By Sukant Deepak
Stressing that author and journalist Sandeep Bamzais recently released book ‘Princestan: How Nehru, Patel and Mountbatten Made India manages to unearth multiple facets of the period between 1945 and 1947, Congress MP and writer Jairam Ramesh said that though history tells us that the British transferred power to India and Pakistan, there was also a third party to which the British were toying with the idea of transferring power to.
“Most of our historical discussions and discourses tend to neglect Princestan. We focus only on the transfer of power to India and Pakistan. Bamzai has not only brought together all the material on Princestan but also tells his readers a fascinating tale of how three key personalities — Nehru, Patel and Mountbatten, helped by V.P. Menon played a decisive role in ensuring that India did not get Balkanized, and the partition that took place was only into two dominions — India and Pakistan.”
Published by Rupa Publications, the book, which sheds light on a plan devised by some powerful princes to not join either India or Pakistan in run-up to independence, was discussed during a launch event organised by Oxford Bookstores on Monday.
Recalling that the idea of writing the book came to him while researching for the first book of the trilogy, ‘Deconstructing the Accession: Bonfire of Kashmiriyat’, when he came across rare material bequeathed to him by his grandfather, who was the OSD to the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the author said, “It was a treasure trove. I was to later discover that most of it was not even in the available at National Archives or the Nehru Museum.
“In my possession are first copies of all documents in the form of letters and correspondences. It made all sense to build it into a bigger book, about all the ambition of 565 princely states. Of course, being a working journalist, snatching time to sit down and write a book is not easy. However, in 2015, during a sabbatical, I got down to work on this book. ORF was kind enough to give me a fellowship for that period.”
Though a student of economics and not history, the author immersed himself in the documents, and researched at the Nehru Museum and National Archives. Adding that research also involves corroborating the material in hand, Bamzai says that it is important to interpret history in light of new material and findings.
“Many of Nehru’s biographers didn’t use the strand of thought that stood on the alliance between him and Mountbatten to combat the princes. Frankly, Nehru passed the baton to Mountbatten, who in turn passed it to Sardar, and that is how this exercise culminated in all the princes coming together.
Adding that Sardar Patel was the enforcer, Mountbatten the charmer, Nehru the ideologue with VP Malik the draftsman, Ramesh said that in our fixation on India and Pakistan, the third player — Princestan never got the attention it deserved. “And it is interesting to note that Princestan was a perfectly secular enterprise and straddled the Hindu-Muslim divide.
“We know that it was Bengal and Punjab that got partitioned and not India. This book brings out the important fact that India might have got partitioned had the princes had their way. An important aspect of political history in the transfer of power did not get the attention it deserves. I am glad this book bridges that gap.”
Although the author’s grandfather would not discuss politics with him , his father would tell him stories from that era. While Nehru lived in 17, York Road, and his grandfather in the outhouse, Bamzai recalls, “Nehru would frequently talk to my father, who was a child then. I have several photographs from that time. I grew up with a lot of stories of that era.”
Pointing that while Patel and Nehru were clear that princely states had no role to play in independent India, while Mahatma Gandhi believed in the concept of trusteeship, Bamzai said, “He felt that princes represent the trustees and should rule. However, Netaji also supported Nehru that India had to be one without any princes and provinces.
“Nehru was influenced by Fabian socialism, Annie Besant and George Bernard Shaw and was completely anti-monarchy. In fact, the princes would tell Patel and Gandhi that it was impossible to talk to him.”
When Ramesh pointed that much space has been devoted to discussing Ram Chandra Kak (Kashmir’s Prime Minister during 1945–1947) and Ramaswami Iyer who served as the Diwan of Travancore, Bamzai said, “Let’s not forget that it was Kak who allowed the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh to think he should vacillate till there comes a time when he can be independent. Of course, it did not come to that. But we must remember that Hari Singh signs the instrument of accession only when the raiders come and there is no other option, on October 26. Travancore wanted to have its own secret pact with the British thanks to the strategic ports and the large Thorium reserves there.”
When asked by Ramesh about the most surprising bits that he came across during the course of his research, the author said, “At the time when Nehru had rejected the ‘Dickie Bird Plan’, Edwina Mountbatten calls VP Menon, informing him that both Nehru and Mountbatten were in Shimla. Menon goes to Shimla, takes Mountbatten to Nehru and an alternate plan is put together. Menon then calls Sardar. Here, I would like to stress that a major reason behind writing this book was to emphasize the role of many nameless and faceless individuals.”
While Princestan took around five years with three years of research and a year to actually write, Bamzai has completed the research for his next book on Kashmir. “This one was supposed to be released earlier but Covid-19 delayed our plans. From the materials in my possession, I have retained a large part on Kashmir, which is not out even in the first part of the trilogy.
“In the next book too, I will use the same approach as the one adopted in ‘Princestan’. Kashmir will be seen through the prism of five people.”
Bamzai further stressed on the need for a National Freedom Archive, an idea floated by Kanchan Gupta, Distinguished Fellow at ORF during a launch event for ‘Princestan’. “There is some priceless historical material in various private collections including mine. Much more needs to be documented about the different facets of the Indian Independence movement which is a vast canvas.”
Ramesh added that he too has some rare material and there existed several important documents scattered in different state archives. “All that should come under one roof. The archives should also be digitalised so that everyone can access the documents easily.”