The Rule of the Maharajas
The situation in the states ruled by the Maharajas were not really praiseworthy.
Bhopal was a Hindu-majority state as long as it was under the suzerainty of the Gonds – until Mohammad Khan captured it. By the beginning of the 20th century, the situation had declined so badly that not even one percent of key administrative posts was in the hands of Hindus.
Only a handful of Princely States like Mysore, Travancore, Kochi, and Baroda had accepted the principle of people’s representation and established representative assemblies. Because of this, it became a vogue to call such Princely States as “progressive” states. For example, writing about the Maharaja of Kashmir, the infamous Sir Hari Singh, Bombay Chronicle (20 October 1925) said: “The Maharaja of Patiala’s fame has been tom-tommed because he purchased the world’s most expensive car. The Mysore Maharaja is praiseworthy for his wisdom, orthodoxy, and enthusiasm for paving the way towards and efforts in the direction of establishing a Constitutional government. Kashmir is as large as Travancore. However, in literacy, Travancore is miles ahead of Kashmir.”
In 1911, Tukojirao Holkar ascended the throne of Indore. Although he exhibited some enthusiasm for the state’s development, by 1919, the administration was completely neglected. The number of schools established in 1925 were a paltry 29. In the same period, the number of licenses given to new liquor shops was 107.
Suppression of Rights
The Kings of various Princely States used to mercilessly suppress the fundamental rights of their own people. For example, in 1925, the Maharaja of Jodhpur issued an order to compulsorily register all typewriters in his state because “some people are writing complaints that are false or baseless or anonymous and thereby wasting the time of the officials.” Mocking this order, New India asked (9 May 1925): “From now on, will the use of pens and inks also be prohibited?”
The Maharaja of Jodhpur was a frequent visitor to England. When some eminent public persons questioned this licentious behavior, they were exiled without conducting the due process of inquiry. But the main reason for this exile was the fact that all these persons were the founders of the Marwar Hitakarini Sabha, a voluntary people’s representative body.
The penchant of the Maharajas to visit Europe for improving their health had become the butt of jokes. In a lecture delivered on 8 January 1925 in a political conference at Kathiawar, Mahatama Gandhi said: “The King of Mountains, the Himalayas, Ganga, Sindhu, Brahmaputra Rivers that flourish in this country – lakhs of people who are completely healthy in this country – won’t the health of the Kings be served in this country?”
There existed a ceaseless and internecine conflict between the Princely States of Nabha and Patiala. The Nabha Government had gone so far as to foist false allegations against some officials of the Patiala State and had even punished them. The death dance of corruption was in full swing in the administration. Owing to all this, in 1923, the British Government issued an order asking the Maharaja of Nabha to step down from power.
Writing about Nabha, D.V.G. mentioned its former Maharaja in the March 1926 edition of the Karnataka paper. Furious upon reading this, Maharaja Ripudaman Singh wrote a strong letter of objection to D.V.G. He asked: “How can you address me as a ‘former’ Maharaja?” To which D.V.G. replied: “It is my practice to use the technical term, ‘Maharaja’ to refer to any person who is ruling according to Constitutional norms. The Government of India’s circular dated 7.7.1923 says, ‘The Maharaja of Nabha has desired to give up administrative responsibilities.’”
In this manner, several episodes presented themselves in which D.V.G. had to wage such verbal battles against various Maharajas.
There were also numerous experiences that were the exact opposite of these. Several Maharajas who foresaw and understood the inevitability of democracy in India sought D.V.G.’s advice regarding reforms in the administration of their respective kingdoms. For example, when the Maharaja of the Paltan Princely State requested Sir M Visveswaraya’s advice, the latter entrusted this job to D.V.G. The Maharaja not only appreciated D.V.G’s recommendations, he implemented a majority of them and in later days, continued an intimate letter correspondence with D.V.G.
Being thus endowed with great foresight, D.V.G. was one of the prominent public persons who incessantly strived to draw the attention of both the public and the British Government to the various facets of this complex problem of the Princely States. Other eminent people included G.R. Abhyankar from Sangli, A.V. Patwardhan, Dr. Hulyalkar and Madhavrao Lele from Jamkhandi, N.C. Kelkar and D.V. Gokhale from Pune, and Pandit Satavalekar from Aundh.
A Preface to Independence
Large-sized Princely States, or federations of small states must be recognized as units of the Indian Republic; a declaration had to be issued stating that democracy was the goal of every State, i.e. to have a responsible government; the geographical unity and integrity of the large states who didn’t wish to join any federation had to be maintained intact and an optimal amount of their autonomy had to be preserved; the traditional rights and privileges of the royal families had to be continued as before; their powers were to be recognized as equal to that of the titular/constitutional monarchs in England and elsewhere; a tribunal had to be established in order to resolve conflicts and disputes arising between the states and the union government; citizens of the Princely States had to enjoy the same rights and have the same electoral role as those enjoyed by the citizens of British India. Not only did D.V.G in great detail, put forward suggestions in this direction, he also underscored the urgency of their implementation and the long-lasting methods for doing the same.
King George V had founded the Chamber of Princes, a body to protect the interests of the Princely States. A prominent member of this Chamber was the Maharaja of Bikaner. The series of open letters that D.V.G. wrote in 1917 to the Maharaja of Bikaner was responsible for spreading his fame to the remotest kingdoms of India. Equally, the appeal that D.V.G. wrote to E.S. Montague in 1918 attracted the attention of the most brilliant minds of the country. In the same year, D.V.G. also sent a resolution to the Special Session of the All India Congress.
To be continued