Victory 1945 to 1947
Viceroy Wavell announced that WorCom would be released and that Indian leaders would be invited to Simla for talks. Wavell offered an Executive Council with an equal number of caste Hindus and Muslims plus a scheduled caste member and a few belonging to the minorities. Congress accepted but Jinnah rejected because he wanted to have the absolute right to select all Muslims. The Talks Failed. Jinnah’s stock soared. Ten months G knocked at his doors, now the Viceroy yielded to him. Muslim leaders saw a barren feature for themselves unless they were linked to Jinnah. By virtue of handing over to Jinnah the power of veto, Wavell had practically ensured the creation of Pakistan. Softness was not part of Sardar. On August 9, 1945 he said “The British talk of Hindu Muslim quarrels but who has thrust the burden on their shoulders. If they are sincere let them hand over to the Congress, league or international arbitration. Give me just a week’s rule over Britain, I will create such disagreements that England, Wales and Scotland will they will fight one another for ever”.
On Subhash Bose, SP had earlier claimed him as a colleague and fellow fighter and was willing to help the dependants / personnel of the Indian National Army. SP admired Subhas’s bravery and Bose’s supporters SP for his Quit India stand. He had done in 1942 what Subhas had asked for in 1939.
In 1945 Labor replaced the Tories. Atlee decided to hold fresh elections to central and provincial assemblies. G was against the Congress taking funds from industrialists but SP knew that it was not practical. SP’s post Ahmednagar independence was sensed by G in early 1946 said he “Sardar is as dear as a son to me”. Earlier SP was brother. A younger brother listens to the elder but a son leads his own life.
1945 election results showed that except in N.W.F.P. the league commanded the Muslim vote. The non-Muslim vote was behind the Congress, which won 56 seats in the Central Assembly and 930 in the provinces, but the League obtained all the 30 seats in the Central Assembly and 427 of the 507 Muslim seats in the provinces. Notice that an also ran party in 1937 was in 1945 the Congress’s main challenger. Reasons were, free run enjoyed by the League after the ministries resigned, Jinnah’s grit, the quam’s feeling that the British must restore power to those from whom they had taken it, the Raj’s encouragement, G’s knocks at Jinnah’s door, Wavell’s capitulation before Jinnah at Simla. The Congress formed eight provincial ministries and the League two, i.e. Sind and Bengal.
Unlike Nehru, who imagined Hindu-Muslim unity when it did not exist SP was frank about the reality. He had no difficulty in describing nonreserved seats as Hindu seats. His work amongst the Muslims remained minimal. He did not move in the Muslim world and they did not move in his. While G spoke as an Indian, SP found it natural to speak as a Hindu.
If India elects for independence, said PM Attlee; she has a right to do so. The Cabinet Mission led by Stafford Crips was sent to solve the Indian problem, convert the Executive Council into an Interim govt. so that Indians could no longer accuse the Brits of clinging to India. Secession was the Congress’s fear; submergence was the quam’s. A Pakistan consisting of Sindh, NW.F.P. Punjab, Bengal and Assam was the league’s demand. The Congress was not too sure what it wanted, a loose federation or a strong center. SP and Nehru wanted a strong center though Nehru, Gandhi and Azad were agreeable to a weaker center if he could retain the Muslim majority areas. Less willing to rule out a settlement Azad proposed a loose all Indian union with substantial provincial autonomy to the Greater Pakistan area provided the compulsory link between different parts of India is not interfered with. This was the origin of the ‘Federation within Federation’ concept proposed by Cripps.
During the long talk’s SP’s interventions were rare but significant. He used them to reject Hindu-Muslim parity at the center. He was distrustful of the League. The talks brought out Jinnah’s revulsion to be part of the Indian Union. Cripps prepared the Cabinet Mission Plan with a Center dealing with defence, foreign affairs and communications and the provinces controlling the rest. The provinces were free to form ‘Groups’ in exercise of their autonomous powers i.e. two or more states could join to become a bigger state. (May 16 proposal).
Muslim groups in the West and the East were suggested. Having voted against being part of the Muslim group, yet N.W.F.P. and the Assam were to be part of the Muslim group. The step by step approached ensured work on the Indian Constitution would start only after the two Groups had been formed. The Congress was told that the idea of Hindu-Muslim parity in the Constituent Assembly was given up while the League was assured if the majority of the Muslim members felt that a subject was communal, the Federal Court would adjudicate if the Assembly or President thought otherwise.
The Congress and the League interpreted the plan to their advantage. The League thought it had got Pakistan while the Congress believed that the demand for Pakistan had been rejected. Also, the Mission told the League privately and not the Congress on May 16 that a simple majority votes in the Muslim majority would decide grouping.
While some Congress leaders were willing to consider groupings, SP’s and G’s clear conviction that compulsory grouping was wrong and a stepping stone to Greater Pakistan meant other leaders had to fall in line. Delighted that Jinnah’s main demand for Pakistan had been rejected; SP was worried about a weak centre and the prospect of Assam becoming part of the League’s grouping. Worried he told Wavel that he was opposed to the May 16 statement. The Congress waited for the League’s response and its approach to its second objective i.e. its proposal for an Interim govt.
After two rejections Wavell proposed a Council (called June16 proposal) of 14 with 6 Hindus, 5 Muslims, a Sikh, a Parsi and a Christian. Agreeable initially, SP changed his mind after reading Jinnha’s letter to the Viceroy that appeared in the Statesman on June 20. The letter asked, would Jinnah be consulted if the other minority members of the Council were unwilling to join, the League have a veto on every communal issue, could the Congress substitute a Hindu with a Muslim. After evidence of Jinnah’s attitude, SP felt that a coalition with him was not worth considering.
The June 16 offer incorporated a statement that in the event of the two parties being unwilling to form a coalition, the Viceroy would proceed to invite that party which agrees to the May 16 proposal to form the Interim govt.
After lots of deliberation, the Congress read Sardar went against Gandhi’s wishes and accepted the May 16, 1946 proposal. Keen to install a League Congress coalition, Cripps and Co said one thing to the Congress and another to the League. Getting Congress into power and preventing the League from obtaining an inflated share were SP’s principal goals (may be he did not want to repeat the mistake of 1939 when the Ministries resigned putting the League in an advantageous position). Said Wavell to the King on 8.7.46 “SP is the recognized tough man of the Congress Working Committee and by far the most formidable character amongst them. He is the probably the only one of them capable of standing up to Gandhi”.
Having consented to May and June 16, Jinnah expected to be invited to form the Interim govt. Jinnah was furious. After considering Grouping as an essential feature of their scheme, the Raj accepted the Congress’s rejection of grouping. SP’s firmness and Cripps cleverness prevented a Jinnah govt from being formed. Jinnah ! was to extract a heavy price later.
After 97 grueling days, Cripps left India saying both parties having accepted May 16, a new coalition govt would be attempted after a short interval.
Gandhi elects Nehru - Aware that the next Congress President would be India’s first defacto Premier, Azad wanted to continue to be President. Nehru had his own ambitions while SP was backed by many PCCs. Nine days before the date for withdrawal of nominations i.e. on April 20, G indicated his preference for Nehru but the party wanted SP. 12 of the 15 PCCs had nominated him. Knowing that no PCC chief would propose Nehru, G asked Kriplani to propose Nehru’s name during a WorCom meeting in Delhi. As soon as Nehru had been proposed Kriplani withdrew his nomination and handed over to SP a fresh piece of paper with the latter’s withdrawal written on it, so that Nehru was elected unopposed. Said G to Nehru. No PCC chief has recommended your name but the WorCom has. Nehru kept quiet. Obtaining confirmation that Nehru would not take second place, G asked SP to sign the statement that Kriplani had given him. SP did so at once as he had withdrawn in 1929,1936 and 1939.
Why did G select Nehru? One was that Nehru, a Harrow boy, Cambridge graduate; barrister was required to carry out negotiations with the Brits. Two was Nehru’s rapport with a section of the Muslims contracted with SP’s aloofness. That Nehru will not take second place, is better known abroad than Sardar and will make India play a major role in international affairs were other reasons. Finally G realized that Nehru’s selection would not deprive India of Patel’s services but denial would drive Nehru into the opposition.
On assuming Presidency Nehru went back on May 16 agreement making Jinnah furious. When the Raj refused to remove the impression that the Congress had accepted May 16, Jinnah got the League to revoke the acceptance of May 16 and launch “Direct Action” to achieve Pakistan.
Aghast at Nehru’s blunder SP wrote “Nehru often acts with childlike innocence—but we must not allow anger to get the better of ourselves. But inspite of all his innocent indiscretions, his unparalleled enthusiasm and passion for freedom make him restless and drive him to a pitch of impatience where he forgets himself. Opposition sometimes drive him mad as he is impatient”.
Jinnah’s plan had the potential to torpedo Wavell’s plans; he was willing to consider an Interim Govt dominated by the Congress. Nehru however, wanted an assurance from the Viceroy that he would figure only as a figurehead. Not knowing what to do it is believed that Wavell through an intermediary ascertained SP’s views. Patel conveyed that the Congress would not insist on the Viceroy’s role as a figurehead if it were asked to form the govt. The WorCom on August 8, agreed with SP overriding Nehru’s views. SP’s conviction had prevailed once more.
The Interim Govt was sworn in September 1946. The Direct Action Day on August 16 rocked Calcutta where H.S. Suhrawardy headed a League dominated Coalition. The Statesman referred to it as “the appalling carnage, the worst communal riot in India’s communal history”. When the Hindus retaliated peace was restored within a week. According to a rough estimate, 5000 were dead, over 15,000 injured and 15,000 homeless.
Convinced that the League had to be brought into the govt, Wavel asked Nehru, who in a weak moment agreed. Shocked by Nehru’s decision, SP did not protest hard enough when the League joined the govt without rescinding its rejection of May 16. The League wanted Home, SP throated to resign. Eventually a key portfolio Finance was offered to Liaqat Ali.
Ghazanfar Ali Khan, one of the League’s nominees said that their intent of entering the govt was to get a foothold to fight for our cherished goal for Pakistan. Depts controlled by the League became or were seen to be as entrenched Muslim camps.
Early October, about 300 Hindus were killed in Noakali in eastern Bengal. Temples were destroyed, women raped and Hindus forcibly converted. G went to Noakali to instill courage amongst the Hindus and tolerance amongst the Muslims. As a backlash, app 7,000 Muslims were killed in Bihar. Patel visited Bihar with Liaqat.
After entering the govt. Nehru vacated the President’s chair. Azad was keen to replace him but SP is believed to have pulled various strings in different parts of the country to ensure that Kriplani and not Azad became party president. Eventually Azad joined the cabinet in January 1947 while Kriplani felt that the party president no longer as important as before since the party was now in power.
In October 1946 SP moved into their new home at 1 Aurangzeb Road. He appointed Vidya Shankar as his confidential aid. Though not a member of the ICS, V P Menon had begun govt service as a clerk and by sheer merit risen to the Viceroys Reforms Commission. The Patel Menon understanding started in August 1946, was key to the transfer of power, division of Bharat and the merger of the princely states into India. Another valuable official was H M Patel, ICS.
The Constituent Assembly visualized by May 16 has been formed about Sep 1946 but never met till December. Jinnah followed rejection of May 16 by asking the League members of the Assembly to boycott it. While Congress asked the Viceroy to get the league to accept May 16, the League wanted the Congress’s consent to compulsory grouping. HMG’s response was to invite Viceroy Wavell and five Indian leaders to London. SP did not go, Nehru went after a personal appeal by Attlee. The outcome was a victory for the League.
HMG declared that Bengal could vote Assam into a Muslim group even if Assam wanted to stay out and Sind, NWFP could be compelled to join the Group dominated by Punjab. The Raj’s doublespeak was out in the open in favor of the League. SP knew this all along, which is why he avoided the London talks. By not going Nehru might have postponed defeat but neither SP or Nehru were in a position to prevent it.
SP took a serious view of the last paragraph of the London declaration where HMG stated that no constitution drafted by the constituent assembly in which a large section of the Indian population had not been represented would be forced on unwilling parts of the country. This was in SP’s opinion an encouragement of Pakistan and a reversal of Attlee’s words of March 1946 that “we cannot allow a minority to place a veto on the advance of the majority”. In any case, said SP, if Britain wanted to leave India, HMG should name a date of departure. Jinnah would be bound to compromise.
The Patel- Gandhi disagreement of June 1946 is in contrast with SP’s statement to the WorkCom in 1942 “I have placed myself in G’s hands. I feel that he is instinctively right”. Patel – Nehru relationship was tested at the Congress Annual Session at Meerut. Nehru had unexpectedly said that the Congress ministers are likely to resign. Not being a party decision, speaking in Mumbai a fed days later, SP said Congress has no intention of quitting office. Addressing the advocates of Pakistan, SP said “Whatever you do, do it by the method of peace and love. You may succeed. But the sword will be met by a sword”. Cheers greeted the statement, coming after Noakali, the timing was not exactly right. It appears that Nehru and Kriplani complained to G after which G wrote to SP who wrote back. Their differences were now in the open.
The inaugural session of the Constituent Assembly was held in December 1946. As a result of HMG’s London declaration the League and the Princely states boycotted it. Being part of the govt. the Congress had to attend. The League refused to say yes to May 16, to which SP/Nehru wanted on the expulsion of League Minister’s. Wavell refused on which the Congress said it would resign. They however changed their mind on February 20, when Attlee said that Britain would quit India not later than June 1948 handing over “to some form of central govt or in some areas to the existing provincial govts or in such other way as may seem most reasonable” While this is what SP had asked for, Indians all over were thrilled. Menon had outlined to SP a scheme for transfer of power with Partition somewhere in Dec 46/ January 1947. SP did not visualize Pakistan in Dec 46 but was now willing to see India divided.
What were the arguments used by Menon to convince SP that partition was the best bet? Menon recounts. First it was better to see the country divided than see it move towards civil war. Second by consenting to Dominion status, the Congress would gain British goodwill which would help in bringing the princes around and their cooperation since the Brits commanded the armed forces in India. Three while the three tier Mission Plan was unworkable, partition would enable the emergence of a strong Central Govt. Finally once the League was given Pakistan, it would lose its capacity to obstruct the Congress in the rest of India and the Congress would be free to abolish Muslim electorates. (Reason 4 was flawed since Pakistan has continued a pain the neck.)
Also the experience coalition with the League has disgusted him and the possibility of the Raj extending its rule to keep peace in India infuriated him. Governing India with the League was SP’s nightmare. SP and Muslims – In response to a suggestion by Sir Norman Smith that the League be offered 7 seats in the Council to the Congress’s 6 SP said “ If you think that generosity will placate the Muslim Oliver Twist, then you do not understand either the Muslim mind or the situation”. SP to Cripps on 15.12.1946 “ If strong action had been taken or allowed to be taken, when Direct Action Day was fixed by the Muslim League, all this colossal loss of life and property and the blood-curling events would not have happened. The Viceroy took the contrary view and every action of his since the Great Calcutta Killing has been in the direction of encouraging the Muslim League and putting pressure on us towards appeasement”. The Viceroy’s Journal confirms SP’s charges.
The deadline for the Brits departure and Attlee’s word that power might directly go to the provincial govts triggered a struggle for their control. The League dominated the Bengal ministry, was in possession of Sind, could count of Baluchistan but Punjab was not in its hands and so were N.W.F.P. and Assam. It failed in Assam, raised the Islam in danger bogey in NW.F.P. and earned sympathy when its supporters were arrested while in Punjab Muslims picketed govt buildings, hostels and hoisted the League flag over them. After the state premier Khizr resigned, the Raj unwisely asked the League leader in the legislature, Khan of Mamadot to form the govt. In response Master Tara Singh urged Sikhs youths to respond. Lahore Silk Market was set ablaze and Amristsar now a Veritable Inferno. Riots followed. The Mamdot ministry was dismissed.
Hindus and Sikhs demanded partition, SP agreed. The WorCom resolution of March 8, 1947 supported it implying that Bengal be partitioned too. The resolution was a public admission that the Congress was ready to yield Pakistan. G was upset and wrote to SP asking him to explain the Punjab resolution. SP – G differences once more. G did not know that on March 4 four days before the resolution, SP had written to Jinnah’s close friend K Dwarkadas “If the League insists on Pakistan, the only alternative is the division of Punjab and Bengal”.
SP and G differences – SP and G differed over the demand of the Bihar Muslim League for a commission of inquiry into the Bihar riots of November 1946. SP and the Raj felt that an inquiry would worsen the situation. G hoped the inquiry would unite the two communities displaying a lack of reality while SP was allergic to anything that looked like appeasement of the League. The Raj supported SP on this. SP’s motives were national. In the summer of 1946 he agreed with Cripps and G and again in the summer of 1946 he agreed with Mountbatten and not G.
Inspite of his reputation as India’s tough man, Mountbatten very quickly detected a twinkle in Sardar’s eye. But SP revealed his toughness to Mountbatten when the latter, after citing a pledge of 25 yrs service by the Raj in 1945 to members of the ICS and IPS, sought compensation from India for loss of careers for officers who chose or were asked to leave on transfer of power. SP put his foot down; no compensation would be paid.
G last bid to prevent partition – Returning from Bihar on March 31, 1947 G called on the Viceroy and suggested to Mountbatten that the Interim govt be dissolved and Jinnah invited to form a Cabinet of his choice. As long as the Congress thought that Jinnah was pursuing India’s interest, Congress would cooperate with Jinnah and not use its majority in the Central Assembly to block his ministry. If he wishes Jinnah could continue to advocate Pakistan, provided he eschewed force. Azad agreed with G’s plan and thought it would be the quickest way to stop bloodshed. Nehru and SP opposed the plan though it was never put to Jinnah. V.P. Menon was opposed to the scheme. Yet there was a moment on April 10, when Mountbatten thought that G's proposal might fly. In the middle of a three hour meeting with Jinnah he said “we do not know how sincerely – that it was a day dream of mine to be able to put the Central Govt under the Prime Ministership of Mr Jinnah”. Jinnah was too surprised to react but some 35 minutes later Jinnah “suddenly made a reference out of the blue” to the Viceroy’s proposal. At the WorCom only Ghafar Khan sided with G. Thus G admitted defeat.
Life is all about turnarounds. In 1940, writing in the Harijan “The Muslim League is frankly communal and wants to divide India into two parts”. He wrote in April 1942 “If the vast majority of Muslims regard themselves as a separate nation having nothing in common with the Hindus, no power on earth can compel them to think otherwise. And if they want to partition India on that basis, they must have it, unless Hindus want to fight against such a division”. In 1944, G visited Jinnah’s house 14 times conceding Pakistan through the Rajaji formula but Jinnah did not find it large enough then yet today he was fighting against it. What is common however, is his appeasement of the League. G told Azad on 03/03/1947 “If the Congress wishes to accept partition, it will be over my dead body. So long as I am alive, I will never agree to the partition of India. Nor will I, if I can help it, allow the Congress to accept it”.
SP looked for opportunities to show his goodwill to Britain. He appreciated the fact that Britain inspite of domestic problems were handling India’s partition. But he retained his bluntness. He called Abell, the Secretary of the Muslim League. Responding to fresh incidents of violence against Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab and NW.F.P. He said to Mountbatten “There is a civil war on and you are doing nothing to stop it. You won’t govern yourself and you won’t let the Central Govt govern”. Law and Order was a state subject and there was little SP could do to curb riots. Mountbatten wanted Williams as the Home Secretary while SP wanted Banerjee. Mounbatten has lied by saying that bragging over his victory over Patel in Banerjee’s appointment but the reality was different. SP wanted Banerjee period.
Inspite of what appears above, SP on April 25 told Mountbatten that if the League were to accept the Cabinet Mission Plan read as understood by the Congress then partition could be avoided. Jinnah too was tired of the Congress League fights and requested Mountbatten not to ask him to accept the Cabinet Mission Plan. In separate public speeches, Nehru conceded partition on April 20 and SP on May 9, 1947.
SP prudence has not ended even if his silence has. He will concede Pakistan if the League insists, the British decide on it because the Congress has always stood against coercion. Between Dec 46 when SP was converted to partition and May-June 47 when the Indian public was converted, SP had displayed tactics of a high order. In patience, timing, choice of argument and willingness of others willing to advocate a remedy, he provided a lesson to Gopalachari who five years ago had been thrown into wilderness for preaching the same remedy. SP kept quiet until it was time to say that his search for alternatives had failed.
Realizing the pitfalls of Plan Balkhan, SP agreed to Dominion Status with V P Menon. Mountbatten secured Nehru’s approval but was concerned about G’s views. SP assured Nehru that it was his responsibility to convince G. Nehru “finally asked SP if in that case he should go ahead”. If Nehru was impuslive in public and hesitant alone, SP was cautious in public, was bold when the moment of personal decision came. The new plan envisaged the transfer of power to two entities, the existing Constituent Assembly and another formed by members from Sind, Baluchistan, West Punjab and East Bengal. Both would Dominion Status. In no way would this mean less than independence, either could leave the Commonwealth when desired. The N.W.F.P. would choose between India and Pakistan through a referendum as would Assam’s Sylhet district, which had a Muslim majority.
Though G felt excluded, SP’s WorCom colleagues acknowledged Patel’s crucial role. Sarojini Naidu called him on May 11, 1947 “the man of decision and man of action in our councils”. Said Kriplani “When we are faced with thorny problems, and G’s advice is not available, we consider Sardar Patel as our leader”. G was against the plan but was in a minority.
SP’s Pakistan was sharply delimited. Jinnah had been pressing for joint control of Calcutta. Mountbatten sent Menon to get SP’s approval on the matter. SP said “Not even for six hours”. Jinnah had earlier demanded an 800-mile corridor link between East and West Pakistan. SP called the claim “such fantastic nonsense as not to be taken seriously”.At 3 pm on June 3, Kriplani’s letter conveying Congress’s acceptance was delivered to the Viceroy’s house. Jinnah explained he could not sign on the League’s behalf until the party Central Council met, which it was not likely to meet in the next few days. An exasperated Mountbatten said a nod from Jinnah at the next meeting would suffice. Next day Mountbatten casually announced “I think the transfer could be about 15th August”.
The Partition plan was ratified by the WorCom on June 2. Purshottam Tandon of U.P. and Choithram Gidwani were against it but SP delivered a key note address. “I fully appreciate the fears of our brothers from (the Muslim-majority areas). Nobody likes the division of India and my heart is heavy. But the choice is between one division and many divisions. We must face facts, cannot give in to emotionalism and sentimentality. The WorCom has not acted out of fear. But I am afraid that all our toil and hard work of these many years might go waste and prove unfruitful. My nine months in office have completely disillusioned me regarding the supposed merits of the Cabinet Mission Plan. Except for a few honorable exceptions, Muslim officials from top to bottom are working for the League. The communal veto given to the League in the mission plan would have blocked India’s progress at every stage. Whether or not we like it, de facto Pakistan already exists in Punjab and Bengal. Under the circumstances I would prefer a de jure Pakistan which may make the League more responsible. Freedom is coming. We have 75 to 80 % of India, which we can make strong with our genius. The League can develop the rest of the country”.
Neither Ghaffar nor Badshah Khan of N.W.F.P. attended the meeting. In the 1946 elections, which the League had fought on the issue of Pakistan, the League had won 17 out of the 38 Muslim seats. But in the charged climate of mid-1947, a referendum could produce only one result. Yet Mountbatten convinced Nehru in the third week of April to accept the principle of a referendum. Clear on his priorities – obtaining control of 75 to 80 % of India, SP had concluded that NW.F.P. had to be written off. Held in July, the referendum produced 289244 votes for Pakistan and 2874 for India.
On June 27,1947 a communiqué announced that SP would head a new department called Department of States and V P Menon was the department’s secretary. While Nehru was involved it was SP’s baby from October 1946. Said G to SP “The problem of the states is so difficult that you only can solve it”. Mountbatten recorded his relief that “Patel essentially a realist and very sensible” and not Nehru was to be a States Member.
As Menon would acknowledge later he was given both respect and discretion. “Having selected his men, SP trusted them entirely to implement his policy. Sardar never assumed that he knew everything and he never adopted a policy without full and frank consultation. Whenever we entered into discussion, we did do as personal friends rather than as Minister and Secretary.
With the transfer of power, the Raj announced that the special relationship with the Princes would come to an end. The void would have to be filled either by the States entering into a special relationship with the successor govt or govts or failing this into political arrangements with them. Jaipur, Rewa, Cochin, Jodhpur, Bikanner, Patiala and Baroda had expressed a desire to be part of the Constituent Assembly on April 28. Travancore and Hyderabad announced that they would be independent. Alerted to Nizam’s bid for sway over Bastar, SP even before he assumed charge of the Homes dept squashed Conrad Corfield’s (Viceroys Chief guide on States) desire to help the Nizam. The Nawab of Bhopal was wanting to be independent or join Pakistan.
K M Munshi was not alone in believing that Jinnah had given his blessings to an attempt to project Pakistan right across India through the states of Jodhpur, Jaipur, Baroda and Bhopal. Jinnah had handed over the ruler of Jodhpur, Hanwant Singh a blank sheet of paper all the concessions that he wanted”.
The wooing of princes began in early May. Evidence of his exertions in the first half of May knocks down a story that Mountbatten would later float. “The first time he debated the states problem with SP, SP told him he need not bother because after the transfer of power the States people would rise, depose their rulers and throw their lot with the Congress”.
As the story goes, Mounbatten persuaded SP to give up confrontation for compromise under which the rulers would hand over defence, external affairs and communications to India in exchange for which, the Congress would guarantee the ruler’s titles, privileges and personal property. Mountbatten was seeking credit when there was none. Menon claimed that the scheme was his, he discussed with SP first who was inclined to agree. After securing Nehru’s agreement, Menon got the Viceroy to agree too.
Mountbatten’s story is only his peg for hanging a trophy that belongs to Menon. SP had got involved in the states much before Mountbatten did on June 3. It suited SP who would describe it to the Viceroy as “your offer”. Menon on his part shrewdly suggested to Mountbatten that the wounds of partition might to some extent be healed if the Viceroy sold the scheme to the rulers and thereby enlarged the Dominion of India. The Viceroy was touched with this gesture. Menon may well have persuaded the Viceroy to own the formula and sell it to the princes as his. The accession team consisted of Nehru, Menon, Mountbatten and SP. Although Patel was the captain of the ship, each member was indispensable to its success.
On July 5, SP said to the princes – “We ask no more of the States than accession on these three subjects in which the common interests of the country are involved. In other areas we would scrupulously respect their autonomous existence. I invite my friends the rulers of States and their people to the councils of the Constituent Assembly in this spirit of friendliness”. He also informed the princes that the Govts terms would be stiffer after August 15 and that there would be a limit to his capacity to restrain foes of the princes.
Courtship continued. On July 10 a number of rulers were invited to 1 Aurangzeb Road. About a fortnight later, Mountbatten played his role to perfection. Facing the state rulers in full uniform he addressed them without notes. “The Indian Independence Act releases the states on 15/8/47 from all their obligations to the Crown. The states have complete freedom. But there has grown up during the period of British rule a system, which meant that the subcontinent of India acted as an economic entity. That link is now to be broken. If nothing can be put in place, only chaos can result and that will hurt the states first. The States are theoretically free to link their future with whichever Dominion they may care. But I may point out that there are certain geographical compulsions, which cannot be evaded. The vast majority of the states are linked geographically with the Dominion of India. I am sure that these three subjects have got to be handled by you for a larger organization. The draft Instrument of Accession provides that the states can accede on three subjects only (and) without financial liability. Further the Instrument of Accession contains an explicit provision that in no other matter has the Central Govt any other authority. But I must make it clear that I have to still persuade the Govt of India to accept it. If all of you would cooperate with me and are ready to accede, I am confident that I can succeed in my efforts. Remember that the day of transfer of power is very close and if you are prepared to come in, you must do so before 15TH August”.
A few days earlier Jinnah had shocked Mountbatten that he was not needed as Pakistan’s first Governor General. (India had asked him to stay on). This may have wounded the Viceroy and augmented the zeal with which he spoke that eventful day. By requesting Mountbatten to stay on Nehru and SP has secured his salesmanship for accession. When Yeshwant Rao Holkar of Indore attacked the instrument of accession, with a straight face Mountbatten claimed that he had drafted the Instrument of Accession although it was admitted by him earlier that V.P. Menon had drafted it.
While Gwalior was the first state to announce accession, Baroda was the first to sign it. The greatest share of credit goes to Yadavindra Singh of Patiala and Sadul Singh of Bikaner. Thus the three great strands of Indian history-Maratha, Rajput and Sikh came together. By about August 15, quoting Hobson “apart from the few states clearly destined to adhere to Pakistan, every one both great and small bar only three had signed Instruments of Accession- a very small basketful of apples, though two of the missing states were very large apples indeed”. Bhopal, Kashmir, Junagarh and Hyderabad ! In Menon’s view, Vallabhai’s masterly handling of the princes was the foremost factor in the success of the accession policy.
The Nawab of Bhopal asked for an extension of the 15th August deadline but SP was unwilling. In view of his friendship with Mountbatten SP agreed to a special arrangement. “The Nawab would sign and deliver to Mountbatten the Instrument of Accession before the midnight of 14th August and the Viceroy would lock it up in his private case, not deliver it to the States dept until 25/8/ or unless the Nawab authorizes him to deliver earlier”. The device enabled the Nawab to claim and the Sardar to deny that he had received an extension.
From the end of June 1947 to SP’s death Menon saw SP atleast twice a day. Another person H M Patel represented India on the two man Steering Committee charged with settling the mechanics of partition. HM Patel’s views on SP “After referring to the farsightedness, generosity and breadth of mind that the Sardar displayed in the Partition Council and recalling that he made himself available for consultation at all hours he said – With an almost unerring instinct he knew precisely what the right course was, and it can be said that we have gone wrong only where have somehow succeeded in persuading him against his own instinctive view”. “You saw his face” Kriplani would say later of Patel “It grew year by year in power and determination”.
In a fortnight before freedom he along with Nehru chose India’s Cabinet Ministers and Governors. The line up gave Sardar great influence but he knew that Nehru was a darling of the people in a way he could never be. This realization produced the Nehru-Patel duumvirate that would administer India from independence until Sardar’s death. In the selection of Ambedkar and Mookerjee, Patel’s was undoubtfully a decisive role. The latter had secured Sardar’s favor by demanding Bengal’s partition in March 47 and by refusing to join an abortive bid for a united and independent Bengal that Sarat Bose and Suhrawady made in April and May 1947.
In Punjab, 1200 Muslims and 3,800 Sikhs had been killed since March 4 when rioting began. The worst carnage in March at Rawalpindi with Sikhs being the main victims. Riots spread. Patel accused the Raj of shrinking. A decision was deliberately taken to withdraw British troops from active service and repatriate them before the transfer of power. From August 1 a newly created Punjab Boundary Force was placed along the border to be delineated by Radcliffe only around 15/8/. Close home Gurgaon burned. Its deputy commissioner put several Hindu advocates in prison as hostages for men whose pleas for bail they had sponsored. Patel the Hindu seethed. SP confronted the Commissioner who admitted his guilt but the damage had been done.
97 % of the quarter million living in Chittagong were non-Muslim tribesmen yet Radcliffe awarded the areas to East Bengal. The League resented Radcliffe’s decisions for the districts of Gurdaspur and Ferozepur.
On the evening of August 14, at the Constituent Assembly, Nehru made his memorable Tryst with Destiny address. Other spoke too. All that SP did was to join the other members, at the midnight hour, in a pledge of service. No one man had played a greater role in the arrival of this hour but all that he made was a simple pledge.