Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hyderabad and the Princely States (Guha Part 2)

Part 2 in an ongoing series. Last week we talked about Chapter 2 of Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi. This week's topic is Chapter 3, which deals with the accession of the Princely States. Next week is Chapter 4, on the turmoil surrounding Kashmir in 1947-8

When they think about 1947, most people naturally think about the tragedy of Partition, which left millions of people dead and displaced. Partition resulted in the creation of two states, but what is left out of this story is an alternative history where instead of two new nations, independence might have seen the formation of three, or five, or five hundred independent nations.

For there were more than five hundred Princely States in existence in 1947. Each of these had its own ruler and court, and many had the trappings of fully independent states (such as railroads, currency, and stamps). All the same, they had to pay significant taxes to the British crown, and none were allowed to maintain their own armies. The Princely States were also, one might add, the most backward in India when it came to the situation of ordinary people. While British India had begun to build schools and universities, and develop the foundations of republican governance, the various Maharajahs were perfectly comfortable keeping their subjects in total, feudal subjection.

Very quickly, between the fall of 1946 and the summer of 1947, the vast majority of Princely States signed "Instruments of Accession," whereby they agreed to hand over their sovereignty to India. The chief architects of this development were Vallabhbhai Patel and his agent, V.P. Menon. While Patel and Mountbatten did much of the formal negotiation from Delhi, it was Menon who went to hundreds of different Maharajahs all over India, and worked out agreements. According to Guha, because of his indefatigability and his remarkable competence, Menon is one of the unsung heroes of this story.

After Kashmir (which we'll talk about next week), the state that gave the most difficulty in agreeing to Accession was Hyderabad, which was governed by a Muslim Nizam, but with a Hindu majority.

At 80,000 square miles, Hyderabad was a huge state, bigger geographically than Great Britain. The Nizam of Hyderabad was one of the wealthiest men in the world, and it's not hard to see why he resisted turning over his position of power and eminence to what would surely be a diminished role in a united India. Faced with the request that he integrate Hyderabad with India, he preferred independence, but at various points he suggested he might throw in his lot with Pakistan.

There were pro-Congress/Democracy groups in the state under the Nizam, as well as a significant Communist movement. But the most important group was the Nizam's own Ittihad-ul-Muslimeen, a kind of proto-Islamist movement, led by a radical (fanatic?) named Kasim Razvi (sometimes spelled Qasim Razvi). With the Nizam's support Kasim Razvi organized thousands of armed "Razakars" to protect the Nizam's interests and harrass his opponents.

This Kasim Razvi turns out to be quite an interesting character. Guha describes him as follows:

In April 1948, a correspondent of The Times of London visited Hyderabad. He interviewd Kasim Razvi and found him to be a 'fanatical demagogue with great gifts of organization. As a 'rabble-rouser' he is formidable, and even in a tete-a-tete he is compelling.' Razvi saw himself as a prospective leader of a Muslim state, a sort of Jinnah for the Hyderabadis, albeit a more militant one. He had a portrait of the Pakistani leader prominently displayed in his room. Razvi told an Indian journalist that he greatly admired Jinnah, adding that 'whenever I am in doubt I go to him for counsel which he never grudges giving me.'

Pictures of Razvi show him with a luxuriant beard. He looked 'rather like an oriental Mephistopheles.' His most striking feature was his flashing eyes, 'from which the fire of fanaticism exudes.' He had contempt for the Congress, saying, 'we do not want Brahmin or Bania rule here.' Asked which side the Razakars would take if Pakistan and India clashed, Razvi answered that Pakistan could take care of itself, but added: 'Wherever Muslim interests are affected, our interest and sympathy will go out. This applies of course to Palestine as well. Even if Muslim interests are affected in hell, our heart will go out in sympathy.' (68-69)

I quote this passage about Kasim Razvi because I think it hints at how much worse things could have gone in Hyderabad. By 1948, Razvi's Razakars were known to be harrassing Hindus in some of Hyderabad's larger cities (Aurangabad, Bidar, and the city of Hyderabad); some Hindus were beginning to flee to surrounding regions, causing refugee problems in neighboring Madras. There were also rumors that arms were being smuggled into Hyderabad from Pakistan as well as eastern Europe, which was just recovering from the mother of all wars. While the Nizam resisted acceding to India out of self-interest, Kasim Razvi and his Razakars were resisting out of ideology, and they had the numbers -- and would eventually have the arms -- to pose a threat to a new Indian government with lots of other problems to deal with.

After Mountbatten's departure in June 1948, the Indian union's patience with Hyderabad ran out, and in September 1948, a military force moved in. Within a few days the Razakars were out of business, and the Nizam publicly agreed to accede to India.

Today, I think, few people could seriously imagine a different outcome. But if the Indian government had been less focused on its objective, or if it had decided that military force wasn't necessary, or even if it had delayed further in using force, I think it's a distinct possibility that Hyderabad might have remained free for at least a few years longer, and the story of accession could have been much bloodier.

As to whether Hyderabad could have remained independent forever, it seems like a rather remote possibility -- though it is interesting to contemplate. (Perhaps someone should write a fictional, "bizarro world" version of modern South Asian history, with a massive, independent Hyderabad smack in the middle of the Deccan peninsula...)

[Cross posted at Sepia Mutiny]

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saurabh said...

Hi Amardeep,

Interestingly, Patel in a conversation with Liaqat had offered to 'exchange' Kashmir in lieu of Hyderabad. Wonder if things would have been better if this offer had been accepted! There's no way of knowing that now. Maybe in an alternate universe India and Pakistan are at peace because of such a deal!


3:26 PM  
Hem Raj said...

Sub:- Two riddles about partition (Group Scheme & Federation of Princely States with diarchy) still haunts.

Ref:- SAARC and not C'wealth should be the priority for Britain.

Dear Sir

It is well over 60 years but nostalgic Britain (which lost the most shining jewel of its crown, India) and some people in India still feel the pain of India's partition though may be for different reasons. This pain periodically surfaces whenever Common-wealth summit takes place (as presently at Kampala, Uganda) when nostalgic articles & interviews of Britishers start appearing In Indian media.

But along with this pain following two questions always loom large and waiting for answer, assuming that people were really interested in avoiding 1947 partition of India :-

(1)- As late as early 1947 Muslim League led by Mr. Jinnah was prepared to not press for separate Pakistan if Congress agreed on 'Grouping Sceme'. Group B consisting of Muslim majority provinces in the north west namely Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan, Group C consisting of Bengal and Assam and Group A consisting of rest of British India, But Congress through its AICC resolution of January 6, 1947 rejected this proposal of Cabinet Mission.

(i)- For argument sake (as per Congress argument then) if it is admitted that this grouping arrangement was nothing but Pakistan in disguise even then there was no harm in accepting it as far as territorial unity of India was concerned. In any case given some time this 'three tier grouping scheme of centre, group & province' would have evaporated into two tier system of centre & province. And even if not , after all heavens would not have fallen (regarding politically unified India) had Congress accepted this Grouping Scheme and avoided India's partition.

(ii)- It is still not clear that why Congress leadership including Gandhiji, an apostle of non violence, instead of this grouping scheme preferred and approved the declaration dated February 20, 1947 of House of Commons of Britain regarding India's partition (through Congress working committee resolution of March 8, 1947)? Though Congress knew that partition of India will lead to killings, sufferings and gruesome displacement of millions of people.

(2)- It was Britain only who in 1946 famously declared "We can not allow a minority to place a veto on the advance of the majority". Britain also knew very well that most of the genuine apprehensions of Muslim League could be addressed easily by proportional representation through reservations in legislatures and government services (as being presently done in India also for schedule castes, schedule tribes, backward castes,women etc) at centre and in provinces, but communal politics was allowed to take the better of secularism in pre-independence India.

(i)- In communally surcharged situation (or even otherwise) why didn't Britain in 1945 - 46 try to encourage the rulers of about 600 Princely States to form Federation with diarchy at all India level? Where monarchs (with their suzerainty along with the British sovereignty) would have taken care of 'reserved subjects' like defence, internal security, communication, foreign affairs etc. while leaving all other civilian subjects to the elected representatives in these princely States. After all such diarchy was already in Britain's mind as back as in June 1918 when Montagu - Chelmsford report was published.

(ii)- On the contrary Britain through Mountbatten pressurised Princely States on July 25, 1947 to go for merger with Dominion of either India or Pakistan.

(iii)- Had Britain spent one tenth of its energy (of what it spent in developing Muslim League during 1942-45 when Congress leaders were in jail due to 'Quit India' movement during world war II) also in developing this Federation of Princely States of India, then not only intransigent and belligerent Congress and Muslim League wold have been kept in their proper place but also secularism would have taken a permanent secure place in India (because of the mixed population of these about 600 princely States spread all over pre-partition India) and India's partition could easily have been avoided.

But still every thing is not lost. Notwithstanding the propensity of Indians to blame Britain for every political problem India is facing and indignation against excesses during British Raj (some of which were really outrageous and born out of over reaction), Indians still love Britishers.

Therefore Britain may retain C'wealth (whose only logic is the membership of those countries which were colonies of Britain during last two centuries) not for satisfying its imperialistic ego but to keep the association with other former colonies of Britain.

But in contemporary world Britain ought to shed its ruler psyche (if any) and start behaving as an equal member of world community. Hence while retaining C'wealth, instead of waisting its time and energy on such ridiculous exercises like expulsion of Pakistan from C'wealth (which does not harm Pakistan in any way), Britain ought to endeavor seriously about joining pre partition India (Pakistan, Bangladesh and India) in a federation.

This can more fruitfully be done by joining SAARC as a member country which will not only be vitalising and invigorating for Britain but (given Britain's international standing) will also give a tremendous impetus for this new SAARC in becoming a reality and which will go go a long way in changing the world political scenario for the betterment of the mankind.

Yours truly

Hem Raj Jain

208, Supriya, Plot # 20, Sector - 10, Dwarka
New Delhi - 110075, INDIA
Ph: +91 11 32940177 Mob: 09871194983

10:20 PM  

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