The Integration Project– A Post Independence Diplomatic Challenge

India never really enjoyed the privilege of being able to celebrate its independence day. When India was freed from Britain on 15th of August,1947 it did not have any inclination towards rejoicing in its new found freedom because the country was bathed in blood and chaos. A massive influx of people seeking refuge and an abundance of communal riots in literally every corner of the country did not allow peaceful celebrations. The major reason for such a mutilated social framework of the country ever-since its independence was the irresponsible and reckless modus operandi of Partition that followed. The Partition of India not only fragmented the country topographically but also socially, the primary reason for this being the religious flavor added to the Partition mechanism. The fact that India was partitioned into two states based on the geographical location of majority from a particular religion made the citizens of the country blood-thirsty for the other religion. Even in such a dilapidated socio-economic framework in the neo-natal stage of partition, the country had nothing like an efficient Marshall plan to overcome the obstacles lying ahead, even after India significantly contributed to the victory of the Allies in the Second World War.

Desperation and helplessness made the country convince its princely states to accede to independent India. Two strong personalities made the ‘integration project’ possible. It was the first ever Home Minister in the Cabinet of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru- Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and his confidant, V.P. Menon. The integration project successfully persuaded all the rulers of the princely state to eventually agree and sign the Instrument of Accession to the Indian State. There were nearly 600 princely states and all of their rulers were convinced to do the same in a period of about only two years. The leaders explained that the above mentioned move was a necessity in order to protect the territories from external aggression and maintain peaceful conditions all over the country.

The integration of the Indian states was indeed looked at like a significant historical event. The total geographical territory of India extended by over half a million square miles and the population swelled by about 90 million people. This integration procedure reconstructed the political map of the nation and also laid down a fresh set of governing orders. Yet another important aspect of the procedure of integration was that unlike all other nation-wide policy implementations, this was a peaceful one with Hyderabad and Jammu and Kashmir being the most prominent exceptions. According to Menon, this was one of the greatest historical events that united and integrated one-fifth of the world’s population in a peaceful manner. The coming together of so many states and the entire process of integration bears testimony to one of the most exemplary events even on an international level.

Some analysts have to say that this could serve as an example to countries in the West, including the European countries, because they themselves still haven’t been able to successfully and peacefully integrate their whole nation. After the Second World War, the entire Western world needed about thirteen years to initiate the procedure of integration. The most successful of all their fitful efforts gave rise to the European Economic Community in the year of 1958. This organization, later on gave birth to what we know as the European Union (EU) today, in 1993. The EU still cannot be cited as an example because its largest keystone associate, Britain, is about to exit the conglomeration. A political unification of the whole of Europe seemed like a very productive international idea even until a decade back. However, when we look at the fragmented status of the EU today, a political unification of the whole of Europe does not even seem like a possibility. In a sharp contrast to this, India attained a political and economic union only within a few years of attaining freedom. In words of Winston Churchill, India, unlike Europe, succeeded in giving its people “a sense of enlarged patriotism and common citizenship”.

When the process of the integration of India is considered as a concept in isolation, it was a largely successful move. Integrating a recklessly fragmented topographical area and people from largely diverse social, economic and religious backgrounds was not an easy job. This entire objective of the project was attained without mass murders, authoritarian executions and show trials. Although this project successfully integrated a huge section of the princely states into the Indian state, it was not as successful for a few others. The previously existing princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur and Tripura were not easily acceded into the Indian state and this was due to the presence of active successionists who induced strong separatist insurgencies and these continued to exist for a long time due to an amalgamation of various different reasons. The insurgencies that prevailed in Tripura have been normalized for quite sometime now, but the uprisings and rebellion in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur continue to exist till date.

What did the Instrument of Accession mean? When the princely states were made to sign the Instrument of Accession they became a part of the Indian state. Signing the above mentioned deal meant that the state transferred control over three matters to the Indian state. Also, it meant the states would by themselves form a loose federation that would have certain prominent variations in governance and administration in the states. Complete political integration of these princely states would imply that there would be an entire shift in the loyalties, political orientation and expectations towards a new body at the centre namely the Republic of India. Fitting all these states that had their own individualistic systems of governance was not a cakewalk. While some states like that of Mysore had a legislative form of governance, some other states had a system of political decision-making framework that happened in small circle of aristocrats and advisors. The initial step in the procedure took place in the year 1947 to 1949. The creation of ‘princely unions’ took place that merged small states with adjacent provinces.

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and V.P. Menon had meticulously emphasized on the points that anarchy would emerge and economies of individual states would collapse if the princes or the rulers of the princely states failed to welcome democratic form of governance and execute it efficiently. It was also rightly pointed out that with a democracy at the centre, the individual economies of the smaller states would soon collapse because they lacked the resources required to independently sustain themselves. The four steps in the form of which integration was implemented within the country were- merger of smaller states with larger adjacent provinces by convincing the smaller states that they lacked the resources to sustain themselves, democratization of the princely states to battle anarchy and economic collapse and lastly, centralization and constitutionalisation and reorganization via the States Reorganisation Act in the year 1956.

There existed certain prominent post-integration backlashes that were visible in various parts of the nation. Not all princes were happy with the outcome of the integration project. Certain rulers were discontent about losing the autonomy they had over their provinces while a few others were unhappy about the disappearance of the states. In addition to the internal conflicts that existed, the integration process also welcomed conflict between leaders of India and Pakistan. Jinnah, who was at that time the representative of the Muslim League strongly felt that the princely states should have enjoyed the right to exist in an autonomous manner. On a superficial level, it looks like an altruistic idea but it did have certain negative backlashes as well. When considered as an idea in isolation and also as the first ever attempt to unify India after the bloody partition, it was not a bad deal at all.

Picture Courtesy- Wikipedia

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