The king size statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, called as ‘Statue of Unity’ has been erected on the banks of Narmada River. Patel is rightly given the credit for integration of Indian States. However, he is not the only one who is responsible for this marvelous effort. Going back in the annals of history, let’s understand the real story of integration and how India avoided its balkanization.
As early as June 1947, Gandhi said to Sardar Patel, “The problem of integration of States is so big that only you can solve it.” He did it wonderfully and he is hailed as ‘Bismarck of India’. But he & his aide, VP Menon’s combined role of integration is limited. It is confined only to the Princely States.
Just before independence, there were roughly 545 such states & approximately 90 million Indians resided in them. These states were not in the direct control of British Indian Government. They were under the suzerainty of British and according to the size of a State; the respective king was given the annual compensation. So the question is where the rest were? The balance of the population, roughly 300 million were directly under British India. Hence, the major part of British India would have eventually come under new Indian Government after British left the shores. Therefore the plan of accession or integration was to be effective for only 25% Indians. Now, you would say even this is a big ticket size. No doubt. But, even here there is a catch to understand.
Let me take you to 6 June, 1947. Lord Mountbatten, aka Dickie as he was fondly called, in his address to the Kings and Princes and Nawabs in Darbar Hall of Viceroy Bhawan, New Delhi said, “British Parliament has passed ‘The Indian Independence Act’ & henceforth, the Queen is no more responsible for your & State’s safety’’. He said if Kings are ready to accede to India, he can negotiate on their behalf with future Government of India for favorable terms and conditions of accession. Dickie went ahead saying if they (Kings) were to decide to remain out of Indian boundaries, it would be purely on their peril as Independent India would be a bigger Country to resist. The effect of his speech was that almost all the princely states then and there decided to accede to India.
Ram Chandra Guha in ‘India after Gandhi’ says that accession of the princely states to Indian Territory is the biggest contribution of Lord Mountbatten’. Only a few like Junagadh, Kashmir, Hyderabad, Jodhpur etc resisted. Later on, these states were also taken into Indian folds very comfortably. But then again, Mountbatten was always in the picture.
In the case of accession of Kashmir, Dickie’s role again gains importance. When Pakistan Pashtun tribal militia waged a war to annex Kashmir, the erstwhile Maharaja, Hari Singh, sought Indian intervention. Nehru even made up his minds to send Indian Arm forces to liberate the state from Pashtuns . Mountbatten advised against this saying that unless the Maharaja agrees to accede, army to be held back. Seeing no action from Indian Government, Maharaja signed the instrument of accession act and then forces were sent to flush out Pakistani insurgents from Kashmir. Rest is the history then. Likewise, in the accession of Hyderabad, Lord Mountbatten gave his vital advice to Nehru & Patel. There is no doubt that Patel’s role is significant but he isn’t alone in this entire saga. Government should credit all equally.