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Global Affairs Desk

Tue Jun 18 2024

Integrating India-The Story of Junagadh's accession to India

~ By Samidha Jain on 8/15/2022

Integrating India-The Story of Junagadh's accession to India

On 15th August 1947, India gained independence from the British Raj after being enslaved for 200 years. This date symbolises the emergence of a new dawn- the dawn of Indian freedom, prosperity, fraternity and optimistic power and influence. But, on the midnight of 14th and 15th August, another country, Pakistan came into existence. British India was partitioned on the grounds of the “two- nation” theory devised by The Muslim League and the world for the first time saw displacement of people and violence on that massive scale. About 2 to 20 lakhs people lost lives and 1 to 2 crores got displaced from where they considered “home”. With this background let's zoom in as to how The Union of India came into existence and how Princely states were integrated with an example of The Princely State of Junagadh.

British India was divided into two areas, the Provinces which were controlled directly by the East India Company and the Princely States which were given dominion status and came under the rule of the British Crown. The system of Paramountcy or Suzerainty was followed in the Princely states by which they had an independent ruler but the binding authority was the British crown. After the Mountbatten Plan which declared the formation of two countries, India and Pakistan, The Lapse of Paramountcy under Independence of India Act, was introduced which gave the outlines to the Princely states to determine their own fate after independence. There were three choices in front of the rulers of the Princely States;

  • To become a part of India
  • To become a part of Pakistan or
  • To remain independent and not join any of the two countries.

British India had 565 Princely states. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and his secretary V.P Menon gave their blood and sweat to integrate these 565 Princely states in mainland India. Sardar Patel was a realist, nationalist and catalyst. Due to his charismatic personality and plethora of knowledge and experience, most of the Princely states had already signed the “Instrument of Accession” in favour of India. V.P Menon was a civil servant and served as Secretary of Government of India in the Ministry of States under Sardar. Coming back to the Princely States, there were a few states who questioned and posed serious issues for integration. The ruler of Travancore, Raja Chithira Thirunal Balarama Verma, was the first one to declare independence of Travancore. Nizam of Hyderabad and one of the richest men on earth during that time Osman Ali Khan and Nawab of Bhopal, Hafiz Hamidullah Khan followed. The princely states of Kashmir and Manipur were conflicted areas as well. But, in this article let's take a look at the Princely state of Junagadh and its story of accession. Junagadh is situated in the Saurashtra region of today's Gujrat. Owing to its strategic location in the Arabian Sea and trade its integration in India was highly beneficial and important. Junagadh had Hindu majority of 80 percent who wanted to become a part of India because of the principles of Democracy and Secularism were given a huge importance in the politics.

The Princely State was ruled by Muhammad Mahabbat Khanjee III and the post of Diwan, the Royal Advisor was served by Shah Nawaz Bhutto. Yes, we are talking about the influential Bhutto family of Pakistan. Shah Nawaz Bhutto was father of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, grandfather of Benazir Bhutto and great-grandfather of Bilawal Bhutto. Mahabbat Khanjee was very fond of dogs and Gujrati folk music. On 17th August, the news of his decision to join Pakistan spread like a wildfire. This meant that 3.337 sq miles of land and 6.7 lacs of people will join Pakistan. Owing to the Nawab's passions, he was not taken seriously by The British or government of India until he took a step to join Pakistan against India's will. On 15th September, 1947 he signed the Instrument of Accession with Pakistan. In response to this, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and VP Menon met Lord Mountbatten and brought out how Pakistan paid 8 crore Rupees to Junagadh for joining Pakistan. Jinnah had pressurized Mahabbat Khanjee to set an example. In Kashmir, the ruler was a Hindu, Raja Hari Singh whereas the majority population was Muslim. So, if India puts forward the accession of Junagadh on the basis of majority population and their will, the apple of Kashmir should fall in the basket of Jinnah. But, accession of Junagadh was highly impractical as it was surrounded by India on all sides and had no connect with the mainland West Pakistan.

Sardar Patel pressed for military operation and annexation of Junagadh to India but Mountbatten pressed for a more diplomatic and peaceful measure. So, VP Menon was sent to Junagadh to talk to the eccentric Nawab. Most of the decisions in Junagadh were taken by Shah Nawaz Bhutto and due to his pro Pakistan nature, Indian leaders believed that the decision of Integration to Pakistan too was orchestrated by Bhutto. VP Menon was blocked by Bhutto and was unable to talk to the Nawab. Menon had to give up and went back to Delhi and concluded that the people were not happy with Monarch's ruler and a revolt should take place. Enroute, VP Menon was able to integrate Mangrol and Babriawad to the union of India. Nawab of Junagadh in reply, marched his troops in these two states. On 24th September, by Nehru's orders, the Indian Army cordoned off the borders of Junagadh. Nawab was trapped and faced terror from a double-edged sword. On one hand the vigil of Indian Army had surrounded him from all sides and on the other, people of his Riyasat, mostly Hindus were irked from his decision of joining Pakistan. Due to the delicacy of the situation, he decided to flee to Karachi and take refugee there. The reins of the state of Junagadh were thus left in the hands of the diwan, Bhutto. He asked for help from Jinnah, but response was bitter and late. Thus, Junagadh had become the pawn in the high-stake political game of borders.

Without any resort, poor and helpless Bhutto, on the behalf of Mahabbat Khanjee on 7th November, 1947 signed the Instrument of Accession with India. Bhutto then fled the country and settled in Pakistan and the rest is history. The Bhuttos have Indian genesis and have had a huge prominence in Pakistan. In February of 1948, India conducted a plebiscite in Junagadh and the majority voted for India upon Pakistan and Junagadh was finally acceded to the Union of India.

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