A substantial part of the British Indian empire was governed in the indirect mode, through ‘native’ Princes whose territories together constituted about forty per cent of the area of the Indian empire. These Princes acknowledged overall British supremacy, and were allowed some internal autonomy the extent of which varied from State to State. Although there were over six hundred Princely States, strictly speaking about one hundred States were political entities of some consequence. Of these Hyderabad, Mysore, Kashmir, Baroda, Gwalior, Travancore, Jaipur, Bhopal and Patiala were among the most prominent. The British maintained the fiction that the rulers of Princely States were partially sovereign. In the latter half of the nineteenth century colonial ideologues such as Henry Maine had found the notion of divisible sovereignty useful for defining the status of ‘native’ rulers.
As the paramount power the British monarch had all the attributes of sovereignty, while the Princes had some attributes of sovereignty; the Crown determined the manner in which power was to be shared or divided. This constitutional fiction masked the powerlessness of Princely rulers as all of
them lacked a key attribute of sovereignty, access to and control over military resources. Consequently, it was meaningless to declare, as British did rather mischievously, that the Princely States of India and Pakistan would become fully sovereign entities upon the lapse of paramountcy in August 1947.
The overwhelming majority of the States, more than five hundred of them, the borders of which were contiguous with those of India, were integrated within a few months of Independence. Popular movements in the States helped accelerate their integration. Most of the historiography on the subject tends to ignore the role of popular movements in the integration and democratization of Princely States. In the case of Pakistan, as Yaqoob Khan Bangash’s study focusing on the first eight years of the existence of the Dominion shows (Pakistan became a Republic in 1956), pressures from below had a role in shaping the destinies of the relatively few States that became part of the newly created nation. Often it was the internal dynamics of these States that compelled rulers and the Central Government to agree to progressive measures. Nevertheless the process of the integration of the States in Pakistan was much slower as compared to the pace at which several hundred States were incorporated with India. A couple of frontier States, tiny chiefdoms actually, are yet to be fully integrated. Of the ‘native’ States which Pakistan inherited, all were located in the western part of Pakistan. They were numerically few, roughly a dozen in all, but eventually accounted for half of the area of West Pakistan. Their integration was therefore a matter of great urgency. Moreover the strategic location of the Baluch States and frontier chiefdoms caused considerable anxiety when they tried to delay accession. The British declaration about their sovereign status notwithstanding, there was no possibility of opting out.
The long history of the subjugation of Princely States, and colonial penetration of their economies, deprived them of the means of existing, at least in the short run, as viable independent entities. Thus it did not really take very long for the respective States to be incorporated into either India or Pakistan. Not a single State was able to exercise the option, illusory as it turned out, of not acceding to one of the two Dominions. A few States seriously attempted to do so: Hyderabad, Travancore, and Kalat. However, none of them succeeded.
Bangash provides us with a detailed account of the processes whereby the Baluch States (Kalat, and its feudatories Mekran, Kharan and Las Bela), Bahawalpur, Khairpur, and the frontier States (Chitral, Swat, Dir, Amb), became part of Pakistan. Bahalwalpur was the largest of these States, and politically the most significant; Kalat the most troublesome. Dir, which shared borders with Afghanistan, signed only an abridged version of the Instrument of Accession executed by other States. This kept the ruler formally independent till the 1960s. Hunza located in the extreme north-west of Kashmir, is part of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and is administered on a basis quite different from other frontier States. The frontier States were almost entirely inhabited by tribal communities in which the heads of lineages did not have royal status. The British undermined the traditional political organization of these States, literally manufacturing a hierarchy in which precedence was accorded to a particular chief who was acknowledged as possessing royal authority. This was a fairly recent development. Swat, for instance, was recognized as a Princely State as late as 1926.
Unlike in India, in Pakistan, officials of the erstwhile colonial Political Department which dealt with ‘native’ rulers, exercised for several years considerable influence over policy relating to the States. Many of these officials were inducted from the Army, and generally were anti-people in their outlook. Lt. Col. A.S.B. Shah, Secretary in the Ministry of States, was the main functionary entrusted with the responsibility of handling the Princely States in the early phase of the formation of Pakistan. Initially Jinnah attended to the question of the States personally, negotiating with the rulers directly. He did not have much difficulty in successfully incorporating Bahawalpur and Khairpur, even as he could always hint at the possibility of military intervention if compliance with his wishes not forthcoming. The Dir issue he was willing to ignore for the time being due to the physical proximity of the State to Afghanistan. But it was the ruler of Kalat, Ahmad Yar Khan, who really tried his patience till he finally decided to hand over the negotiations to bureaucrats. It is clear from Bangash’s narrative that negotiations went hand in hand with intimidation. In Baluchistan the feudatories of the Khan of Kalat were encouraged to assert their autonomy. The problem was that this tactic could not be pursued beyond a point as it might have made the chiefs of these States regard themselves as independent and therefore free to act as they liked. This was potentially dangerous, the more so as they were strategically located. The study devotes considerable space to the Kalat question. The private papers of Douglas Fell (Indian Civil Service), Prime Minister of Kalat under Ahmad Yar Khan, is one of the sources used for the purpose. Somehow Fell’s published memoir (Karachi, 2010), which throws some light on the dispute over accession, does not figure in the references.
Khairpur and Bahawalpur acceded in the first week of October 1947. Khairpur, though it was a political backwater, was of much importance as the Karachi-Lahore railway line passed through it (Karachi was initially the capital of Pakistan). Kalat on the other hand had declared that it would not surrender its sovereign status. This position was endorsed by the newly constituted legislature of the State, so that opposition to accession was not merely a matter of the ruler’s personal inclination. With the lapse of British paramountcy, the Khan of Kalat had promulgated a Constitution that had some democratic elements. The constitution provided for an elected parliament which was fairly representative. Elections for the lower house of the Kalat parliament were held towards the end of 1947, and the first session commenced in the second week of December. In this Kalat was unique among the States which became part of Pakistan. The Constituent Assembly of Pakistan itself had barely begun its work in the months following Independence. The sentiments of the Kalat legislature were of little concern to Jinnah, who insisted on immediate accession. Ahmad Yar Khan signed the Instrument of Accession in March 1948. This was preceded by the curious episode of a formal announcement on All India Radio that ‘Kalat state had approached the Indian Union to accept its accession’ and that the request had been disallowed (p. 189). The Kalat ruler promptly denied that such a request had ever been made.
The lack of commitment on the part of the Muslim League to democratic ideals was reflected in the reluctance of the Central Government to concede demands for making the governments in the erstwhile Princely States more representative. In the long run this attitude had unfortunate consequences for Pakistan as a whole. Ideologues of the Muslim League did little to promote the idea of equality. It is this that fundamentally distinguished, at an individual level, Jinnah (and other prominent League leaders such as Liaquat Ali Khan) from Gandhi and Nehru. Bangash draws attention to the authoritarian tendencies of the League, as a political organization, to dissent in the Princely States. It quickly distanced itself from the All Pakistan States Muslim League (APSML), which was the successor of the All India States Muslim League (AISML). The AISML had been set up before Independence as the Muslim League counterpart of the Congress-aligned All India States Peoples’ Conference (AISPC). The AISML never acquired a mass base in any State, unlike the AISPC. After the formation of Pakistan, the APSML under its leader Manzar-i-Alam spearheaded popular movements for democratization of the respective States. For this reason the League leadership disowned the organization. The Central Government lent support to the States in their endeavours to suppress the movements, and impose restrictions on the activities of the APSML. Further, in order to counter the influence of the APSML branches of the Muslim League were established in every State.
It is pertinent that by 1954 Bahalwalpur had an assembly elected on the basis of universal adult franchise. There was already a legislature in Khairpur since 1949, also elected on the basis of universal adult franchise. When the Baluchistan States extended the vote to all adults in 1952, they were prevailed upon by the central government to enfranchise only male adults. It is a different matter that the legislatures in these States did not enjoy very extensive powers. Nevertheless in terms of popular participation, political activity in these three States seems to have been ahead of developments in other parts of Pakistan. British rule had been an impediment to the process of democratization. For example, no newspapers were allowed in Khairpur in the era of the Raj. The removal of the ban after 1947 opened up new possibilities in the State. Incidentally, for quite some time people were afraid of reading newspapers in public, preferring to do so in the privacy of their homes. The largely forgotten story of the popular dimension of politics in the Princely States in the late forties and early fifties is also a story of lost opportunities. Considering that much of the scholarship on the history of the formative phase of the new nation-state has not paid much attention to specific conditions in Princely States, Bangash’s study shows how crucial the question of these States is for a better understanding of that history.
Amar Farooqui is in the Department of History, University of Delhi, Delhi.