Mountbatten was the main unifier, not Patel
Exclusive excerpt from
A.G. Noorani’s new book,
The Destruction of Hyderabad,
which was launched in
Hyderabad on November 29
Abraham Lincoln did not hate the Southern states; Vallabhbhai Patel hated Hyderabad’s identity and its culture and bore a pronounced hostility towards Muslims. In glaring contrast, Jawaharlal Nehru admired Hyderabadi culture, strove even in 1956 to preserve its integrity, and was deeply pained at the atrocities inflicted on Muslims to which Patel was indifferent. Like Lincoln, Nehru’s sole concern was the Union.
One incident brings out in bold relief the profound difference in their two outlooks. In 1945, Patel inaugurated the Pransukhlal Mafatalal Hindu Swimming Bath on the Marine Drive in Bombay.
It was exclusively for the use of Hindus. Muslims were and still are barred from its membership. Nehru would never have stooped to this. Mohammed Ali Jinnah was not slow to censure Patel. In a statement issued on 18 November 1945 from New Delhi, in rejoinder to Patel’s speech at the All-India Congress Committee session, Jinnah said, “As to his other slogans that Hindus and Muslims are brothers and one nation, the less Sardar Patel talks about it the better. It does not come with any grace from his mouth at any rate for did not Mr Vallabhbhai Patel perform the opening ceremony of swimming bath in Bombay meant exclusively for Hindus? Has he forgotten some young men demonstrated protesting against his participation in the opening ceremony of the swimming bath which excluded the Muslim brethren even sharing the sea-water.”
The “police action” masterminded by Patel was as much directed at Nehru as at the Nizam. He was chafed at his exclusion from decision-making on Kashmir and was resolved to make Hyderabad his show entirely. In truth, Nehru consulted him on Kashmir far more closely and far more often than Patel did on Hyderabad. Their behaviour towards the Nizam and the Muslims after Operation Polo reflected the ideological divide.
The “Iron Man” became an iconic figure for the Hindu right. Ardent nationalists hailed Patel as the Bismarck of India betraying their crass ignorance of both men. The integration of the Princely States fell into two phases: accession to India and subsequent reorganisations and mergers with the rest of India. No one can withhold credit from Patel for his able stewardship of the second phase. That credit is diminished by the historical fact that the States’ accession to India was Mountbatten’s achievement, aided by his Reforms Commissioner V.P. Menon. H.V. Hodson’s authoritative account makes that all too clear:
According to Lord Mountbatten, the first time that he debated the States’ problem with Patel — and this must have been before the setting up of the States Ministry, since he records that he did so because Mr Menon had told him Patel was much more interested in the States than was the Prime Minister — the Sardar told him that he need not bother about the States because after the transfer of power the States’ peoples would rise, depose their Rulers and throw in their lot with the Congress. The Viceroy reminded him that the States had forces, trained and equipped by the British, ranging from a Division in Hyderabad to personal bodyguards in small States, which would shoot down the rebels, and that the princes were preparing themselves, on the advice of the Political Department, against any uprisings. A civil war would result, and India would lose far more than she would gain from a peaceful settlement.
Sardar Patel asked what he meant. The Viceroy replied that the peaceful settlement he had in mind was to allow the Rulers to retain their titles, extra-territorial rights and personal property or Civil List, and in return they would join a Dominion — most of them India, a few, like Bahawalpur, Pakistan — with only the three subjects of defence, external affairs and communications being reserved to the Central Government. Patel said he would think it over.
When he next came to see (the) Viceroy, having meanwhile talked with V.P. Menon — and here the two accounts converge — Sardar Patel said, “I am prepared to accept your offer provided that you give me a full basket of apples.” “What do you mean?” asked Lord Mountbatten. “I’ll buy a basket with 565 apples” — then computed Numbers of States — “but if there are even two or three apples missing the deal is off.” “This,” said the Viceroy, “I cannot completely accept, but I will do my best. If I give you a basket with, say, 560 apples will you buy it?” “Well, I might,” replied Patel. Lord Mountbatten’s direct and personal assistance in securing accession was asked for by the Indian leaders, though the Viceroy welcomed the request. They believed that his personality, prestige and Royal connection would be invaluable in dealing with the Princes. Besides, they had plenty of other things on their hands.
To repeat, it was not Patel but Mountbatten who brought about the accession of the States to India and thus prevented the country’s Balkanisation. Patel finished the task by integrating the States already acceded with the Provinces and ensuring that they had democratic rule. Patel’s first preference always was the military option. In this he differed from Bismarck who used force in aid of diplomacy to ensure peace. There was far more to Bismarck than his “Blood and Iron” speech on September 30, 1862.
To Patel, war was the first option in dealing with the issue of Junagadh’s accession to Pakistan. Nehru was in full agreement with him. Just a little over a month after Independence on 15 August 1947, the Indian Cabinet decided, on 17 September 1947, “that military action was the only answer”, despite the risk of war with Pakistan. Ian Copland holds that Patel “was only with difficulty talked out of this course by the Joint Chiefs (of the Army, Navy and Air Force), Nehru and Mountbatten”.
Mountbatten reported the proceedings and the Chiefs’ views to the King (i.e. to the British Govern-ment). In 1948, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin broke precedent to censure India over Hyderabad. Hyderabad’s membership of the Union of India by recourse to a military operation was not bought cheap. India’s prestige suffered internationally. Breaking precedent, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, censured India in the House of Commons on 15 September 1948 on the eve of the debate in the Security Council. He said, “I regret, as everyone must, in this new dominion a warlike spirit has developed”. His remarks were extensively reported in the Indian press.
The Foreign Secretary, dealing with the Hyderabad question, said, “I do not want to burke the issue at all, but I find myself in difficulty in going into a great deal of detail on this question this afternoon.”
“The matter has been referred to the Security Council which meets tomorrow. The representative of Great Britain happens to be chairman for this coming month. Eden will appreciate how difficult it is for me, with him in that position, to go into a great deal of detail now.”
“With regard to the Security Council, the Government had taken the view that ‘the setting down of definite, precise and conclusive instructions in advance is a mistake’.”
“In all the cases we have had I have felt we ought to encourage the Security Council to develop a judicial attitude. I admit it has not always done so, but at least that has been our policy and then when the facts and figures are produced, to come to a conclusion as to the policy which ought to be followed in particular circumstances. I propose to follow that procedure now.”
There were, he explained, two factors in the Hyderabad case. One was the legal rights under the UN Charter. He did not pretend to judge at that moment the exact position of Hyderabad in terms of its right to be heard or to bring its case before the Security Council. That did not mean he was not anxious for it to come before the Security Council, but he could not prejudge the arguments that would take place on the point the next day. It might be that Hyderabad, within the meaning of the Charter, was a State.
Points such as those raised by Eden about the Standstill Agreement, the ending of paramountcy and other questions had been argued for him by Foreign Office lawyers over which there were differing views. The second factor was whether there was a situation in Hyderabad which came under another article of the Charter?
But whatever the decision of the Security Council on these points, he was in favour of these cases being brought before an international tribunal.