October 3, 2022

The History of Relations between Crown and Indian Princely States from 1773 to 1949

The beginning- When a company came just for trade

As is well known to all students of history the achievement of setting up a British Empire in India was in its early stages at any rate, brought about by the agents of the East India Company in India. The Company entered into treaties with Indian States in the early stages aiming at no more than securing for the Company a privileged position in trade against its rivals.

Regulating Act of 1773

For the first time the Parliament of England asserted its authority and control over the East India Company’s activities both in India and in England by the Regulating Act of 1773, under which the Governor of Bengal became the Governor-General in Council with a certain amount of control over the Presidencies of Bombay and Madras.

System of subsidiary alliance

The Marquis of Wellesley as the Governor-General felt convinced when he came to India in 1798 and saw the state of affairs here that the British must become the one paramount power in the country. He set up a system under which no Indian State which had accepted subsidiary alliance with the British could make any war or carry on negotiations with another State without the Company’s knowledge and consent. It was during his time that the British Dominion in India expanded considerably. He had practically eliminated the French influence in India and brought many States under the subsidiary alliance, the notable instances being Hyderabad, Travancore, Mysore, Baroda and Gwalior.

Under this system of subsidiary alliance, the bigger states were to maintain armies commanded by British officers for preservation of the public peace and their rulers were to cede certain territories for the upkeep of these forces; the smaller States were to pay a tribute to the Company.

In return the Company were to protect them, one and all, against external aggression and internal rebellion. A British Resident was also installed in every State that accepted the subsidiary alliance. This process was carried on during the regime of Hastings and Dalhousie.

The Marquis of Hastings who came out as a Governor-General in 1813 crushed the Pindaris and finally broke the Mahratta power and carried the spread of the British dominion over northern and central India to a stage which it was only left for Lord Dalhousie, a quarter of a century later, to complete. He resumed Wellesley’s policy by extending the Company’s supremacy and protection over almost all the Indian States. By the time he left the country in 1823, the British empire in India had been formed and its map in essentials drawn. Every State in India outside the Punjab and Sind was under the Company’s control.

The influence of the company over the internal administration of the States rapidly increased during the period following the retirement of Lord Hastings. Residents became gradually transformed into diplomatic agents representing a foreign power into executive and controlling officers of a superior government.

Charter of 1833

The Charter of 1833 abolished the Company’s trading activities and the Company assumed the functions of the Government of India. Lord Dalhousie acquired vast territories for the Company conquering the Punjab and pushing the frontiers to the natural limits of India i.e. the base of the mountains of Afghanistan.

Whatever may have been the cause which led to the Mutiny of the year 1857 it was realised by the British people that the Indian States could play a vital role as one of the bulwarks of British rule. An Act of 1858 intituled “An Act for the Better Government of India” provided by the 67th section that “all treaties made by the Company shall be binding upon Her Majesty”. In her proclamation Queen Victoria made it clear that the Government would respect the rights, dignity and honour of Native Princes.

The policy of annexation vigorously pursued by Dalhousie gave way to the perpetuation of the States as separate entities. Lord canning carried this new policy to its next logical step by recommending that the integrity of the States should be preserved by perpetuating the rule of the Princes whose power to adopt heirs should be recognised. The Secretary of State for India agreed to this recommendation and sanads were granted to the Ruler under which in the event of the failure of the natural heirs, they were authorised to adopt their successors according to their law and custom. These sands were intended to remove mistrust and suspicion and knit the Native Sovereigns to the paramount power. The new policy was to punish the ruler for extreme misgovernment and if necessary to depose him but not to annex his State for misdeeds. The Indian States thus became part and parcel of the British Empire in India.

In The words of Lord Canning:

“The territories under the sovereignty of the Crown became at once as important and as integral a part of India as territories under its direct domination. Together they form one direct care and the political system which the Moghuls had not completed and the Maharattas never contemplated is now an established fact of history.”

Indian Political Service

The next five decades were occupied with the task of evolving a machinery for controlling the States. A political department was set up under the direct charge of the Governor-General. It had at its disposal a service known as the Indian Political Service, manned by officers taken from the Indian Civil Service and the Army. It had a police force which was maintained partly by the revenues of the Central Government and partly by contributions made by the States.

The Political Department had Residents and Political Agents in all important States and groups of States. The Secretary of State kept a close control over the activities of the Political Department mainly because of the interest of the Crown in matters affecting the rights and privileges of the Rulers. Constitutionally the States were not part of the British India nor were their inhabitants British subjects. Parliament had no power to legislate for the States or their people.

The Crown’s relationship with the Indian States was conducted by the Governor-General in Council and since he was in charge of the political Department, his Executive Council tended in practice to leave States’ affairs to him which meant that the Political Department came gradually to assume the position of a government within a government.

Claiming of paramount power over states

With the building up of a strong Political Department the Crown started asserting rights never claimed by the East India Company and even at times cutting across treaties. The most outstanding example and at the same time one of far-reaching consequence, in the relations of the paramount power with the Rulers was the prerogative assumed of recognising succession in the case of natural heirs.

The first ruling in this behalf was laid down by the Government of India in 1884 in a letter addressed to the Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces in which it was stated that succession to a native State is invalid until it receives in some form the sanction of the British authority. In the view of the Secretary of State expressed in 1891 it was admittedly the right and duty of Government to settle successions in the protected States in India. This right it was claimed flowed essentially from the-position of the British as the Supreme power responsible for maintaining law and order throughout the country. That power alone had the necessary sanction to enforce decisions regarding disputed successions. The Ruler thus did not inherit his gaddi as of right but as a gift from the paramount power.

The effect of first world War

A definite pattern of the Government of India’s relationship with the States had been developed by the time the first world War broke out in 1914. The Rulers rallied to fight for the Empire, and the organisation of the war effort involved closer coordination of administrative activity in the States as well as in the Provinces. Throughout the country the tide of national aspirations was rising fast. Although Britain claimed to be fighting a war to defend freedom and democracy the system of government by which she continued to hold India in imperial thrall was clearly at variance with her professed aims.

The British Government recognised that the situation needed now handling. In 1917 Montagu, the Secretary of State for India, announced that the policy of His Majesty’s Government with which the Government of India was in complete accord, was that of an increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire.

Report on Constitutional Reforms

The Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy Lord Chelmsford published a joint report on Constitutional Reforms which was the first major investigation into the relations of the States with the rest of India and with the paramount power. The authors of the report visualised that the Provinces would ultimately become self-governing units held together by a Central Government which would deal solely with matters of common concern to all of them. With regard to the Rulers the authors of the report felt that the time had come to end their isolation and that steps should be taken for joint consultations by them for the furtherance of their common interest.

There was a conference of ruling Princes and Chiefs in 1919 which recommended that the rulers of States having full and unrestricted powers of civil and criminal jurisdiction in their States, and the power to make their own laws should be termed sovereign Princes as against those who lacked such powers. This was however not favoured by the Government of India.

Chamber of Princes

In 1921 a Chamber of Princes was brought into being by a Royal Proclamation which announced that the Viceroy would take counsel of the Chamber freely in matters relating to that territories of Indian States generally and in matters which affected these territories jointly with British India or with the rest of the Empire. The Chamber of Princes would have no concern in the internal affairs of individual States or relations of Individual States with the Government of India while the existing rights of these states and their freedom of action would in no way be prejudiced or impaired.

In the years following the first World War the Nationalist Movement in India gained, considerable impetus. Lord Irwin who came out as Viceroy in 1926 felt that the political situation in the country demanded some gesture on the part of Britain.

Butler Committee

In March 1927 an announcement was made for appointing a statutory Commission to enquire into the working of the Government of India Act 1919 and to make recommendations regarding further constitutional advancement. At or about this time the Rulers of the Indian States also demanded an impartial enquiry into the whole relationship between themselves and the paramount power. The Secretary of State appointed a Committee of three members headed by Sir Harcort Butler to enquire into the relationship between the States and the paramount power and to suggest means for the more satisfactory adjustment of the existing economic relations, between the States and the British India.

On behalf of the States it was contended before the Committee that all original sovereign powers except those which had been transferred with their consent to the Crown were still possessed by them and that such transfers could be effected only by the consent of the States and that the paramountcy of the British Crown was limited to certain matters-those relating to foreign affairs and external and internal security. The Committee was not prepared to accept this and held that none of the States overhad any International status. The committee refused to define paramountcy but asserted that paramountcy must remain paramount; it must fulfil its obligations defining or adopting itself according to the shifting necessities of the time and the progressive development of the States.

They however observed that if any Government in the nature of Dominion Government should be constituted in British India such Government could clearly be a new Government resting on a new written Constitution. The Committee noted the grave apprehension of the Princes on this score and recorded a strong opinion that in view of the fact of the historical nature of the relationship of the paramount power and the Princes the latter should not be transferred without their agreement to a relationship with a new Government in British India responsible to an Indian Legislature. This really laid the foundation of a policy whereby in later years a wedge was effectively driven between the States and the British India. The Rulers were certainly disappointed with the findings of the Butler Committee with regard to their main hopes of being freed from the unfettered discretion of the Political Department to intervene in their internal affairs.

Nationalist opinion in the country viewed the recommendations of the Butler Committee with grave apprehension and emphatic protests were entered in the report of a committee presided over by Pandit Motilal Nehru and an All Parties Conference was arranged in 1928 to frame a Dominion Constitution for India. It gave a warning that it was inconceivable that the people of the states who were fired by the same ambitions and aspirations as the people of British India would quietly submit to existing conditions for ever or that the people of British India bound by the closest ties of family race and religion to their brethren on the other side of an imaginary line would never make common cause with them.

The Viceroy Lord Irwin who had conferred with the British Government in 1929 made an official pronouncement on his return to India to the effect that the natural issue of India’s constitutional progress was the attainment of Dominion Status. He also announced that the British Government had accepted the suggestion of Sir John Simon for a Round Table Conference. There was a series of these conferences which debated on many and various points including Federation of the States with the Provinces of British India.

Government of India Act 1935

Then came the Government of India Act 1935 which provided for a constitutional relationship between the Indian States and British India on a federal basis. A special feature of the scheme was that whereas in the case of the provinces accession to the Federation was to be automatic in the case of the states it was to be voluntary. A State was to be considered to have acceded when its Ruler executed an Instrument of Accession and after it was accepted by His Majesty the King of England.

The Government of India Act 1935 other than the Part relating to Federation, came into force on the 1st April 1937. From that date the functions of the Crown in the relations with the States were entrusted to the Crown Representative; those functions included negotiations with the Rulers after accession to the Federation.

Cripp’s Plan

The Federation however never took shape, an important announcement in the Constitutional set up of India which came after the Second World War had broken out was the Draft Declaration known as Cripp’s Plan. This accepted the principle of self-determination but it contained numerous pitfalls which imperilled the future of India. The Mission failed but its failure gave a new turn to India’s political struggle. In spite of the deepening crisis of war no further serious effort was made to resolve the political dead lock in India until the Shimla Conference of 1945. This also proved abortive.

Cabinet Mission

After the assumption of power by the Labour Government in England a Parliamentary delegation visited India and later the Secretary of State announced the Government’s decision to send a delegation of three Cabinet Ministers to India. In May 1946 the Cabinet Mission issued the memorandum dated 12th May 1946 in regard to States’ treaties and paramountcy; it affirmed that the rights of the States which flowed from the relationship of the Crown would no longer exist and that the rights surrendered by the States to the Paramount Power would revert to the States.

The plan provided for the entry of the States to the proposed Union of India in the following manner:

(a) Paramountcy could neither be retained by the British Crown nor transferred to the new Government. But according to the assurance given by the Rulers that they were ready and willing to do so, the States were expected to co-operate in the new development of India.

(b) The precise form which the co-operation of the States would take must be a matter for negotiation during the building up of the new constitutional structure.

(c) The States were to retain all subjects and powers other than those ceded to the Union, namely, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Communications.

(d) In the preliminary stage the States were to be represented on the Constituent Assembly by a Negotiating Committee.

The Viceroy Lord Mountbatten made it clear that the British Government resolved to transfer power by June 1948 and a solution had to be found in a few months’ time. On June 3, 1947 he announced that His Majesty’s Government would be prepared to relinquish power to two Governments of India and Pakistan only the basis of Dominion Status and this relinquishment of power would take place much earlier than June 1948.

In regard to States the plan laid down that the policy of His Majesty’s Government towards the Indian States contained in the Cabinet Mission Memorandum of May 1945 remained unchanged. At a Press Conference held by him Lord Mountbatten gave it out that the date of transfer of power would be about 15th August, 1947.

The Indian Independence Act

The Indian Independence Act enacted for the purpose of giving effect to the plan envisaged as above, received the Royal Assent on 18th July 1947. It provided for the setting up of two independent Dominions as and from the 15th August 1947.

Under s. 7(1)(b) the suzerainty of His Majesty over the Indian States would lapse and with it all treaties and agreements in force at the date of the passing of the Act between His Majesty and the Rulers of Indian States, all functions exercisable by His Majesty at that date with respect to Indian States, all obligations of His Majesty existing at that date towards Indian States or the Rulers thereof.

Section 9 empowered the Governor-General, to promulgate orders for making such provisions as appeared to him to be necessary or expedient for bringing the provisions of the Act into effective operation, for dividing between the new Dominions, and between the new Provinces to be constituted under the Act, the powers, rights, property, duties and liabilities of the Governor-General in Council, etc.

Even before the passing of the Act Lord Mountbatten was debating the States’ problems with Indian leaders. He put forward to them a peaceful settlement he had in mind namely to allow the Rulers to retain their titles, extra territorial rights. and personal property and civil list in return for which they would join a Dominion-most of them India, and a few like Bahawalpur Pakistan only three subjects of defence external affairs and communications being reserved for the Central Government.

Instrument of Accession

A draft Instrument of Accession was prepared in the States Department of the Dominion of India. The Instrument of Accession took three forms according to the existing status and powers of the various States. By the Instrument of Accession, the States were to accede to the Dominion of India on the three subjects, Defence, External Affairs and Communications and their content being as defined in Schedule VII of the Government of India Act, 1935. Shortly before the 15th August with the helpful efforts of Lord Mountbatten negotiations were concluded and barring Hyderabad, Kashmir and Junagadh all the States within the geographical limits of the Indian Union had acceded to the Indian Dominion by the 15th August.

The accession of the Indian States to the Dominion of India established a new organic relationship between the States and the Government of India. The second phase which rapidly followed involved a process of two-fold integration, consolidation of States into sizable administrative units and their democratization. With the advent of independence in India the popular urge in the States for attaining the same measure of freedom as was enjoyed by the people in the Provinces gained momentum and unleashed strong movements for the transfer of power from the Rule to the people.

So far as the larger units were concerned democratization of administration could be a satisfactory solution of their constitutional problem. However, in the case of small States Responsible Government could have only proved a farce. The Rulers of smaller States were in no position to meet the demand. for equating the position of their people with that of their countrymen in the Provinces. Without doubt the smaller State units could not have continued in modern conditions as separate entities; integration provided the only approach to the problem.

The integration of States did not however follow a uniform pattern. Merger of States in the Provinces geographically continuous to them was one form of integration; the second was conversion of States into Centrally administered areas; and the third form was the creation of new viable units known as Unions of States. Each of these forms was adopted according to size, geo graphy and other factors relating to each State or group of States.

The problem of integration was first faced in Orissa where the States formed scattered bits of territory with no geographical contiguity. After long discussions with the Rulers of the States and the Minister of the State Department it was eventually decided to integrate the small States with the adjoining Provinces. Agreements were signed by the Rulers of these States in December 1947 and on subsequent dates providing for cession by them to the Dominion of India full and exclusive authority, jurisdiction and power in relation to the governance of their States. There were several groups of States which with due regard to geographical, linguistic, social and cultural affinities of the people could be consolidated into sizable and viable units consisting entirely of States.

Madhya Bharat

In such cases, territories of States were united to form Unions of States on the basis of full transfer of power from the Rulers to the people. A special feature of these Unions was the provision for the Rajpramukh as the constitutional head of the State who was to be elected by a Council of Rulers. The United State of Gwalior, Indore and Malwa and other small States came to be known as Madhya Bharat of which the Ruler of Gwalior became the Rajpramukh. Integration of Rajputana was completed in three stages.

As a result of the application of the various merger and integration schemes 216 States were merged in Provinces, 61 States were taken over as Centrally administered areas and 275 States were integrated into the Union of States. The process of the merger of the States with the Provinces or their constitution into Centrally Administered areas, transfer of power to the people was automatic in that the merged States became part of the Administrative units which were governed by the popular Government of the Provinces and the Centre as the case might be. So far as the Provincially merged States were concerned under the arrangements made virtually by the statutory orders issued under S. 290-A of the Government of India Act 1935 provision was made for the representation of the people of the merged States in the Provincial Legislature.

As regards the Unions of States wherever practicable popular interim ministries were set up to conduct their administration. The Instruments of Merger and the covenants establishing the various units of States were in the nature of overall settlements with the Rulers who had executed them. While they provided for the integration of States and for the transfer of powers from the, Rulers they also guaranteed to the Rulers privy purses succession to the gaddi, rights and privileges and full ownership, use and enjoyment of all private properties belonging to them as distinct from State properties.

The above is a thumb-nail sketch of the political developments and the major political events between 1773 and 1948 or 1949. Most of the historical account is taken verbatim from V. P. Menon’s “Story of Integration of Indian States” and the White Paper on Indian Constitution.

Reference

H. H. Maharajadhiraja Madhav Rao vs Union Of India;1971 AIR 530,