The Finale: DVG's Unforgiving Assessment of Sardar Patel and V.P. Menon

This article is part 44 of 51 in the series Life and Legacy of DVG

This political reorganization of India meant redrawing the map of India by erasing old boundaries and creating new ones on the basis of the widely familiar reasoning: language. As we have noted earlier, this reasoning had its origins in the Nehru Report of 1928. However, in practice, this meant the erasure of the centuries’-long unwritten cultural and local customs, usages, traditions, and norms in the 562 Princely States. In other words, the linguistic reorganization of independent India was accomplished by slaughtering countless cultural strands that had invisibly strung the society together as a functioning, cohesive whole. As a direct consequence, thousands of art forms, crafts, festivals, practices, and other unifying bonds vanished in less than half a century. On the political plane, this aggressive implementation of India’s political reorganization annihilated the well-oiled political institutions that had survived not only the successive waves of Islamic invasions and regimes but had withstood even the shocks of British colonial rule. From Rajasthan to Bengal, from Haryana to Tamil Nadu, this unbroken political system originating from say, the Mauryan period, was undone in one brutal stroke. For a majestic and detailed exposition of this subject, the iconic Dharampal’s Panchayat Raj and India’s Polity is an invaluable source work.   

A week prior to Nehru’s aforementioned interview with Daily Mail, New Delhi had launched another missile in the form of the Nehru-Patel-Pattabhi Report on Linguistic Provinces dated 5 April 1949. DVG immediately published[1] his unreserved contempt for it, which needs to be quoted at some length.

The…Report observes:-­“Kerala and Karnataka Provinces can be brought about not by a merger of the present Provincial areas into the States, but by the reverse process and must entail the virtual disappearance of these States…”

What is “virtual disappearance” as distinguished from disappearance simple and unqualified? Will any vestige of the erstwhile statehood be left behind? If so, why so?... it is unfortunate in the extreme that the dangerous undesirability of keeping the people of the States…on tenterhooks did not occur to the minds of our illustrious leaders.     

***

The half-century-history of India after Independence is just one massive lump of the history of unrest. The appalling civil war during the partition is still a festering wound and a Brobdingnagian memory because of the engulfing scale of its violence and tragedy. However, the recurrent clashes, strife, death and destruction in what remained of the original India throughout the period from 1947 up to 1993 is comparable in number—if not intensity—to the partition. We could go a step further and claim that India has never known a decade of peace since it attained political freedom. In many ways, this is what V.S. Naipaul referred to when he spoke of India as a land of a million mutinies.

Apart from the calculated violence unleashed by the Communists, the initial roots of this unrest arguably lie in the reorganization of states. The “illustrious leaders” that DVG refers to had unwittingly created a two-headed monster. On the one hand, the smash-and-grab action by the States’ Ministry left a trail of discontent, protests and violence in various Princely States. On the other, the linguistic scheme birthed an even bloodier consequence: large-scale riots citizens that threatened to hurl the new republic into instability.

We can briefly examine both these aspects.

The journalist in DVG reports[2] how this diarchic system of Delhi did not have the “complete approval of the whole population” in the Princely States. For example, the unilateral dissolution of the Princely States of Baroda, Bikaner, Cochin, Travancore and Pudukottah (Pudukottai) resulted in protests throughout these lands. Then he notes how trouble had also started in “Vindhya and Matsya[3] regions, and how underground activity had begun in “Madhya…and Greater Rajasthan…far too great to be able to live in comfort…explosive ingredients are forcibly huddled up in its womb.” Thus, it surprises DVG that Sardar Patel is unaware of all these disturbances when he declares the exact opposite. According to Patel, the high-handed appropriation of Baroda, Bikaner, Travancore, etc was “the unanimous wish of the…States!” DVG is not[4] fooled.

This shows that the Sardar would like the public to believe that the States Ministry is keeping an open mind and would be ready to take guidance from public opinion…so much of open propagandizing by V.P. Menon!...Things achieved by coups have, however, a way of turning into fiascos when not supported by the deeper facts of the situation. Among such facts are the long-established geographical loyalties of men and the physical conditions and…peculiarities of the areas…

The States Ministry’s ostentation of concern…for the Princes and the States…[reminds]…one an ancient Nyaya (analogic maxim): Alamkritya Shirashchhedah: “The animal to be offered in sacrifice should first be painted with saffron, bedecked with flowers and worshipped...”

A man under sentence of death is not the man to be expected to put himself in the mood of valuing his life and planning for its development.

The sorry finale of the Princely States was reached in 1956 when these individual States as well as the system of voluntary unions of states (for example, the Chamber of Princes) was thoroughly dismantled and the position of Rajpramukh was abolished. A long and hoary tradition of Rajarshis like the Mysore Wodeyars, the Maharajas of Baroda and other truly enlightened rulers had, overnight, become subservient to a faceless democracy which in practice meant that they had to now bow down to Congress ministers and party leaders whose only distinction was Gandhian opportunism. The new states that were created along linguistic and ethnic lines on the rubble and the graves of the Princely States tore apart the traditional ties that had existed in the former Princely States.

Border disputes and linguistic fanaticism became the New Indian Order.

And so, when we examine the second head of the aforementioned monster, history shows us that it was rigidly malevolent in its impatience and stubbornly intractable in its demand. In reality, the demand for linguistic reorganization translated into political blackmail on the ground owing to a complex and noxious mix of opportunism, fanaticism, and vested interests. The British author, Michael Edwardes provides a highly incisive and riveting analysis[5] of this sorry chapter of recent Indian history.

The boundaries created by integration of princely states with the old provinces of British India were generally assumed to be temporary. The essential criterion had been speedy integration not rationalization… A commission of inquiry was set up and delivered its opinions at the end of 1948. The commission’s view was that things should be left as they were. The provinces of British India had the sanction of the years. It was recognized that the old boundaries contained dominant linguistic groups…No new boundaries could remedy this. The commission most strongly criticized the creation of linguistic states on the grounds that they would inspire linguistic and therefore local patriotisms which would inhibit the growth of a national consciousness

Sardar Patel’s death drastically altered the situation. Jawaharlal Nehru was now the unchallenged Caesar of both the Indian Government and the Congress Party. After the phenomenal victory of the Congress in the 1951 general elections, rumblings began in the Madras State. The then Chief Minister’s differences with “Lion of Andhra” Tangaturi Prakasam erupted into clashes between Tamil and Telugu speakers which soon manifested itself as a demand for a separate state for Telugu speakers.

Nehru’s government was in a bind: the Congress poll manifesto of 1951 had explicitly stated that “on the matter of states reorganisation, the democratic right of the people to express their opinion would be taken into consideration.” But now since the demand had been made, all that Nehru could muster on the weight of the aforementioned commission’s report was to thunder that he would “not be intimidated by such tactics.” But Potti Sriramulu, the well-respected leader of the Telugu people followed the Gandhian model and launched a fast unto death until a separate Telugu state was “given.” Not cowed down, Nehru roared that he would not “yield to blackmail.” But Potti Sriramulu actually died and Nehru’s bravado evaporated. He did an overnight volte face, declaring[6] in Parliament that Sriramulu’s sacrifice was exemplary.

[Nehru’s] speech was an open invitation to extra-democratic pressure…it seemed to underline his capitulation to violence…Nehru personally attended the inauguration of the new state of Andhra in October 1953. The message was immediately read by other special-interest groups — the Government was susceptible to mass agitation…Pressure built up so rapidly that less than three months after…the formation of Andhra, the Government announced the appointment of a States Reorganization Commission.   

The Commission submitted its report in October 1955. In its wake, widespread rioting and violence followed in Orissa, Bengal, Bihar, Bombay, Ahmedabad and Punjab. This, in a span less than a decade after India achieved Independence and was supposedly “united” politically. The first of a long series of language wars among Indians had begun. Tamil Nadu of course, stands as the most extreme example of this linguistic chauvinism.

The essence of this longish discussion is to underscore the fact that this multi-pronged internal disruptions after independence was the direct outcome of ignoring the warnings of stalwarts like DVG who had foreseen all these decades ago.

It can be reasonably argued that but for Sardar Patel’s hasty and maladroit measures in integrating the States, Indira Gandhi wouldn’t have gotten the confidence to virtually bulldoze whatever remained of the power and wealth of the Princes into despotic submission. This is not to unfairly belittle Patel by comparing him to Indira Gandhi, but as DVG says, to place his overall legacy in an objective context. This point gains greater clarity when we read the melancholic epilogue that Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa offers on the fate of the Princes under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In his fine autobiography, Bhitti, Dr. Bhyrappa vividly narrates how Congress leaders would routinely mooch off the Princes, treating their estates and palaces as their Congress-bestowed fiefdom, drinking copious amounts of expensive foreign liquor, and helping themselves to lavish banquets and various other forms of costly entertainment. In scores of cases, the Princes were forced to borrow enormous sums to fund these junkets. In others, some Princes had truly fallen into penury and maintained only a façade, just to keep up the pretensions of a royalty that an impulsive democracy had annexed. But in all cases, they had no alternative: their refusal to fund the neo-democratic plunderers would mean their literal ejection to the streets, something that was accomplished during the Emergency.

Finally, the Sardar’s indomitable will won the day but one-third of India’s landmass and one-fourth of its inhabitants that had sustained its unbroken cultural heritage and was largely insulated from the “Brown sahib” outlook towards life lost both territorial belongingness and its cultural inheritance. This is DVG’s unforgiving assessment[7] of this Patelesque finale.

In the end, what united the Princely States and British India was not the efforts of the Rajas and Maharajas. Neither was it the efforts of their subjects. It was the haughty blow delivered by the Congressites who had come to power. Mainly, it was Vallabhbhai Patel’s arrogant attitude. In reality, it did not occur in a smooth fashion that had the consent of both parties…Patel did not think that the patient and contentious path of due process was appropriate. Neither did he require it.

The wife’s phlegm-filled flu had enveloped her head. Fury had consumed the husband’s hand. When both clashed, the vexed problem profusely dripped down the nose…The diamond-studded nose-ring has been permanently lost in a rush to get rid of the dirt in the nose.

Did Princely States ever exist in India? The fact that this question is even being asked shows the extent to which they have been deformed and liquidated. If this was not enough, the regional borders that had existed for centuries on end have been chaotically littered under the guile of linguistic brotherhood. The old attachment to one’s local geography has been shattered. The new feeling of regional-love has remained elusive. The root of a Princely State as an institution is a kind of affectionate bond. Today, it has no place. While everybody is eager to grab the benefits of such an institution, nobody wants the quiet contemplation that births such an institution.

DVG’s assessment is akin to the Congress and Sardar Patel making a cruel mockery of not only his three-decade-long labours at achieving a smooth merger and harmonious transition but of this profound verse of Mankutimmana Kagga:

koḍugallanu hatti dūravanu noḻpaṃge ।
goḍegottugaḻenu? meḍu kuḻiyenu? ॥
noḍu nīnunnatadi niṃtu janajīvitava ।
māḍudārada manava - maṃkutimma ॥ 801 ॥
The one who climbs up the hill and looks far
Cannot make out the details of walls, gardens, holes.
Stand aloft and view the life of people where
Petty differences in people don't matter anymore.
Expand your mind, accommodate magnanimity – Mankutimma

Notes


[1] D.V.Gundappa: Working of the States Ministry, Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No 4, April 1949, p 26. Emphasis in the original.

[2] D.V.Gundappa: Working of the States Ministry, Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No 4, April 1949, pp 29-30.

[3]  This region comprised the States of Bharatpur, Dholpur, Alwar and Karauli.

[4] D.V.Gundappa: Working of the States Ministry, Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No 4, April 1949, pp 29-31.

[5] Michael Edwardes. Nehru: A Biography, Allen Lane, 1962, p 250. Emphasis added.

[6] Ibid. pp 252-3. Emphasis added.

[7] D V Gundappa: Rajyashastra, Rajyanga—DVG Kruti Shreni: Volume 5 (Govt of Karnataka, 2013) p 643. Translated into English by Sandeep Balakrishna. 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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