Most of us are guilty of having a somewhat idealized image of the relationship bet¬ween people in the Indian States movement and those in the Indian National Congress (INC) in the critical years before Independence. The image has been created partly by Nehru’s Autobiography, by V.P. Menon’s and Lord Mountbatten’s works and out¬pourings and partly by the publications of bodies like the Janmabhoomi Trust whose founder, Amritlal Sheth, was a pillar of the States Peoples’ movement in Gujarat and Saurashtra. That image was of one of total cooperation, but Dr Vanaja Rangaswami pre¬sents an altogether different picture. Her charge—based, it should be said, on events in three states, Mysore, Travancore and Cochin—is that the interests of the States’ peoples and that of the INC soon parted company. Her conten¬tion is that the INC was callous in subordinating the popular demands in the States—for responsible government, curbing of autocracy, funda¬mental rights and civil liber¬ties—to its own interest in Swaraj first—a Swaraj where there would be no regionalism. The story of how this con¬frontation unwound is Dr Rangaswami’s theme.
The fact that she has chosen States like Travancore and Mysore is significant, because in those states the popular move¬ment had thrust and leadership, and so the let-down by the INC was felt all the more. In Sir Mirza Ismail and Sir CP. Ramaswami Iyer those States also had powerful and dyna¬mic, if sometimes Machia¬vellian, Dewans.
Of course it could be said, and it is certainly true, that dur¬ing late 19th and early 20th centuries, the real fight for reforms in the princely states was between the people and the British paramount power rather than the administra¬tion. But, gradually, more power did pass into the hands of the States’ administrations even though the paramount power, in the shape of the Resident and the Political Department, always hovered, in the rear. Examples of the British authorities forcing the pace are not lacking—in the question of subsidies payable to them, for instance, and the way in which Mysore was forced to give up her own plans for a State Railway and fall in line with a British proposal.
One interesting part of the chronicle of these three States is the play of communal and caste forces, which eventually meant that a Dewan from out¬side was best suited to com¬mand the field. There were demands for communal repre¬sentation in Councils and jobs. In this nothing seems to have changed, despite the formation of linguistic States like Kerala, and Dr Ranga¬swami says, rather bitterly:
Gandhian leadership and his emphasis on British Indian interest reinforced the trend already established after the Haripura resolution in the changes wrought in the constitution to turn Kerala into the stronghold of communism and communalism, the very traits which are discernible even today.
The Maharaja of Cochin also had a very apt comment that the ‘bewildering changes of party labels by members of the Council showed a lack of poli¬tical education and laxity of principles, which augur ill for the future.’ Indeed the final flowering of this poison tree is evident now, in many States. It was during the period 1933 to 1936 that the Indian States Peoples’ movement was pushed into positive confrontation with the INC. The Butler Committee had already deci¬ded that the people of the States did not have even the right to be heard on the issue of relations between the para¬mount power and the States. The Round Table Conference of 1931 decided that the States’ people were to have no representatives other than the hereditary rulers—a view with which the INC and some of its tallest leaders agreed.
Motilal Nehru, for instance, in an address to the Rajputana, Central India, Ajmer and Marwar Political Conference stated that there was no reason for the Maharajas to be alarmed at the non-cooperation move¬ment. He declared that it was directed only against the British Government and not against them, and warned the delegates that the true happi¬ness of both rulers and the ruled lay in a hearty coopera¬tion between them, concluding that nothing could lead to more disastrous results than the application of the Con¬gress programme of non-cooperation in the States!
Sardar Vallabhabhai Patel’s view was hardly any different. Speaking in Mysore State in September 1929, he said he was sorry to see some degree of ill feeling between the gov¬ernment and the people. He congratulated the people of Mysore State for their good fortune in possessing a model ruler, and ended with the dec¬laration that if the Maharaja did not pay heed to the people, the fault seemed to lie with them rather than with him!
And Mahatma Gandhi? In May 1938 a memorandum was presented by the Travancore State Congress to the Maha¬raja, making charges against the Dewan, Sir CP. Rama-swami Iyer. Gandhiji insisted that it be withdrawn, even though it was plainly a humiliating retreat.
What was the game that the INC was playing? In all Dr Rangaswami’s work the enig¬matic figure seems to be Gandhiji whose ‘manoeuverings’ (her word) have both a statesman-like and a devilish touch. For her the other leaders did not matter. Some of them were perhaps tempera mentally more suited to em¬pathize with the rulers. Others thought that the movement in British India was so superior and important that the States’ movement was a third division league. Gandhiji’s aim was Swaraj first, Swaraj for an integrated and united country, and to that aim all his actions and advice were directed. For instance, he insisted that the Vaikom Satyagraha was social, not political. Then why not a temple entry movement in those parts of British India where Harijans were also kept from temples? It is quite clear that Gandhiji was interfering in Travan-core for political reasons. In Mysore he even threatened to support a dissident Cong-ress to bring the official Mysore Congress to heel.
Jawaharlal Nehru gets very little approbation from Dr Rangaswami in matters con¬cerning the States either. He was indeed elected President of the Indian States Peoples’ Conference but, according to her, his statements were often naive, and even if he differed with Gandhiji he didn’t ex¬press his disagreement. There was the case of the resolution on repression in Mysore which was moved at the Calcutta Congress in 1937, by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya and K.F. Nariman. Kamaladevi, as her interview recorded by the Nehru Library’s oral history department shows, has never been able to understand Gandhiji’s disapproval of a resolution so patently linked with human rights. In his Harijan Gandhi wrote that the Mysore resolution was ultra vires of the Congress resolution of non interference. In a rejoinder Nehru said that he was unable to discover any basis for this view, and main¬tained that the Congress cons¬titution in no way barred such a resolution. But Nehru’s re¬joinder was never published. It lies among the AICC papers.
Nehru was President at the Lahore Congress 1929, where on the banks of the Ravi the oath of independence was taken. Yet, at the same Cong¬ress, Dr Rangaswami says, the INC went back to the 1927 position in merely expressing the opinion that the time had arrived for the ruling princes to grant responsible govern¬ment to their people. There was no mention of the sym¬pathy and help promised so generously earlier.
The Congress Socialist Party was the only group that opposed this posture, but they were small and, against armour plating like Vallabhbhai Patel’s, they had no chance. Dr Rangaswami has said hardly anything about Subhas Bose’s outlook on the State Peoples’ Movement. One would expect him to be sym¬pathetic and anti-repression, but was he?
The British, on the other hand, were fairly consistent. As time went on they sought to counter-pose the princes against the nationalists in British India, and succeeded to a consider¬able extent. At one point the paramount power delinked the States from the neighbour¬ing provinces with which they had relationships through the governors, and brought them into direct contact with the Centre through the Political Department.
Gradually, however, the British faced a dilemma for which the author says Gandhiji was res¬ponsible. With liberalization proceeding in India and the onset of responsible govern¬ment, they could not very well approve of autocracy in the States. On the one hand the British could scarcely protect the princes from the popular demands of their subjects, nor could they give up the pro¬posal for federation which they had propounded. The exit cue was provided by World War II which allowed the Viceroy to freeze all politi¬cal development.
In retrospect, it seems that the newspapers in the main metro¬politan cities of British India carried very little information about the State peoples’ struggle. The portrait of Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer that emerges would otherwise not have come as a surprise. One re¬collects MPs like C.P. Matthen in the early fifties who had been ruined and tortured by Sir Ramaswami Iyer. But here the picture is of a much more ruthless, scheming person.
Dr Rangaswami’s view of the Transfer of Power may not be wholly correct. There must be’ other views too, and they should be expressed. Her case, however, is strongly put, with a wealth of detail and a mas¬sive bibliography. The details seem sometimes to be repeti¬tive and the narrative can be dry, but the innate interest of the theme is such that the attention does not flag. Per¬haps someone else will com¬plete the story of the other 559 States.
Chanchal Sarkar is Editor of Facets.