Before Independence in 1947, there were two Indias – British India and Princely India. The latter comprised of more than 300 principalities and kingdoms scattered across the subcontinent.
These princely states came into being in the 18th century, when the British East India Company signed individual treaties with Indian Rajas and Maharajas.
While some princely states, like Baroda and Mysore, were far more advanced than British India, most were poor and backward. Many became vassals of the British Raj.
However, as Independence drew near, all treaties between the princely states and British India lapsed and each state became ‘independent’. This was a recipe for chaos. The question was: how to unite these states into one India?
Leading this mission was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and V P Menon, who convinced most of the Princes to sign the Instrument of Accession, which would make their kingdoms a part of India. By 15th August 1947, 13 princely states had acceded to Pakistan.
However, Junagadh, Kashmir and Hyderabad held out while Jodhpur, Indore and Travancore posed a special challenge. Maharaja Hanuwant Singh of Jodhpur wanted to join Pakistan but Menon convinced him otherwise. Yashwantrao Holkar of Indore held out as long as he could but finally gave in.
The Princely state of Travancore controlled the world’s largest reserves of thorium, which was used in the enrichment of uranium, and was coveted by global nuclear powers like the UK and the US. This could be used as massive leverage.
Thus, Travancore’s Dewan Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyer made a bid for independence, but an assassination attempt on his life rattled the Maharaja, who realized it would be smarter to join India.
Of the three outliers - Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagadh - the Nawab of Junagadh signed the Instrument of Accession to Pakistan. However, following a popular revolt, he fled to Karachi and Junagadh became part of India.
The tribal invasion of Jammu & Kashmir forced Maharaja Hari Singh to sign the Instrument of Accession on 26th Oct 1947, but the Nizam of Hyderabad was adamant on staying independent. However, following ‘Operation Polo’ by the Indian Army, he surrendered on 17th Sept 1948.
This princely unification was only the beginning. These states were further merged and reorganized into the states that comprise India today. But we must never forget the role played by Sardar Patel and V P Menon in the making of a united, modern India.
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