When the Princely States Faced the Death Sentence

This article is part 43 of 57 in the series Life and Legacy of DVG

A chief factor that characterized the arbitrary nature of and the “revolutionary” approach followed by the States’ Ministry was to perpetually shift the goalposts through random announcements and haphazard policy revisions. DVG cites numerous such instances and we can cull out only the most illustrative ones here.   

Thus, he quotes[1] Nehru’s interview to Daily Mail dated 11 April 1949 as saying:

It ought not to be difficult to fit a republic into the framework of the (monarchical) commonwealth. 

And turns it on its head:

Obversely, can it not be held:--“It ought not to be difficult to fit a monarchical State into the framework of a republic either?” The Constituent Assembly has decided once for all that the national polity of India is to be a republic. Why should not the same Assembly be asked to decide whether an inner monarchy would he out of place within the periphery of a republic?

DVG’s arguments, while focusing on the technicalities, procedure and due process also have a profoundly ethical marker. He observes how before Independence, Congress leaders “held out assurances to the Princes as to the political and territorial integrity of their States and their autonomy in matters not absolutely essential for the purposes of the national government.” But with the formation of and the manner in which the States’ Ministry behaved, the “position has changed radically.” The conclusion of this ethics-based argument can only be summarized bluntly—there is no polite way of saying it.

  1. The Congress leaders nonchalantly broke their solemn promise to the Princes.
  2. The deciding authority, i.e. the Constituent Assembly itself had become a whimsical body in dealing with the Princely States.  

DVG described the situation as a neo-paramountcy.

On the same day that Nehru gave his aforementioned interview, the States’ Ministry announced a new policy. Accordingly,

  1. Advisors were appointed to the States.
  2. There would be dual responsibility in the administration of the States.
  3. Standardised Constitutions would be implemented in the States.

On the surface, this would pose no problem. However, DVG correctly saw through this new ruse from Delhi. These advisors were, to recall his memorable phrase, “sun-dried bureaucrats” who neither had empathy for nor understood the local nuances of the States they were sent to advise. This confusion was further compounded by the fact that Delhi had also decreed having two sets of such advisors: one for the Rajpramukh and the other for “popular Ministries.” However, it didn’t end there. The definition of who a Rajpramukh was varied from state to state. Suffice to say that with regard to Princely States, the Maharaja was the Rajpramukh (the office was abolished in 1956 and was loosely supplanted with that of the Governor). In hindsight, a reasonable case can be made that this threefold policy was, in reality, engineered chaos. Thus, DVG who observed all this at such close quarters wrote[2] with undisguised anger that they were not advisers but paralysers.  

the worst of the Adviser system is that it tends to paralyse local authority and kill local initiative…The States Ministry’s proposal smacks of the old imperialist suzerainty, with its system of Residents and Political Agents playing the part of policemen. That the new Advisers will be servants of the State Government is no mitigation…On the contrary, it makes the Adviser’s position the more irksome. He must eat the salt of the Rajpramukh…but take orders from the Ministry of the Sardar in Delhi. In the event of a difference between the two parties, to whom should the Adviser render loyalty?  

To bolster this stark situation that was unfolding, DVG compares the Adviser system with that of the Imperial British system concluding that there was little if no difference between the two. In doing so, he draws from the fount of recent history and his own lived experience of that era in an enlightened State like Mysore. The entire passage[3] deserves to be quoted at length.

This [the system of Advisers] is reminiscent of Clause 22 of the Mysore Instrument of Transfer of 1881 which required that “the Maharaja shall at all times conform to such advice as the Governor General in Council may offer him.” The British Resident in Mysore was then the Adviser acting under instructions from Calcutta or Delhi…the need for this “advice…” never arose in Mysore in its sixty and more years’ history since that date…Mysore was fortunate in its Dewans and its Maharajas. Their ability and their patriotism were always such that they could afford to snap their fingers at the Residents. But such luck is not common. And the “Adviser” technique…was of no help to any but the holders of those offices and those who could afford to buy them up. If that technique had succeeded…there should have remained no States’ problem. Will the new “Adviser” technique of Sardar Patel fare better?

The answer that History gives to DVG’s last question is in the negative. Rather, it has proven that DVG’s prediction was nightmarishly correct that the Adviser system gave “opportunists and adventurers their life’s best chance to do well by their dear private selves.” Neither was it DVG’s case that all Advisers were opportunists. There were indeed honest and well-meaning Advisers but their bureaucratic outlook was their greatest impediment, a classic illustration of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. DVG cites[4] the case of none less than Sardar Patel’s confidant, V.P. Menon in truly unflattering terms.

If the present adviser to the States Ministry (Mr. V.P. Menon) has ever had any experience of executive administration, the public…are not aware of it. A clever handler of Secretariat files (which he is said to be) is not necessarily the man with a first-hand knowledge of…executive administration and insight into its requirements. The sporting yachtsman is not necessarily the sea-diver to tell us of the marine world.

As the overarching hand of the States’ Ministry expanded and enlarged with each day with greater brazenness and impunity, DVG observed how a virtual coup was executed in scores of States. In this regard, the sections titled Standardization and Some Suggestions in the April 1949 issue of Public Affairs deserve close reading. Public opinion was neither sought not cared for when it was given. DVG terms[5] this situation as one which was “not the fulfilment of a people’s mandate constitutionally expressed.” Quoting the press report of the States’ Ministry dated 18 March 1949 with regard to Mysore, this[6] is what DVG writes:

A report of the States Ministry…has been quoted in the Press…as saying: -- “As regards Mysore…the policy to be adopted is receiving attention.”  Is Mysore a merely passive recipient of theattention” or an active participant therein? Who acts on her behalf and with what authority?”

Thus, by April - May 1949, DVG was convinced that the ultimate goal of the States Ministry was not the integration but the complete annihilation of the Princely States and likens their current condition as facing the death sentence.

Concomitant with the integration of Princely States was the other side of the same coin: the political reorganization of India on linguistic lines.

To be continued


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

[2] Ibid. p 27. Emphasis added.

[3] Ibid. p 27. Emphasis added. A complementary reading in this context is DVG’s masterly exposition of the system of governance in vogue in the Mysore State under the Dewans and Commissioners. DVG describes this sixty-plus-years’ rule as a golden epoch. The original Kannada essay forms the first chapter of his classic Mysurina Diwanaru, Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 4. The English translations are available at: (1) https://www.prekshaa.in/system-of-governance-before-independence-part1 and (2) https://www.prekshaa.in/system-of-governance-before-independence-part2

[4]D.V.Gundappa: Working of the States Ministry, Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No 4, April 1949, p 30. Emphasis added.

[5] Ibid p 29

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




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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