Stressing that the recently released book ‘Princestan: How Nehru, Patel, and Mountbatten Made India, written by author and journalist Sandeep Bamzai is a serious work of history, Congress MP and writer Shashi Tharoor while launching the book says, “It is a fascinating account of numerous issues which are not well-known and in the public domain.
“I particularly like the fact that history has been presented with a lot of primary quotations, documentary evidence, and recollections of that time. There are many interesting tales, for example, that of Nawab of Bhopal, who has not featured in many accounts.
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“The author has not tried to titillate the reader by elaborating on the much talked about lavish lifestyles and other details of the princes.”
Published by Rupa Publications, the book which sheds light on Plan Balkan devised by some powerful princes to not join either India or Pakistan in the run-up to Independence was discussed during the launch event organized by Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in New Delhi which was attended by the author, Tharoor and Kanchan Gupta (Distinguished Fellow at ORF). The session was moderated by Mitali Mukherjee, a Fellow at ORF.
Stating that the book is a tribute to his grandfather, from whom he inherited several important papers and material that were not available in the public domain or any archives, Sandeep Bamzai adds, “It is a tribute to the many nameless and faceless individuals who have been instrumental in making India as we see it today.”
Tharoor added: “In ‘Princestan’, Nehru emerges as a strong anti-monarchical figure who put himself on the line, taking on the excesses of princely states like Nabha, Faridkot, and Kashmir head-on. And let us not forget, it’s no longer fashionable to publish anything where Nehru is a hero.
“I am glad Bamzai has been courageous enough to do that. The material in the book, derived from original research has produced an insightful narrative history of India at this crucial period.”
Stating that the author has managed to put together a fine work that looks at an aspect of unification of India which has by and large gone unnoticed, Kanchan Gupta added: “Most of the books including by VP Menon have been about forging an alliance of the willing and the unwilling, but nobody had explored the third angle to it, which the author calls the delusion of creating a Princestan.”
Talking about the documents in the author’s custody, Gupta feels that such documents in people’s personal collections and those in India Library in London should be in this country under one roof. “We must work towards a ‘Freedom Archives Project’ where all material related to the independence movement, unification, Partition, and Netaji files should be at one place. It can even be a digital archive. The same will give us a sense of history as it was weighed during the closing years of the Raj.”
The author added that he had several documents that are not part of the national archives or available in the Nehru memorial including the original white paper of Maharaja of Bikaner that led to a scramble inside the chamber of princes. “There was even a chamber of princes created by the British. All the princes and diwans would get together and look at ways to sabotage the Independence Movement.
“Yes, it is important that all such important papers were placed in an institution where 20-30 researchers could actually look at the various facets of the movement. There is so much that is still unknown.”
Adding that he was all for the idea and would push the same, Tharoor said that the Freedom and Partition Archives could be housed in the old Parliament building once the new one was constructed. “And there could be space for the ‘Bamzai Collection’.”
Talking about Nehru’s strong anti-monarchy views, which not many are aware of, the author feels that multiple factors drove the same, including the fact that he was educated in England, influenced by Fabian socialism, Annie Besant, and George Bernard Shaw. “The tipping point was when returned from England and was incarcerated by the Maharaja of Nabha in 1923. Motilal Nehru had to go to Nabha to get him out. He also went to Faridkot, where there was a Sikh agitation against the Maharaja of Faridkot.
However, it was the way the Maharaja of Kashmir treated him, where he was also imprisoned. Ultimately, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai sent a Telegram to Nehru, insisting that he could not afford to spend so much time in Kashmir, as there was much to do for the Independence Movement. Nehru, who had gone there to fight as a lawyer but imprisoned on charges of sedition, returned reluctantly. In the press conference he held after his return, he made it clear that the whole of India was his country, and he should not be prevented from going to any area,” says Bamzai.
Gupta feels that both Nehru and Patel were impatient men who did not believe in needless niceties. “That impatience continuously shows up in what we now see as a gradual build-up to a spat between two main actors of those days. Nehru had his own ideas. If he had such strong conviction about his Kashmir, it is still a mystery why he agreed to a referendum.”
Adding that ‘Princestan’ was essentially Churchill’s plan which he could not execute as he lost the elections, the author says that he used Wavell and Jinnah who masterminded the keeping ‘a bit of India’.
“However, when Churchill lost the elections, Lord Mountbatten was made the new Viceroy, who in his own mind was looking for an appropriate timeline to exit. Right through the narrative, one finds that Jinnah is corresponding with Churchill — directly through a postbox controlled by the latter’s secretary.
“All this is a part of the documentation that I have. It is Churchill at every twist and turn, being a monarchist himself who refuses that India is decolonized. Of course, the elections turned the tide. When Mountbatten comes to India, he realizes that it is no ordinary situation. He has to deal with Muslim League and the Indian National Congress. Not to mention, within the INC, three different ideologies — Gandhi, Sardar and Nehru.”
Bamzai also reveals that within the Congress, Gandhi was obsessed with the idea of princes being the trustees and did not allow Nehru to enter the princely domains.
“That’s how the construct of the All India States People Conference… Nehru used this to unleash Congress workers deep within these princely states and bring in some sort of democratization. Sheikh Abdullah was the vice president of the AISPC.
“It is actually Nehru opposing Gandhi at various points in history as far as trusteeship is concerned. In 1938, Bose became the President of the Congress Party, and in his speech supported Nehru to the hilt that India should be a union — no provinces or princely states.
“Bose again backs him in a speech in 1939, saying that Nehru was right and Gandhi wrong. He played a very important part in the battle against the princes, which is not well-known. Though Rajkot did a lot of damage to him, it is only after this validation by Bose that Gandhi decided to take a slightly different turn.”
Reacting to Gupta’s comments on the strained relationship between Nehru and Patel, Tharoor says that there was a lot of misunderstanding about their relationship.
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“Though it was not friction-free, there was tremendous mutual respect. Patel was in fact the first name in his cabinet. On the eve of Gandhi’s assassination, they were both going to meet him to complain against each other, but post the assassination, their relationship was cemented as they said that this is what Gandhi would have wanted them to do.
“Also, regarding Article 370, Patel was privy to every decision and it was only after his approval that Article 370 was finalized. That Nehru threw away Kashmir is simply not accurate. Patel was even prepared to keep Hyderabad and let Kashmir go. But Nehru would not even dream of that.” (IANS)