November 7, 2012

indian-summer-bookAn extremely interesting book I have come across lately is Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire. The writer is a German lady, Alex Von Tunzelmann. It’s her debut book.


Award-winning historian William Dalrymple has described the book as “a masterpiece”, and “unquestionably the best book I have ever read on the Independence and Partition of India and Pakistan.”


When the Britishers ruled India, the country was not a single political unit. It comprised of two distinct parts: first, British India, second, princely India.  Princely India comprised of 564 states.


In a book titled The Story of Integration of the Indian States by V.P. Menon, renowned journalist M.V. Kamath made this comment about the author:


“While credit should go to the Sardar for bringing all the princely states – as they were called – into the Indian Union, he could achieve it only because he had the unstinting support of one who was totally conversant with the mentality and psychology of the princes.  And who was this man?  It was Vapal Pangunni Menon – V.P. Menon as he was soon to be known.


“Little is known about VP’s early life.  For a man who became, for all practical purposes, the right hand man, first of the last Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and later, of the Iron Man of India, the great Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, he has left very little behind when he voluntarily faded into oblivion.  Had he wanted anything by way of power and pelf, he could have got it for the asking.”


This book is the first (1955) of the two monumental volumes written by V.P. Menon on that phase of Indian history.  The second book (1957) bore the title : The Transfer of Power in India.


The book that provoked me to write today’s blog has a chapter on this issue of princely states titled ‘A Full Basket of Apples’.  This chapter opens thus:


“On 18 July, the king signed the India Independence Act in London, and the Mountbattens celebrated their silver wedding anniversary in Delhi, twenty-five years after having become engaged in that city.”


louisThis book says that the British Government’s intentions towards the princely states “had been deliberately left unclear by Attlee”. Mountbatten was supposed to aid and assist the States in coming to fair and just arrangements with the leaders of British India as to their future relationships.  The new Viceroy was also told “to persuade the rulers of any Indian States in which political process has been slow to progress rapidly towards some form of more democratic government.”


Mountabatten interpreted this to mean that he should exert pressure upon each prince to go with the majority of his people in deciding whether to join India or Pakistan. He agreed to help Patel, and pledged to deliver ‘a full basket of apples’ before 15 August.


sardar-patelOn July 9, representatives of the states met to ascertain their starting positions. According to Tunzelmann, a majority of states were inclined to join India. “But four of the most important states – Hyderabad, Kashmir, Bhopal, and Travancore – wanted to become independent nations. Each of these states had its own unique set of difficulties. The Nizam of Hyderabad was the richest man in the world; he was a Muslim, and his people were mostly Hindus. His state was enormous, and both France and the United States were rumoured to be ready to recognize it. The Maharaja of Kashmir was a Hindu; his people were mostly Muslims. His state was even bigger than Hyderabad, but more limited by its lack of trade routes and industrial potential.  The Nawab of Bhopal was an able and ambitious Muslim prince, and one of Jinnah’s advisers: unfortunately for him, his state had a Hindu majority, and was stuck right in the middle of India, over 500 miles from the likely border with Pakistan. Uranium deposits had recently been discovered in Travancore, lending the situation there a greater international interest.”


The Muslim League strategy in this entire matter was essentially focused on making more and more princes decline to join India. Jinnah was keen to see that Nehru and Patel “would inherit a moth-eaten India to go with his moth-eaten Pakistan.” But Sardar Patel, Lord Mountbatten, and V.P. Menon acting in perfect concert defeated all such designs.


The concluding lines of this significant chapter are a great tribute to the achievement of this combination. Alex Von Tunzelmann writes:


alex-von“Whatever may be said about Mountbatten’s tactics or the machinations of Patel, their achievement remains remarkable. Between them, and in less than a year, it may be argued that these two men achieved a larger India, more closely integrated, than had 90 years of the British raj, 180 years of the Mughal Empire, or 130 years of Asoka and the Maurya rulers.”


What the German lady has written so eloquently has been substantiated by V.P. Menon with facts and figures in his 612-page tome The Story of Integration of the Indian States thus:


vp-menon“The 564 Indian States comprised two-fifths or almost half of the country.  Some were large States, some were mere jagirs. When India was partitioned and Pakistan became a separate state India lost an area of 364,737 square miles and a population of 81.5 million but by the integration of the states India received an area of nearly 500,000 square miles with a population of 86.5 million, India was adequately compensated.”


In his preface to his book on the integration of states, V.P. Menon has written : “This book of is in part fulfilment of a promise made to the late Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. It was his earnest desire that I should write two books, one narrating the events leading to the transfer of power and the other dealing with the integration of the Indian States.




On the eve of Sardar Patel’s birth anniversary this year, that is, on 30th October, 2012, the PIONEER published a news-story saying that Prime Minister Nehru wanted to scuttle Sardar’s action plan for the liberation of Hyderabad.


The news-story reported runs thus:


Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of India, whose 137th birth anniversary is on October 31, was insulted, humiliated and disgraced by the then Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, during a Cabinet meeting. “You are a complete communalist and I’ll never be a party to your suggestions and proposals,” Nehru shouted at Patel during a crucial Cabinet meeting to discuss the liberation of Hyderabad by the Army from the tyranny of the Razakkars, the then Nizam’s private army.


“A shocked Sardar Patel collected his papers from the table and slowly walked out of the Cabinet room. That was the last time Patel attended a Cabinet meeting. He also stopped speaking to Nehru since then,” writes MKK Nair, a 1947 batch IAS officer, in his memoirs “With No Ill Feeling to Anybody”. Nair had close ties with both  Sardar and VP Menon, his Man Friday.


Though Nair has not written the exact date of the above mentioned Cabinet meeting, it could have happened during the weeks prior to the liberation of Hyderabad by the Indian Army. Operation Polo, the mission to liberate Hyderabad from the Nizam, began on September 13, 1948 and culminated on September 18. While Sardar Patel wanted direct military action to liberate Hyderabad from the rape and mayhem perpetrated by the 2,00,000 Razakars, Nehru preferred the United  Nations route.


Nair writes that Nehru’s personal hatred for Sardar Patel came out in the open on December 15, 1950, the day the Sardar breathed his last in Bombay (now Mumbai). “Immediately after he got the news about Sardar Patel’s death, Nehru sent two notes to the Ministry of States. The notes reached VP Menon, the then Secretary to the Ministry. In one of the notes, Nehru had asked Menon to send the official Cadillac car used by Sardar Patel to the former’s office. The second note was shocking. Nehru wanted government secretaries desirous of attending Sardar Patel’s last rites to do so at their own personal expenses.


“But Menon convened a meeting of all secretaries and asked them to furnish the names of those who want to attend the last rites of Patel. He did not mention anything about the note sent by Nehru. Menon paid the entire cost of the air tickets for those secretaries who expressed their wish to attend Sardar’s last journey.”



L.K. Advani

New Delhi

7 Nov, 2012

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