DVG's Severe Rebuttal to the Nehru Report of 1928

This article is part 40 of 43 in the series Life and Legacy of DVG

Writing in the aftermath of the Nehru Report of 1928, DVG made a contrast with the Princely[1] States:

The Princes may give…benevolent administration, efficient administration, occasionally even responsive administration; but that, taken even at its very best, cannot prove half so good…to the people as a system…which, instead of looking for gifts and charity, they are obliged to think for themselves…The wise parent is not he who keeps the child always a child, but he who…allows the child to grow into a man capable of looking after himself. This lesson, our Princes have not yet learnt; and they do not seem willing to learn either.  

This was yet another among the countless wake-up calls that DVG sounded to the Princely States in an effort to set their house in order. A slight detour is necessary in this context.

Published in August 1928, the Nehru Report was essentially a memorandum to the British Government appealing for a new Dominion Status for India, calling for a federal setup of government for the Constitution of India. Key signatories to the Report included Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru, Tej Bahadur Sapru, Subash Chandra Bose, M.R. Jayakar, and G.R. Pradhan. The Nehru Report was also akin to a protest against the unilateral British policy which said that only the British Parliament had the power to decide the timing and the nature of the development of a constitution for India. Despite the Government of India Act of 1935, this unilateral policy continued till the Cripps Declaration of 1942.

However, a key element in the Nehru Report was the complete exclusion of the Princely States from its purview.

First, it defined[2] “Dominion Status” in unambiguous terms:

India shall have the same constitutional status in the community of nations, known as the British Empire, as the Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, the Union of South Africa and the Irish Free State, with a Parliament having powers to make laws for the peace, order and good government of India, and an executive responsible to that Parliament; and shall be styled and known as the Commonwealth of India.

And then, it was equally unambiguous about the exact status it accorded to the Princely States:

The powers of Parliament with respect to foreign affairs, not including the Indian States, shall be the same as exercised by the self-governing dominions… The Commonwealth shall exercise the same rights in relation to, and discharge the same obligations towards, the Indian States, arising out of treaties or otherwise, as the Government of India has hitherto exercised and discharged.

Even worse,

Foreign and external relations including relations with States in India and political charges; domicile, naturalisation and aliens; passports; and pilgrimages beyond India.

For the first time, the Nehru Report called for a reorganization of (British) Indian Provinces along linguistic lines. In substance, the Report unmistakably, defined “India” by completely omitting the Princely States based on the reasoning we have seen earlier.

DVG denounced it by writing[3] a severe rebuttal entitled Indian States and the National Congress. Once again, it was not merely a rebuttal but a balanced perspective that called out the Congress Party’s highhandedness and sounded an alarm to the Princely States (quoted above). Here is a sample[4] from his salvo:

there used to be a time when the Congress “National” (with a big “N”)…was not less punctilious than its very adversary, the bureaucracy of the Indian Government, in tabooing the States as “foreign territory.”

In like vein, he asks whether the Princely States “can come into the Congress without violating their treaties…with Britain only if the Congress agrees not to cut off the British tie.”  

What this meant in practical terms was that the Congress could never declare full political independence as its goal because that would mean non-cooperation from the Princely States in the freedom struggle. The bind was clear: the Princely States viewed the Congress as a threat to their quasi-independent political existence while the Congress saw them as barriers to independence from British rule. Yet, on more occasions than can be counted, the Congress top leadership led by Mohandas Gandhi did not shy away from taking money[5] from the same Princes and Maharajas it frequently vilified.   

DVG advocated the Golden Mean: he recommended creating a special Congress Department in the Princely States where members from each party could meet in a spirit of mutual trust, sort out differences and eventually arrive at some sort of solidarity. In this context, it is pertinent to recall once again, DVG’s criticism[6] of Mohandas Gandhi’s egoism in the wake of the police firing at Vidurashwatha, near Kolar. Gandhi cited this sole instance as evidence of the total failure of the Mysore State and demanded that its administration be handed over to the Congress.  

DVG’s other remedy to ameliorate the conditions of the Princely States was a tireless advocacy of self-education and spreading awareness of the workings of democracy among its people. His conviction was that when this method was introduced in a gradual and systematic fashion by the ruler himself, it would eventually lead to Responsible Government[7] in its truest sense. Among other things, DVG’s advocacy stemmed from his own experiences with press censorship and other minor repressions in the Mysore State. This will be discussed in a separate chapter.

DVG regarded[8] the Princely States as schools for statesmanship and wrote an entire section dedicated to its exposition. Among other things, he called upon the rulers to infuse in their subjects[9] a “restless spirit of patriotic aspiration and the political sense that comes with it” as the “necessary pre-conditions of true and lasting national progress.”

Rays of Hope

DVG’s dogged championing of and the expertise he had built up on the subject of the Princely States began to bear fruit. Over time, several Maharajas foresaw and grasped the inevitability of democracy in India as a whole. They also understood the future reality that their own states wouldn’t be immune to it. By the mid-to-late 1920s, some Maharajas began to actively seek DVG’s advice regarding administrative reforms in their kingdoms. For instance, when the Maharaja of the Paltan Princely State requested Sir M Visveswaraya’s advice in this matter, the latter entrusted this job to DVG. The Maharaja not only appreciated DVG’s recommendations, he implemented a majority of them and maintained a close correspondence with DVG till the very end. This apart, we have already seen some details of the Memorials that DVG wrote to the Maharaja of Bikaner. These Memorials were precisely what catapulted the Maharaja to national and international fame.

DVG was a much sought-after speaker, scholar and expert in a series of high-powered conferences held at various periods to discuss the problems of the Princely States. These include but are not limited to:

  • The People’s Assembly of the Princely States, 1921.
  • The People’s Conference of South Indian States, May 1925 in Pune.
  • The All India States People’s Representative Conference, December 1927 in Mumbai. DVG was appointed as the representative of the South Indian Princely States.
  • The South Indian Princely States Conference, 1929 in Travancore.

Of special note is the laudatory recommendation given by “Right Honourable” V.S. Srinivasa Sastri testifying DVG’s prowess on the anvil of the second session of the All India States’ Subjects’ Conference and South Indian States’ People’s Conference that was scheduled to be held in Bangalore in early 1930. Written in beautiful cursive handwriting, Sastri’s recommendation[10] was addressed to M.R. Jayakar, a powerful Congress leader and freedom fighter, and reads as follows:

         My dear Jayakar,

Let me commend Mr. D.V. Gundappa to you. He is a good man and keen student of public affairs. What he doesn’t know of Indian States isn’t worth knowing. He is getting up a meeting in this place [Bangalore] of people interested in the States, which is likely to advance the cause we have at heart…

What is more important than Sastri’s endorsement is the timing of DVG’s proposed conference, which reveals his unsleeping vision over national issues. The objective of the aforementioned second session was the “attainment of responsible government in all Indian States and…securing…an equitable place for the States in the future Constitution of India.” The reason the year 1930 was chosen is highly illuminating in light of three important developments that had just occurred. The Simon Commission had made an announcement that its “scope…was extended so as to include questions pertaining to…the Indian States.” Second, after the Commission submitted its report, it intended to have a Round Table Conference to which representatives of the Indian States would be invited. Third, the Butler Committee had published a report “regarding the position of the States.” That was enough for DVG to seize the opportunity to reinforce the appeal of the Princely States by calling for yet another conference of the states.

In this context, it is also highly relevant to narrate DVG’s brilliant arguments making the case for the Mysore State before the Butler Committee.

To be continued

Notes


[1] D.V. Gundappa. “Indian States and the National Congress.” The Bombay Chronicle. Emphasis added.

[3] D.V. Gundappa. “Indian States and the National Congress.” The Bombay Chronicle.

[4] Ibid. Emphasis added.

[5] For example, see: R.C. Majumdar. History of the Freedom Movement in India, Vol III Firma K.L.M, 1962, Calcutta

[6] See: Chapters 1 and 4

[7] See Chapters 5 and 6

[8] The States—Schools for Statesmanship, Selected Writings of D.V. Gundappa, Vol I, Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs, 2020, Bangalore pp 219

[9] Ibid. p 234.

[10] M.R. Jayakar. Private Papers, National Archives of India, p 126-7. 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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