IN discussions of the Indian problem, which looms so large because of India's position in the strategy of the United Nations, it should not be forgotten that India is divided politically into two parts, one ruled by the Government of India and one ruled by Princes who are in treaty relationship with the British Crown. The problem, therefore, is not concerned solely with the adjustment of political power between Britain and British India, as outsiders often suppose. There is a third important factor.

The territory ruled by hereditary Princes amounts to practically two-fifths of the whole of India and the population involved is nearly 80 millions. It includes States which by reason of their size and resources and the progressive character of their administration challenge comparison with many of the nations of Europe and the Americas. There are, altogether, 562 Indian States, but this figure by itself is misleading, for many of them are very small. The principal states, whose rulers are members of the Chamber of Princes in their own right, are 135 in number, total 572,997 square miles in area and had a population of 75,109,344 in 1931.

These States, contrary to widely prevalent notions, are not the creations of British policy nor are they the haphazard outcome of political exigencies. Most of them were in existence long before the Europeans came to India. The State of Cochin, for example, is ruled today by the descendants of the Maharaja who welcomed Vasco da Gama on his first voyage to India. The first political treaty made by the East India Company in 1737 was with the ruler of Travancore, whose States date back to the early centuries of the Christian Era. The Nizam of Hyderabad was an ally of the Company in its struggle with Tipu and the Marathas. The ancient States of Rajputana were never conquered by the British, while the Maratha States of Baroda, Gwalior, Kolhapur and Indore represent a power which contested with the British for supremacy in India.

Though the States vary greatly in size and importance, they have the common feature that they are not British possessions. While the Princes are bound in subordinate alliance with the British Crown, their territories are not parts of British India nor are they subject to British authority. The British Parliament cannot legislate for them and their people are not subjects of the Crown, although they are entitled to British protection. The relationship between the British Government and the Indian States is based on treaties and agreements, entered into at various times, under which the Crown of England undertook to protect their independence and sovereignty on condition they gave up control of their foreign relations. Most of these alliances were entered into voluntarily and not as the result of military defeats inflicted on the States.

The Crown's undenied obligation under these treaties to protect the territorial integrity and political rights of the States has been solemnly reaffirmed by successive British sovereigns. The Proclamation of Queen Victoria, for example, declared unequivocally that: "We hereby announce to the Native Princes of India that all Treaties and Engagements made with them by or under the authority of the Honorable East India Company are by Us accepted, and will be scrupulously maintained. . . . We shall respect the Rights, Dignity and Honor of Native Princes as Our own." The late King George V said in his proclamation of 1921: "In My former Proclamation I repeated the assurance given on many occasions by My Royal predecessors and Myself, of My determination ever to maintain unimpaired the privileges, rights and dignities of the Princes of India. The Princes may rest assured that this pledge remains inviolate and inviolable." It can be seen, therefore, that the idea prevalent in some quarters that the States are the creations of British Indian policy and that their rights and authority are derived from outside is not warranted either by the facts of history or by present-day relationships.

It is obvious, for this reason, that any political settlement that affected India as a whole, whether it were the withdrawal of British power or the grant of Dominion status, would require the voluntary consent of the States. The British Government is fully aware of this. Viscount Halifax, a former Viceroy of India and now British Ambassador in the United States, made the point clear in a recent speech in which he said: "They (the Princes) and their States do not fit easily into the picture of India as the Congress Party would like to draw it. Yet the independence of the Princes is enshrined in solemn treaties with the King-Emperor and as such are only alterable by negotiation. To scrap these or any other treaties unilaterally would be to scrap one of the principles for which we went to war with Germany." Nor do the Princes' pledges of "subordinate coöperation" with the British Government bind them to abide by what the Crown decides for them, as is sometimes argued. The Princes are undoubtedly pledged to coöperate with the British Government in matters of general international policy and other affairs of importance to the Commonwealth as a whole, but only when these are not covered by treaty. The object of the treaties is to guarantee the independence of the Princes. The argument that under them the Princes can be compelled to surrender their authority is, therefore, contrary to their spirit as well as their letter.

If, then, the Princes must give their consent to any settlement of the Indian problem as a whole, their attitude toward the proposed solutions must be considered. They have made it clear beyond the possibility of doubt that they have no desire to stand in the way of India's political freedom. It was the willing acceptance of the principle of federation by the Princes that persuaded the British Government to agree, at the First Round Table Conference in London in 1930, to a large measure of autonomy for India.

The first part of the Government of India Act of 1935, which came into force in 1937, provided for the autonomy of the 11 Provinces of British India under popularly elected ministries. The second part provided for a federation of the British Provinces with the Indian States. This section of the Act was strongly criticized by the leading parties in British India because it sought to solve the problem of the minorities by giving them weighted representation; the Hindus would have had the largest representation, but they would not have been able to form a government without the support of one or more of the minorities. The Congress Party argued that all seats should be contested and that the candidates who received the most votes should be elected; the Moslems and the other minorities objected that this would enable the Hindu majority to override permanently the minority interests; they complained, also, that the representation given them by the Act was insufficient.

While these points were being debated in British India, the British were also negotiating with the Indian States for the implementation of the federal provisions of the Act. These negotiations were inevitably shelved at the outbreak of war. The Princes have declared repeatedly since then their willingness to help India in every way possible to attain full Dominion status. They insist, however, that the future of the country is not a matter to be settled by negotiations with the parties of British India alone. The States, as integral parts of India, are entitled to their full share in political power, and the rights and authority which they enjoy under their treaties with the British Crown cannot be annulled or modified without their free consent.

But whatever their legal rights may be, it is sometimes suggested, the States are mediaeval autocracies which have no moral claim to continued existence in a progressive and democratic world. This kind of criticism is wholly unrealistic. The States of India are not mere survivals of a reactionary mediaevalism. It cannot be argued that all the States are equally progressive or that their standards of public administration are uniformly high. The fact remains that many of the larger ones are in advance of British India in such matters as education, public health, social welfare and other activities which benefit the people. The State of Baroda, for example, has been a pioneer not only in all social reform movements and modern social legislation but in the field of popular education as well. During the past quarter of a century the State of Mysore, with a population of over 7 million, has followed a policy of industrial development which has given it a position of unique importance in the life of India as a whole. The State of Travancore, which has more than 6 million inhabitants, is famous for its educational policy; it claims the highest percentage of literacy in India. The progress in public health, education, communications and development of material resources which Hyderabad State has witnessed during the past two decades compares favorably with anything that has been done in British India, while the transformation of a vast area of desert land in Bikaner into fertile soil, and the efforts made by the Government of that State to eliminate the recurring scourge of famine, are unmatched in India.

The contribution of the States to the successful prosecution of the war has been particularly notable. While large elements in British India have hesitated, squabbled and even resorted openly to non-coöperation, all the States have devoted their entire resources and energy to furthering the war effort.

President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill stated in the Atlantic Charter that "they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned; that they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them." This is what the States of India claim for themselves. They desire nothing more than freedom to live and develop according to their own ideas, and to contribute their share to the general progress of India. The insistent claims of political parties in British India may have obscured for a time the important part that the India of the States has to play in the future, but this cannot be ignored permanently, both because the Princes and States are deep-rooted in Indian history and because of the immense sacrifices in men, money and materials which they are making willingly for the cause of the United Nations.

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  • K. M. PANIKKAR, Foreign and Political Minister of the State of Bikaner; formerly Secretary of the Chamber of Princes; author of "The Indian States and the Government of India" and other works
  • More By K. M. Panikkar