Lord Mountbatten's 1947 address at The Chamber of Princes
On July 25, 1947, Mountbatten addressed a special meeting of the Chamber of Princes and reiterated the need to use the Instrument of Accession to accede to either of the two dominions. Maharaja Hari Singh joined India through this instrument, like the other Princely States
It is a Great pleasure and a great privilege for me to address so many Rulers, Dewans and Representatives of the States of India in this historic Chamber of Princes. It is the first and last occasion that I have the privilege of addressing you as Crown Representative.
I would like to begin by giving you a very brief history of the negotiations I had conducted since I have been out here and the line that I have taken up about the States.
There were two distinct problems that faced me. The first was how to transfer power to British India and the Second how to fit Indian States into the picture in a manner which would be fair and just to all concerned.
I dealt first with the problem of British India, because you will realize that until that problem was solved it was quite useless to try to start on a solution of the problem of the States. So I addressed my mind to the former.
There had been universal acceptance among the States of the Cabinet Mission's Memorandum of 12th May and when the political parties accepted the Statement of 3rd June they fully realized and accepted that withdrawal of Paramountcy would enable the States to regain complete sovereignty. That gave me a starting point from which to try and deal fairly with the States.
But before I got down to dealing with the States there was one other thing that I clearly had to do. I had to address myself to the problem of the mechanics of partition- a plan against my personal desires. As you all know, It took three years to separate Burma from India, in spite of the fact ( as I can testify , as also His Highness of Bundi and other who fought in Burma) that there are no roads running between Indian and Burma. Nevertheless, it took three years to arrange that partition. It took two years to separate the province of Sind from Bombay. It took two years to separate the province of Orissa from Bihar. Gentlemen, we decided that in less than two and a half months we shall have to go through the partitioning of one of the biggest countries in the world with 400 million in habitants. There was a reason for the speed. I was quite certain that while the British over lordship remained no satisfactory conclusions could be reached psychologically between the parties. So once we got the two Governments set up and separated they would be able to try and finish off the details in an atmosphere of goodwill.
Now, the Indian Independence Act releases all the States from all their obligations to the crown. The States will have complete freedom- technically and legally they become independent. Presently I will discuss the degree of Independence which we ourselves feel is best in the interests of your own states. But there has grown up during the period of British Administration, owing to the fact that the crown Representative and the Viceroy are one and the same person, a system of coordinated administration on all matters of common concern which meant that the sub-continent of India acted as an economic entity. That link is now to be broken. If nothing can be put in its place , only chaos can result, and that chaos , I submit will hurt the States first– the bigger the States the less the hurt and longer it will take to feel it – but even the biggest of the States will feel the hurt just the same as any small state.
The first step was to set up some machinery by which it was possible to put the two future Governments of India- the Dominions of India and Pakistan—into direct touch with the States. So I conceived the scheme of setting up two states Departments within the future Governments. Please note that these States are not the successors of Political Departments. They have been set up simultaneously and side by side. While the Political department exercised functions relating to paramountcy on behalf of the Crown Representative, the States Departments are to take over those subjects gradually which have nothing to do with paramountcy but which will be concerned with relations with neighboring States and also provide the Machinery to negotiate in such matters. In India the States Department is under admirable guidance of Sardar Vallabhhai Patel with my own reforms Commissioner, Mr. VP Menon as Secretary. In Pakistan the Department is under Sardar Abdur Rab NIshtar with Mr. Ikramullah as the Secretary.
It was necessary to set up two States Departments, one in each Government, because States are theoretically free to link their future with whichever dominion they may care. But when I say that they are at liberty to link up with either of the Dominions, may I point that there are certain geographical compulsions which cannot be evaded. Out of something like 565 states the vast majority irretrievably linked geographically with the dominion of India. The problem therefore is of far greater magnitude with the dominion of India than it is with Pakistan. In the case of Pakistan the States although important, are not so numerous, and Mr. Jinnah, the future Governor General of Pakistan, is prepared to negotiate the case of each State separately and individually. But in the case of India, where the overwhelming majority of the States are involved, clearly separate negotiation with each State is out of the question.
The step that I took was to suggest that in the Bill before Parliament- the Indian Independence Act- a clause should be put in which would enable certain essential agreements to continue until renounced by either side. That was only done to ensure that there should be some continuity if in the short time available it was not possible to get the agreement through with every State representative. It does not replace the need for Standstill agreements; it gives a very slight breathing space.
Now, I think it is no exaggeration to say that most Rulers and Dewans were apprehensive as to what their future would be when Paramountcy lapsed. At one time it appeared that unless they joined the Constituent Assembly and accepted the constitution when it was framed, they would be outside the organization and left in a position which, I submit, no state could view with equanimity – left out and having no satisfactory relations or contacts with either Dominion Government. You can imagine how relived I was , and I am sure you will yourselves have been equally relived when Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on taking over the States Department made , if I may say so, a most Statesman like Statement of what he considered were the essentials towards agreement between the States and the Dominion of India.
Let us turn for one moment to the Cabinet Mission Plan of 16 May 1946. In this Plan the proposal was that the States should surrender to Central Governments three subjects - Defence, External Affairs and Communications. That was a plan which to the best of my belief, every Ruler and every State accepted as reasonable, fair and Just. I talked with so many Rulers and everyone felt that Defence was a matter that a State could not conduct itself. I am not talking of internal security but of defence against external aggression. I submit that if you do not link up with one or other of the Dominions, you may be cut off from any source of supplies of up-to-date arms or weapons.
“External Affairs" is inextricably linked up with Defence. “External Affairs” is something again which is outside the boundaries of India in which not even the greatest state can operate effectively. You can hardly want to go to the expense of having ambassadors or ministers or consuls in all foreign countries; surely you want to be able to use those of India or Pakistan. Once more I suggest that “External Affairs” is something that you have not dealt with since the formation of East India Company. It would be difficult to operate and will also be a source of embarrassment for you to have to take it up and it can only be managed by those who manage the Defence of the Country. I submit that if you take it up it will be a liability and not an asset.
The third subject is communications. “Communications” is really a means of maintaining the life-blood of the whole suo-continent. I imagine everybody agrees that the life of the country has got to go on. The continuity of communications is already has got to go on. The continuity of communications is already provided for to a certain extent in the Indian Independence Act;
Therefore, I am sure you will agree that these three subjects have got to be handled for you for your convenience and advantage by a larger organization. This seems so obvious I was at loss to understand why some Rulers were reluctant to accept the position. One explanation probably was that some of you were apprehensive that the Central Government would attempt to impose a financial liability on the States or encroach in other ways on their sovereignty. If I am right in this assumption, at any rate so far as some Princes are concerned, I think I can dispel their apprehensions and misgivings. The Draft Instrument of Accession which I have caused to be circulated as a basis for discussion (and not for publication) to the representatives of the States provides that the States accede to the appropriate Dominion on the three subjects only without any financial liability. Further, that Instrument contains an explicit provision that in no other matters has the Central Government any authority to encroach of the internal autonomy or the sovereignty of the States. This would, in my view, be a tremendous achievement for the States. But I must make it clear that I have still to persuade the Government of India to accept it. If all of you will co-operate with me and are ready to accede, I am confident that I can succeed in my efforts. Remember that the day of the transfer of power is very close at hand and , if you are prepared to come, you must come before 15 August . I have no doubt that this is in the best interests of the States, and every wise Ruler and wise Government would desire to link up with the Great Dominion of India on a basis which leaves you great internal autonomy and which at the same time gets rid of your worries and cares over External Affairs, Defence and Communications.
The whole country is passing through a critical period. I am not asking any State to make any intolerable sacrifice of either its internal autonomy or independence. My scheme leaves you with all the practical independence that you can possibly use and makes you free of all those subjects which you cannot possibly manage on your own. You cannot run away from the Dominion Government which is your neighbor any more than you can run away from the subjects for whose welfare you are responsible. Whatever may be your decision, I hope you feel that I have at least done my duty by the States.