Junagadh's Accession to India

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Junagadh's Accession to India


Junagadh was a Hindu majority princely state on the southern-tip of Gujarat within a region called Kathiawar. The eccentric Nawab of Junagadh, influenced by his Dewan Shah Nawaz Bhutto, decided to join Pakistan after the transfer of power. Catch the story of how Junagadh ultimately acceded to India.

Junagadh was a state on the southern-tip of Gujarat within a region called Kathiawar. It itself contained dozens of petty estates and sheikhdoms within it. But, Junagadh was an important state, with a population of 700,000, 80% of them Hindus and, predictably, ruled by a Muslim prince.

The Indian Independence Act, 1947

British Prime Minister Clement Atlees famous speech in the House of Commons on 20th February 1947, fixed June 1948 as a deadline for the transfer of power. Lord Louis Mountbatten replaced Lord Wavell as the last Viceroy and Governor General of India. Mountbatten proved more decisive and quick than previous viceroys like Wavell, as he had been informally given much greater powers to decide things on the spot by the British government than his predecessors. The idea of partition with freedom came to be widely accepted even before Mountbattens arrival. [ref]

After a rapid series of 133 interviews with political leaders between 24 March and 6 May, Mountbatten decided that the Cabinet Mission framework had become untenable and formulated an alternative with the appropriate code name Plan Balkan. The plan was quickly abandoned though, however a few provisions of it like the transfer of power to the two central governments, India and Pakistan, on the basis of grant of Dominion status, along the princely states rendered independent by the lapse of paramountcy, which would then have the choice to either join India, Pakistan or remain separate was taken up instead. [ref]

Congress accepts the partition of India

Accepted by the Congress, League, and the Sikh leaders on 2 June and announced the next day, this became the basis of the India Independence Act which was ratified by the British Parliament and Crown on 18 July and implemented on 15 August. 

Lapse of Paramountcy

Lord Listowel, the last Secretary of State for India, included a clause in the Indian Independence Bill, which lapsed paramountcy only on the day India became independent, so that India unless it could make arrangements by agreement before hand would be confronted on August 15 by nearly 600 princely states containing 100 million people, each state completely independent.

With the impending lapse of paramountcy, the question of future of the princely states became vital one. The more ambitious rulers or their dewans (like Hyderabad, Bhopal or Travancore) were dreaming of an independence which would keep them as autocratic as before.

Sardar Patel and V.P Menon take charge

Sardar Patel took charge of the new States (in place of the Political) Department in July 1947. V.P. Menon became the Secretary of the States department. He had previously served as a political adviser to Lord Mountbatten, and had played a key role in drafting the Indian Independence Bill. The immediate transfer of power on the basis of grant of Dominion Status (with a right of secession), thus obviating the need to wait for the agreement in the Constituent Assembly on new political structures was suggested by him, and not Mountbatten. Together with VP Menon, Patel tackled the situation in what had become the standard practice using popular movements as a lever to extort concessions from princes while simultaneously restraining them (or even using force to suppress them).

Instrument of Accession

It must be said to the credit of Mountbatten that he did help Patel to use a rarely used provision of the Government of India Act, 1935 - the Instrument of accession. More than 560 princely states signed the Instrument of accession with the Dominion of India before 15th August 1947, after the passage of the Indian Independence Act, acknowledging central authority over the three areas of defence, external affairs and communications. The princes agreed to this fairly easily, for so they were surrendering only what they never had (the three functions had been part of the paramountcy of the Crown). The principal bait offered was that of very generous privy purses, while some princes were also made into Governors or Rajpramukhs. Only states that didn't sign were Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagadh. [ref]

Junagadh defects to Pakistan

The Nawab of Junagadh was an eccentric character, famously obsessed with dogs. It is no surprise that the actual governing of the Junagadh was carried out by his Dewan. In the last months of British India his Dewan was a Muslim League politician named Shah Nawaz Bhutto (father of future Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto). Junagadh was an important state, with a population of 700,000, 80% of them Hindus ruled by a Muslim ruler.

Before independence, the Nawab had been assuring the Indian government that it had every intention of joining India. But unbeknownst to Sardar Patel, Junagadh leadership was in communication with the Pakistani government. Bhutto was being courted by Jinnah to switch sides. And so on 15 August, as independence rolled around, Junagadh declared itself acceding to Pakistan. The Indian government didnt even hear about it until it was published in the newspapers on 17 August!

India's Response

Surprised, it sent a message to Pakistan, asking them to reject Junagadhs offer of accession. There was no response. A few days later, Pakistan declared that it was accepting Junagadhs accession. It was decided in New Delhi to pressurize Junagadh into reversing their decision. This began by putting an embargo on the state by stopping the supplies of essential items like food and coal. Indian troops were deployed around the region as a show of strength. Rattled, Bhutto wrote to Jinnah, asking for financial and military help, and preferably some air support.

New Delhi also dispatched VP Menon to Junagadh. There he was met by Bhutto. He tried to convince Bhutto the absurdity of joining Pakistan which had no connection with Junagadh by land. Bhutto dismissed it saying that the two were connected by the sea (300 miles between port of Veraval and Karachi). Dismayed, Menon returned empty-handed.

Samaldas Gandhi

At this point, several confusing threads began unfolding in parallel. Samaldas Gandhi was the son of Laxmidas Karamchand Gandhi who closely followed his father's younger brother and his uncle, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. With Rajkot as capital, he established and headed a provisional government or "Aarzi Hukumat" with the plan of starting an insurrection against the Nawab. Samaldas was invited by Nawabs Dewan Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto to accept the reins of the state of Pakistan acceded Junagadh, but he instead defected to the Indian dominion.

Mangrol and Babriabawad

Parallel to it, another tiny state Manavadar bordering Junagadh started suggesting that it might go over to Pakistan as well. Meanwhile, two tiny estates within Junagadh Babariawad and Mangrol consisting of fifty villages each, declared their independence from Junagadh and their decision to accede to India. As a response, Bhutto sent his forces into these estates to take control of them.

The Indian Struggle for Junagadh

Nehru's tacit reluctance

In New Delhi, the issue proved to be divisive. Sardar Patel was in favour of using military force since Junagadhs invasion of Babariawad and Mangrol could be construed as an act of war. But Jawaharlal Nehru was reluctant to use force since it would mean a war with Pakistan, which in his opinion would prove to be very costly for India. To complicate the matters further, Indias chiefs of staff submitted a white paper to the cabinet saying that in the event of a war with Pakistan, the British officers (still serving in the Indian army) will not stand down, since they could not fight against the British officers serving in the Pakistani Army. The Indian leaders were outraged at this, saying that military chiefs were exceeding their bounds. The next day Mountbatten convinced the military chiefs to back down and the showdown between the military and the government was averted. By end of September, Nehru had decided to surround Junagadh with army and navy but not to use force. Meanwhile, he continued to pressurize Pakistani government to come to terms over the issue.

The Nawab Flees to Pakistan

Over the month of October, conditions worsened in Junagadh which was fast running out of food and other essentials under Indian embargo. Meanwhile, Gandhis provisional government had started their insurrection, taking over some towns of state. The whole drama also acquired communal overtones and risk of Hindu-Muslim riots in Kathiawar heightened. As the situation worsened, the Nawab decided to flee to Pakistan, taking all the money in the state treasury, most (but not all) of his wives and some of his dogs, with him. Bhutto was left in charge of the state. Bhutto kept on asking Pakistan for military and financial assistance, but the help never came. Pakistan had nothing to help Junagadh with.

Matters come to fore in late October, as the conflict in Kashmir erupted. With Nehrus unwillingness to go to war with Pakistan was now immaterial. The Indian government became more willing to use force in Junagadh. The news had been coming of harassment of Hindus by the Khan of Manavadar, the tiny state which had been threatening to go over to Pakistan.

India takes over

Patel, in no mood to be trifled with, sent a small force to take over the state on 22 October. On 1 November, forces were also dispatched to take over administration of Babariawad and Mangrol. Junagadh forces had already fled, hours before Indian troops reached these estates. But Indian government still held back from a full-fledged invasion of Junagadh. After holding out for a week, Bhutto eventually relented on 8 November, offering India to take over the reins of Junagadh. Government administrator reached Junagadh on 9 November, only to discover that Bhutto had already decamped for Pakistan. [ref]

Plebiscite

A plebiscite was eventually held to decide what the people wanted. The result was 1,90,870 for India, 91 for Pakistan. And this is how Junagadh merged into the Union of India.

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