DVG's Blistering Criticism of the States' Ministry

This article is part 42 of 51 in the series Life and Legacy of DVG

The Ministry of States or the States Department was the new avatar, or a mere renaming of the British Government’s Political Department, which was in charge of administering and managing the relationship of the British crown with British India and the Princely States. The Political Department exercised its power on the basis of paramountcy as long as the British ruled India. Shorn of its veneer of formal politeness, paramountcy was in reality, a naked exercise of unchecked imperial power. That imperial power was now in the hands of Indian leaders of an ostensible new democracy and a free nation.

Today, it might sound incredible, but back then, the States’ Ministry was one of the most powerful ministries, second only to that of the Prime Minister given the fact it was wholly controlled by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who was also the country’s Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister. Its administrative head was V.P. Menon, the Sardar’s most trusted aide.

The States’ Ministry was synonymously known as the Sardar’s Ministry.

The manner in which both Sardar Patel and V.P. Menon went about integrating the 562 Princely States into the Indian Union led DVG to suspect whether the States’ Ministry was the replacement[1] of the “old Political Department of the British Government, always sheltered in twilight and always moving mysteriously.”

DVG’s suspicion, nay, fear was based on the solid ground of the hard realities that were unfolding before him almost on a daily basis. Given how the problem of the Princely States was so dear to his heart and for which he had devoted one-thirds of his life, his trepidation was fully justified. Neither was the justification merely based on his emotional attachment towards it. There was a practical side to it, which roughly falls under three categories:

  1. History and value
  2. Propriety and procedure
  3. The Ultimate goal

We have already seen in some detail DVG’s brilliant expositions on the history of the Princely States and their unmatched and irreplaceable value as repositories of the finest cultural traditions of ancient India. Likewise, we have also discussed DVG’s proposed solutions on how they could best be integrated into the new Indian Union: a gradual introduction of democracy through a graceful application of constitutional monarchy leading to a true Responsible Government in the States.

However, in hindsight, what happened in practice was nothing short of chaos.

The integration of the Princely States was accomplished in utter haste, throwing propriety and procedure to the winds and done in the kindred spirit of the British who had imposed debilitating treaties and conditions on the Princely States barely two centuries ago. DVG narrates the details of this ungainly “accomplishment” in the Public Affairs journal beginning from the February 1949 issue up to the February 1954 issue. His arguments were so compelling, forceful and devoted to the highest standards of integrity that V.P. Menon himself had to write an elaborate paper titled Relationship between the Centre and the States, a defense of sorts in the January-February 1959 issue of the journal.

***

In one sense, DVG’s blistering criticism on the functioning of the States’ Ministry was a continuation of and reflects the same sense of the equanimous balance that characterizes all his pre-independence writings on the Princely States. Accordingly, he praises Sardar Patel for his sternness in dealing with the Princes and his decisive action of liberating Hyderabad from the Nizam’s stranglehold. Simultaneously, he takes a highly objective view[2] regarding the hardboiled obstinacy of the Princes and reminds them of the numerous opportunities they squandered in the past.

Since the time of the first Round Table Conference (I930) the Princes have been playing a game of hide-and-seek. Opportunity came to them several times, of taking the initiative for solving of India's political problem. When the 1935 Act came, they jibbed. When Sir Stafford Cripps came, they stood aside. When the Cabinet Mission came, they tried to bargain and perpetuate their isolation. They would never come into the democratic currents of India's nationalism. If they had only been true to the ancient ideas of Hindu kingship, they should, of their own accord, have seen 20 or at least 15 years ago the justice as well as the inevitability of the course which they have now had to adopt under pressure. They pinned their faith on the prospect of Britain’s permanence in India and could not foresee that their own country would some day shake off the foreign yoke and that their subjects would assert themselves…For their perversity of those days, the Princes have today to see their pride broken.

The ancien regime was broken but the character, attitude and behaviour of its replacement is the question that is at the core of DVG’s critique. Its replacement was, in Sardar Patel’s words[3], the recognition of the “aspiration of the people” and the introduction of “a constitution in which all powers would be transferred to the people.” While DVG does not doubt the intent or truth of Patel’s words, he marshals a pointed counter, worth reading in some detail[4] for its insight:   

Integrating the States with free India and getting responsible government proclaimed in the States is, however, only a part of the task that needed accomplishing...Securing efficient and progressive administration is the other part. Sterilizing autocracy is its negative aspect; the positive aspect is the creation of a sensible and strong democracy. The place vacated by an autocratic Prince is not automatically filled by a good democracyWho is to manage affairs when democracy is still preparing? This is a question which those who wish well by the…States have got to face.

Democracy is still preparing are words worth their weight in gold. Even seventy-two years after DVG wrote them. As he writes[5] on countless occasions elsewhere (in both Kannada and English), the democracy that existed in non-Princely States even after India attained political independence was partycracy, in which the Congress Party was indistinguishable from the Government of India. Given this reality, DVG was unsure whether Congress ministers and the bureaucracy was competent or qualified enough to handle a highly complex issue like the smooth introduction of Responsible Government in the Princely States. He had support for this view from some distinguished quarters as well. He quotes a 1948 radio lecture[6] from the retired ICS officer, S.V. Ramamurti:

The immediate introduction of responsible government without time or machinery to establish the good administration which must sustain self-government had produced dissatisfaction in several States, so that the people there were led…to wonder whether the change in rulership had…done any good.  But the pace and manner of the change needed to be reconsidered...

The number of competent men for leadership was small. Of those who were available, few could rise above selfishness, petty-mindedness and the desire to exercise personal patronage among friends, relations and followers.

The States Ministry had now found that the vested interests of Rulers had been replaced by the vested interests of Ministers and that the autocratic ulcers of India which Sardar Patel sought to avoid might be replaced by democratic ulcers.

To DVG, this was a flagrant violation of every tenet and principle of public life he espoused. In the name of integrating the States, the States’ Ministry not only did not behave in a courteous fashion but ran roughshod. Sardar Patel’s stern treatment in demanding the accession of the Princely States should have ideally concluded after they merged with the Indian Union. The near despotic measures that his States’ Ministry imposed on these States and the boorish manner it treated their former rulers was completely unconstitutional and is still symptomatic of the pervasive rot in our bureaucracy.  

An incensed DVG observes[7] that the whole business of mergers and integrations has proceeded

in avoidance of democratic practice. The course followed by the States Ministry has not behind it any explicit plan or programme previously approved by the Constituent Assembly…in some States which can now boast of “responsible ministries,” the Ministers are men of the Congress Party and…dubbed as “puppets…”

Not stopping at that, DVG characterizes the States’ Ministry’s actions as a “virtual revolution,” repeating his warning that such abrasive methods would erect a new “Delhian Paramountcy in place of the old British Paramountcy.” The Delhi of independent India should not be the seat of a “new Imperialism,” but should be the “centre of our new nationalism.” He further throws the gauntlet to Sardar Patel in two important areas. The first, Patel’s States’ Ministry “should itself be an institution above the reach of suspicion and sure of public confidence.” In the second, he indirectly asks whether Patel was willing to be “critical even of supposedly Congressist Ministries and unhesitant to correct them.” As history reveals, these are grey areas in the otherwise commendable achievement of Sardar Patel’s mammoth exercise of the merger of the Princely States. In Patel’s defence, it could be argued that the criticisms levelled by DVG were collateral damage. Yet, DVG’s criticism was based not on blind advocacy of a pet cause but on proven realities that he witnessed during this exercise—on the ground, in the behavior of bureaucrats, speeches of Congress leaders, and voluminous documents.

To be continued

Notes


[1] D.V.Gundappa: Working of the States Ministry, Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No 3, March 1949, p 24.

[2] D.V.Gundappa: Working of the States Ministry, Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No 2, February 1949, p 16. Emphasis added.

[3] Speech of Sardar Patel in January 1948

[4] D.V.Gundappa: Working of the States Ministry, Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No 2, February 1949, p 16. Emphasis added.

[5] See Chapter 7 for example.

[6] D.V.Gundappa: Working of the States Ministry, Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No 3, March 1949, p 23. Emphasis added.

[7] Ibid. p 24. Emphasis added.

 

Author(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

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