troops to the Junagadh frontier and appealed to the Government of India for assistance.
  • When Pakistan accepted the Nawab’s Instrument of Accession on 16 September, the Government of India was outraged that Muhammad Ali Jinnah could accept the accession of Junagadh despite his argument that Hindus and Muslims could not live as one nation, though this was a seen as a strategy to get a plebiscite held for the case of Kashmir which was a Muslim majority with a Hindu ruler.
  • Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel believed that if Junagadh was permitted to go to Pakistan, it would exacerbate the communal tension already simmering in Gujarat.
  • Menon went to Bombay and met Samaldas Gandhi, a journalist of Rajkot who was related to Mahatma Gandhi, and others, and unfolded the scheme of “AarziHukumat” (Provisional Government).
    • Samaldas Gandhi formed a government-in-exile, the AarziHukumat of the people of Junagadh.
  • Vallabhbhai Patel offered Pakistan time to reverse its acceptance of the accession and to hold a plebiscite in Junagadh.
    • Eventually, Patel ordered the forcible annexation of Junagadh’s three principalities and reoccupied the principalities of Mangrol and Babariawad that had acceded to India.
    • Pakistan agreed to discuss a plebiscite, subject to the withdrawal of Indian troops, a condition India rejected.
  • The princely state was surrounded on all of its land borders by India, with an outlet onto the Arabian Sea.
    • India closed all its borders to Junagadh and stopped the movement of goods, transport and postal articles.
    • The unsettled conditions in Junagadh had led to a cessation of all trade with India and the food position became precarious.
    • In view of worsening situation, the Nawab and his family left Junagadh and arrived in Karachi on 25 October 1947 and there he established a provisional government.
  • On 27 October 1947, Bhutto, as Chief Minister of Junagadh, wrote a letter to Jinnah explaining the critical situation of the State government.
    • When all hopes for assistance from Pakistan were lost, Bhutto wrote by telegram on 1 November 1947 to Nawab at Karachi, explaining the situation and the danger to life and property, considering an armed attack was imminent.
    • In a return telegram, the Nawab authorised Bhutto to act in the best interests of the Muslim population of Junagadh.
    • A meeting of the Junagadh State Council was called to discuss the critical situation. The Council authorised Bhutto to take appropriate action. Also council decided that instead of surrendering to the “Provisional Government”, the Indian Government should be requested to take over the administration of Junagadh to protect the lives of its citizens, which were being threatened by Provisional Government forces.
  • Junagadh’s state government, facing financial collapse and lacking forces with which to resist Indian force, invited the Government of India to take control. Bhutto left Junagadh for Karachi on the night of 8 November 1947.
  • Plebiscite: A plebiscite was held on 20 February 1948, 99% of the population voted to join India.
  • Later arrangements:
    • Junagadh became part of the Indian Saurashtra State until November 1, 1956, when Saurashtra became part of Bombay State.
    • Bombay State was split into the linguistic states of Gujarat and Maharashtra in 1960, and Junagadh is now one districts of Saurasthra in Gujarat.

C) Kashmir Problem

  • (Already discussed in earlier chapter-India and Her Neighbors-Modern India)

D) Accession of Hyderabad

  • Hyderabad was a landlocked state. While 87% of its 17 million people were Hindu, its ruler Nizam Osman Ali Khan was a Muslim, and its politics were dominated by a Muslim elite.
  • The Muslim nobility and the Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, a powerful pro-Nizam Muslim party, insisted Hyderabad remain independent and stand on an equal footing to India and Pakistan.
    • Accordingly, the Nizam in June 1947 issued a firman announcing that on the transfer of power, his state would be resuming independence.
  • The Government of India rejected the firman, terming it a “legalistic claim of doubtful validity”.
    • It argued that the strategic location of Hyderabad, which lay astride the main lines of communication between northern and southern India, meant it could easily be used by “foreign interests” to threaten India, and that in consequence, the issue involved national-security concerns.
    • It also pointed out that the state’s people, history and location made it unquestionably Indian, and that its own “common interests” therefore mandated its integration into India.
  • The Nizam was prepared to enter into a limited treaty with India, which gave Hyderabad safeguards not provided for in the standard Instrument of Accession, such as a provision guaranteeing Hyderabad’s neutrality in the event of a conflict between India and Pakistan.
    • India rejected this proposal, arguing that other states would demand similar concessions.
  • A temporary Standstill Agreement was signed as a stopgap measure, even though Hyderabad had not yet agreed to accede to India.
    • Unlike in the case of other royal states, instead of an explicit guarantee of eventual accession to India, only a guarantee stating that Hyderabad would not join Pakistan was given.
    • Negotiations were opened through K.M. Munshi, India’s envoy and agent general to Hyderabad, and the Nizam’s envoys, Laik Ali and Sir Walter Monckton.
    • Lord Mountbatten, who presided over the negotiations, offered several possible deals to the Hyderabad government which were rejected.
  • By December 1947, however, India was accusing Hyderabad of repeatedly violating the Agreement, while the Nizam alleged that India was blockading his state, a charge India denied.
    • The Indians accused the Hyderabad government of importing arms from Pakistan.
    • Hyderabad had given Rupees 200 million to Pakistan, and had stationed a bomber squadron there.
    • India claimed that the government of Hyderabad was edging towards independence by
      • divesting itself of its Indian securities,
      • banning the Indian currency,
      • halting the export of ground nuts,
      • organising illegal gun-running from Pakistan, and
      • inviting new recruits to its army and to its irregular forces, the Razakars.
  • In the summer of 1948, Indian officials, especially Patel, signalled an intention to invade; Britain encouraged India to resolve the issue without the use of force, but refused Nizam’s requests to help.
  • In June 1948, Mountbatten prepared the ‘Heads of Agreement’ deal which offered Hyderabad the status of an autonomous dominion nation under India.
    • The deal called for the restriction of the regular Hyderabadi armed forces along with a disbanding of its voluntary forces.
    • While it allowed the Nizam to continue as the executive head of the state, it called for a plebiscite along with general democratic elections to set up a constituent assembly.
    • The Hyderabad government would continue to administer its territory as before, leaving only foreign affairs to be handled by the Indian government.
  • Although the plan was approved and signed by the Indians, it was rejected by the Nizam who demanded only complete independence or the status of a dominion under the British Commonwealth.
  • The Nizam also made unsuccessful attempts to seek the arbitration of the President Harry S. Truman of the United States of America and intervention of the United Nations
  • The Nizam was beset by the an uprising in Telangana led by communists, which started in 1946 as a peasant revolt against feudal elements; and one which the Nizam was not able to subjugate. The situation deteriorated further in 1948.
  • The Razakars (“volunteers”), a militia affiliated to the Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen and set up under the influence of Muslim radical QasimRazvi, assumed the role of supporting the Muslim ruling class against upsurges by the Hindu populace, and began intensifying its activities and was accused of attempting to intimidate villages.
    • The Hyderabad state police and the Razakar Islamic militia (led by MIM party founder QasimRazvi) put down the armed revolts by Communists and the peasantry, committed atrocities against the Hindu population, and even eliminated Hyderabadi Muslims such as Shoebullah Khan, who advocated merger with India.
    • To face this challenge from the people, the Nizam encouraged the Razakars to terrorise the Hindus and also to change the communal complexion of the State by forcibly converting Hindus into Islam and inviting Muslims from outside to settle in the State.
  • The Hyderabad State Congress Party, affiliated to the Indian National Congress, launched a political agitation.
  • Matters were made worse by communist groups, which had originally supported the Congress but now switched sides and began attacking Congress groups.
  • Attempts by Mountbatten to find a negotiated solution failed and, in August, the Nizam, claiming that he feared an imminent invasion, attempted to approach the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice.
  • Patel now insisted that if Hyderabad was allowed to continue its independence, the prestige of the Government would be tarnished and then neither Hindus nor Muslims would feel secure in its realm. Sardar Patel described the idea of an independent Hyderabad as an ulcer in the heart of India – which had to removed surgically.

Operation Polo (Hyderabad Police Action)

  • On 13 September, the Indian Army was sent into Hyderabad under Operation Polo (Hyderabad Police Action) on the grounds that the law and order situation there threatened the peace of South India.
    • It was called Police Action as it was internal matter of India.
    • The troops met little resistance by the Razakars and between 13 and 18 September took complete control of the state.
  • The Nizam was retained as the head of state in the same manner as the other princes who acceded to India.
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