I had seen and talked to Mountbatten at lunch parties in Viceroy’s House and at meetings of the Chamber of Princes. Tall of stature, with an enviable reputation as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during the War, he impressed everyone with his fine personality and pleasing manner. Standing on the dais that day, wearing his bright, white naval uniform, festooned with medals and decorations, he addressed the gathering as Crown Representative of His Majesty, the King of Great Britain, his cousin, and spoke of the King’s concern for the Princes of India with whom the Crown’s long-standing associations and obligations were soon to come to an end.

He referred to the plans and deliberations leading to the recommendation that the Princes accede to the Federal Union only on three subjects, namely defence, communications and external affairs, and explained the reasons for that recommendation. He assured the Princes that their accession on the three subjects would involve no financial liability and that in all other matters their sovereignty and internal autonomy would remain unaffected.

He said that Prime Minister Nehru, the States’ Minister Patel, and their colleagues had indicated their willingness to accept the recommendation. If he could take them a large basketful of Princely consents, it would strengthen his hands in getting the recommendation accepted. He strongly advised the Princes to agree and give their consent to the Instruments of Accession, the draft of which had been sent to them.

He was offering the advice as Crown Representative and Viceroy, which he would cease to be after 15 August. “Till the 15th of August,” he warned the Princes, “I can help you. After that, god help you.”

The Dewan of a minor State rose and said his ruler was on the high seas and, as he would not be in the country before August 15. He asked if an extension of time could be given. The Viceroy picked up a glass paperweight from the desk in front of him, held it up, looked at it and said, “I see your ruler here; he says yes, he consents.”

There was some laughter, which did not displease His Excellency. I could not help feeling that this crystal-gazing act and the levity were hardly appropriate, if not entirely out of place, at a serious and important meeting that had begun with the Viceroy invoking His Majesty, his own royal antecedents, and at which he was addressing the rulers of two-fifths of India at a turning point in history.

I thought of my meeting with Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer a few days earlier. He was a remarkable man. Endowed with a fine personality and a keen intellect, he was learned and brilliant, an eloquent speaker, a brave and dynamic administrator. In his early years he was a much sought-after lawyer and one of the first, most ardent, champions of Home Rule for India. As a schoolboy in Madras in the early 1910s, I had come across a booklet entitled India, A Nation by Dr Annie Besant, demanding freedom from British rule. It was said to have been proscribed by the Government as seditious. I was warned not to be found with it. The foreword to the book was by CP Ramaswamy Iyer.

As Dewan of Travancore he had earned a reputation for the steps he had taken to promote the economic development of the State. Above all, he put Travancore on the map of India by the historic Temple Entry Proclamation by which, the Maharaja threw temples open to Harijans (untouchables) – a bold, pioneering decision that won the praise of Mahatma Gandhi.

CP, as he was called by friends, was among the leaders and statesmen whose views were sought by successive British missions. He did not, however, take part in the Constituent Assembly or its committees. I knew he had plans of making Travancore an independent maritime State. I had always held him in esteem as a distinguished elder statesman and called on him at Travancore House in New Delhi, asking him why he had not agreed to the accession of Travancore.

I said it had been repeatedly made clear by the British government and the Viceroy that accession would be only on three subjects, that there would be no encroachment in respect of other subjects or powers and that Prime Minister Nehru and Sardar Patel had declared that the Cabinet Mission proposals had been accepted in full with all their implications, including no change in the monarchical form of government. It was on these solemn assurances and promises that several States had signed the Instruments of Accession. Why had he not agreed?

CP looked at me for a while and said, “My dear Sreenivasan, can you trust them? Where is the Cabinet Mission Plan?” he asked. “That was for a united India, not for two dominions; Mahatma Gandhi’s pleadings against partition have been brushed aside. Nehru’s arrogance and contempt for Jinnah is largely the cause of Jinnah’s successful insistence on partition. In February, Nehru tells the Princes that the monarchical form of government and the integrity of States would not be touched. Within months, he wants to make it clear that he did not believe in the monarchical form of government. We know very well his dislike of the Princes, his contempt for them. He is the leader; he is the head of the Union Government. Can you trust them?”

CP did not attend the Viceroy’s meeting with the Princes and Dewans on July 25. I learnt he had met the Viceroy a few days earlier, and left for Trivandrum to give further thought to the matter in consultation with the Maharaja. On July 27, CP was grievously stabbed in Trivandrum by a local
Congress ruffian.

Of the Raj, Maharajas and Me

Excerpted with permission from Of the Raj, Maharajas and Me, MA Sreenivasan, Speaking Tiger Books.