Serfs no more: How Nehru united people to rise against princely tyranny


Nehru despised monarchists and their doppelgangers in India -- the fat cat princes. His thinking was predicated on democracy being the bedrock of the future India. And he created a powerful stalking horse -- All India States' People's Conference -- to democratise the stubborn princely states. For him, these rogue states were the molecule of modern India, they were like a group of atoms that needed to bond together.

Nehru personally stormed the bastions of the princely states to send a message that he opposed the enslavement of people when another part of the same country in contiguous areas was rebelling against the British in search of freedom from the chains of servility. He was constantly rattling their cage with fiery speeches, personal interventions and policy adjustments.

In the scrimmage that became India's run towards independence, it was always Nehru and then Mountbatten and Sardar Patel who ran the relay to systematically demolish the egos of the princes and bring them on board through a mix of cajoling, duress and even threat.

This outright opposition to serfdom and bondage gives him a unique place in history. If not the real 'Iron Man of India', then he certainly was the man who saw tomorrow, anticipated it and planned adequately for it to near perfection and was the undisputed progenitor of the idea and ideal of an integrated and unified India. As the rebellious Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyyar, powerful Dewan of Travancore who flirted with the idea of independence, wailed before Viceroy Lord Mountbatten when all seemed lost and accession to India proved to be the only alternative -- Nehru is unstable and Patel, ruthless, and it is impossible to deal with them.

Quick-tempered Nehru made it his mission to cut the umbilical cord that the princes maintained with British Paramountcy and enfeeble them completely. At every opportunity that presented itself, he spewed venom against the princes, making it crystal clear to them that he despised them and would have nothing but their integration at any cost. Small or big did not matter for Nehru; every single one of them had to be lassoed.

He followed a two-tiered approach -- it was critical for him to mainstream the people of these states and bring them into the prevailing consciousness of freedom and independence that existed at the time in the provinces. For that it was imperative to be seen and heard by the people in the states and that is why he opposed the tyrannical rule in Nabha, Faridkot and Kashmir with bravado and derring-do.

At the same time, he attacked the princes publicly at every opportunity from platforms of import to tell them where they stood. His clarion call at every step being that they had no future of their own and amalgamation and integration with the rest of what was to become independent India was the only prescribed way forward.

In terms of formalising a broad policy for the vast array of princes and their states and then neutralising them, it was Nehru who front-ran the whole operation. Nehru's role in this Herculean task of crippling egotistical men can never be undermined, nor can his lucid thought in asphyxiating these rulers be underscored. Nehru has never been given his due in this regard.

Known as a statesman and international leader, Nehru played an exceptional role in fashioning India -- a free and a unified India -- one that included the provinces and the princely states under the same flag. It would never have fructified without Nehru's persuasive ways. His friendship with Mountbatten was equally important in breaking the back of the princes and securing their acquiescence by even putting them under the cosh at times if they did not come forward willingly.

The construct of modern India, which included did not have any place for either royalty or serfdom, was sculpted by a strong-willed Nehru who deep down could never accept the colonisers or their slaves in India -- the Princely Order. Nehru's overarching vision was to have one India to administer, with every single free Indian, irrespective of whether he belonged to the provinces or to the states, to live, breathe and enjoy the fruits of freedom.

Once the baton was handed over to Sardar Patel and V. P. Menon in the States ministry, they implacably and remorselessly ground to dust the hopes and aspirations of the Princes who contemplated their own independent status within the boundaries of India. In between, of course, there was the resolute and sometimes feral Mountbatten, who played an equal part in this massive amalgamation process with Menon egging him on.

And this troika did not consist of bit players, but men who were fashioning a united India, one that has survived the test of time. A consolidated India, which has faced civil strife off and on, but remained one entity nevertheless.

(The writer is a published author who was a Visiting Fellow at ORF when he wrote a Special Report titled 'Nehru - The Mapmaker')