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Special Content

Issue no 31, 28 Oct - 03 Nov 2023

Legacy of Unity: Sardar Patel's Contribution to India's Integration

S B Singh

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel made a remarkable contribution to bringing together and uniting India in the wake of Independence. His clear vision and clever leadership played a crucial role in merging the different regions of the country, forming a modern and unified India. This earned him the epithets 'the Iron Man' and 'Statesman-Administrator' of modern India. While people often compare him to Bismarck, the leader who unified Germany, Patel had a very different approach. Unlike Bismarck, who was seen as arrogant and forceful, Patel was known for his humility, ability to persuade, and dedication to democracy. With his strong determination and political skills, he united the princely states into the Indian dominion without removing their rulers. Even though he had disagreements with Jawaharlal Nehru on certain issues, Nehru recognised Patel as the person responsible for building and strengthening the new India. Lord Mountbatten, too, praised Patel's role, highlighting that the unification of states under the Indian dominion was one of the most crucial actions of the government, and any failure in this regard would have had severe consequences.

Pre-Independent India and the Imperative for Unification: Seventeen British provinces were administered by the British government at the time of Indian independence, comprising regions under their direct control through an intricate administrative structure. The remaining forty percent of Indian territory, where a quarter of the Indian population resided, consisted of what were termed 'princely states. 'These princely states were ruled by Indian princes, with varying degrees of indirect oversight by the British authorities. Over time, the British adopted distinct policies regarding these princely states.

Ring-Fence Policy (1757-1818): When British rule was in the early stages, this policy was implemented to safeguard their limited Indian holdings. The British established a protective perimeter around their territories to shield them from external threats. For instance, they established a protective ring around Bengal by securing Oudh, preventing potential invasions by forces from Afghanistan, Central Asia, or other Indian powers.

Policy of Subordinate Isolation (1818-1857): As British power and confidence grew, they pursued a more assertive approach towards the princely states, involving their annexation. Various strategies were employed to bring these states under complete British subjugation. Lord Wellesley introduced a treaty system known as the 'subsidiary alliance,' requiring princely states to maintain British troops, host a British resident as an adviser, and defer to British guidance in external affairs. This effectively diminished the sovereignty of princely states that entered into such agreements.

Policy of Subordinate Union (1857-1935): This policy emerged in the aftermath of the Revolt of 1857, aimed at rewarding princely states for their pro-British stance during the uprising. Rather than joining the rebellion, princely states supported the British, ensuring their own continued existence. In return, the British pledged not to conquer or annex these states, instead treating them as allies on the condition that they accepted British paramountcy, which meant acknowled-ging British sovereignty without question.

Policy of Equal Federation (1935-1947): During their final phase of rule in India, the British sought to grant princely states equal status in the envisioned All India Federation under the Government of India Act, 1935. Princely states had the opportunity to participate in the proposed federation alongside British-administered provinces. However, this federation never materialised, as the princely states did not meet the required quota specified in the act (at least 50% of them needed to join for the federation to take effect).

The Significance of Integrating Princely States: The integration of princely states into the Indian Union was necessitated by several factors. First, the inhabitants of these states endured autocratic rule by their princes, who were unaccountable to their subjects and often disregarded the welfare of the people in pursuit of their own luxurious lifestyles. Second, most princely states lacked representative institutions to voice the concerns of the populace. Third, law and order were frequently subpar in these regions. Fourth, these states struggled with limited financial resources for development and welfare projects aimed at improving the lives of their citizens. Fifth, their existence hindered the geographical and economic cohesion of India, acting as barriers to economic development and infrastructure expansion. Sixth, they posed significant security risks, as they could serve as safe havens for anti-India activities if not governed by Indian authorities. Lastly, the regional loyalties of the princes hindered the establishment of a strong and unified Indian nation. "Under the Indian Independence Act, 1947, the British paramountcy over the princely states had lapsed. It meant that the princely states were now free to join India or Pakistan, or to remain independent. This freedom to act of their own volition made many princely states choose their independent status, or, in some cases, to join Pakistan. Both these positions were unacceptable to Sardar Patel for obvious reasons. While remaining independent would create problems of development, internal security for India, their going over to Pakistan was fraught with serious consequences.

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's Approach to Integration: To address the issue of the princely states, Patel established a dedicated department known as the States Department, with Shri V. P. Menon serving as its Secretary. Patel's key approach was persuasion, and he used this as his primary tool to encourage the princely rulers to consider integration. Through his exceptional statesmanship and diplomatic skills, he engaged in dialogues and negotiations with the princes, aiming to convince them that integration was in their best interest. While maintaining a firm stance on integration, he also presented it as the most viable choice before the princes. He reassured them about their secure future post-merger and explicitly conveyed that his interest lay in their states rather than their personal wealth. To provide financial support, the government granted them 'privy purses'-annual monetary allowances-until 1971, when Smt. Indira Gandhi discontinued this practice in pursuit of a socialist India. Consequently, the princes gradually recognised the practicality of integration and signed the 'instrument of accession,' the document required for merging with India.

However, not all princely rulers complied with Patel's vision. Some harbored aspirations of remaining independent, while others engaged with Pakistan for potential merger. For instance, Raja Hari Singh of Kashmir remained indecisive about integration. Patel took a resolute approach with these uncooperative states. In the case of Junagadh, located strategically concerning Pakistan, he ordered a police action when the Nawab, influenced by Pakistan and his advisers, resisted merging with India. The Nawab subsequently fled to Pakistan. Hyderabad's Nizam also aspired to retain independence and expand his territory by incorporating additional regions into his state. He established a militia, the Razakars, which incited communal violence in Hyderabad. Patel swiftly responded by sending Indian forces to restore order and ensure integration. The Nizam eventually agreed to sign the instrument of accession with India. Although Patel was not directly responsible for handling the Kashmir issue, his indirect contributions aided in its integration.

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel achieved the seemingly impossible task of integrating India in a remarkably short period. This accomplishment underscored his sharp judgment, unwavering determination, and wholehearted dedication to the cause of a united, undivided India. It set the stage for the inclusion of Pondicherry (now Puducherry) in 1954 from the French and Goa, Daman, and Diu in 1961 from the Portuguese.

Sardar Patel: The Architect of All India Services: One of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's significant contributions was the establishment of the All India Services, a concept enshrined in Article 312 of the Indian Constitution. This unique service was developed within the Indian federal administrative framework to ensure the nation's unity while fostering a merit-based and uniform administration. Despite skepticism from leaders such as Nehru and opposition from state chief ministers who preferred provincial services, Patel remained resolute in his decision. He firmly believed that without such a service, India's unity would be at risk. Patel envisioned the All India Services as a unifying entity that would serve both the State and the Central government, providing talent, merit, and consistent administrative standards. Despite challenges, the All India Services have validated Patel's vision by delivering uniform administration across the country. It is inconceivable to envision governance in India without the contributions of this service.

Each year, India celebrates Civil Services Day on April 21, a date marked by Patel's address to the first batch of IAS recruits in Metcalfe House, New Delhi, in 1947. On this occasion, he offered invaluable advice to the IAS probationers, emphasising their duty to abstain from political involvement and communal conflicts, underscoring that compromising on these principles would undermine the integrity and dignity of public service.

As we celebrate National Unity Day on October 31st, let us not only remember Sardar Patel's ideals but also strive to live by the principles he embodied.

The author is an academician, mentor and analyst. Feedback on this article can be shared at:feedback.employmentnews@gmail.com

Views expressed are personal.