Penderel Moon arrived in Bahawalpur as revenue minister in April 1947 under Prime Minister Mushtaq Ahmed Gurmani, later governor of West Pakistan and remembered by Salahuddin Abbasi as a “lovely little roly-poly man”. He took over from Sir Richard Crofton who had been in the post since 1942, the first of the two British prime ministers of Bahawalpur.
Moon commented on a “vague hostility” to the arrival of another British official, which he put down in part to the desire to see at last the end of the British and secondly to a tradition of “anti-western, obscurantist and reactionary Islam” in Bahawalpur. In the former complaint, the population must have been disappointed to get a second British prime minister after Independence. In the latter, such opinions may have been part of the earlier clash of the British with tradition embodied in Maulvi Ghulam Hussain. They were not overtly shared by the anglophile nawab.
However, in the years since Bahawalpur was absorbed into the Punjab, marginalised, forgotten and impoverished in the enrichment of the upper Punjab, reactionary Islam had gained ground in Bahawalpur once more. The huge support, moral and financial, given by the nawab of Bahawalpur to the Quaid-i-Azam and the new Islamic state of Pakistan at its birth had been in no wise remembered and only reciprocated in broken promises to the state.
As the most important Muslim-majority state with a Muslim ruler, leaving aside the different story and geographical location of Hyderabad, and with geographical borders with Sindh and Punjab, Bahawalpur’s accession to Pakistan must have appeared certain.
Moon wrote, the people of the state “knew nothing of any other possibility”. The Muslim population was “well content” with the prospect and most of the minority communities accepted it without serious concern.
It was only as panic grew, and Muslims from Rajputana began to move into Bahawalpur, in the weeks leading up to the transfer of power, that their migration was mirrored by that of the Hindu population. They were, in particular, the proprietors of urban businesses, that the nawab hoped and tried to retain in Bahawalpur.
Sadiq Muhammad Khan was close enough to Jinnah, who had advised the family legally and in relation to the Sutlej Valley Project loan, to have had him as a regular guest at his house, Al Qamar, in Karachi. Eventually, he presented the Quaid with 15 acres of land and ordered that a house should be built for him on it. Jinnah also took a laissez-faire attitude to the princes, so that their expectations of at least semi-independence within Pakistan, and, in Bahawalpur’s case, absolute belief in promises of provincial status in due course, would have more allure than any offer from a Congress government in India.
One of his grandfather’s servants, deputed to look after Jinnah’s building work in Karachi reported no such easy-going attitude in other areas of the Quaid’s life. The servant, who was an unusually big man, six and a half feet tall, told Salahuddin that Jinnah was so imperious, he used to tremble in front of him.
In a riposte to the resolution of 14 June 1947 of the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) that suggested that the lapse of paramountcy did not lead to the independence of states as they could not exist separate from the rest of India, Jinnah had made a statement on 17 June: “The Indian states will be independent sovereign states on the termination of paramountcy and they will be free to adopt any course they like. We do not wish to interfere with internal affairs of any state”, and “...we shall be glad to discuss with them and come to settlement which will be in the interest of both.”
Things were not so simple. Moon wrote of his astonishment when Gurmani, himself an Indian unionist, informed him that the nawab was “being advised in certain quarters to accede to India”.
Dr Umbreen Javaid, former lecturer at Islamia University in Bahawalpur and professor in the department of political science at the University of Punjab, has written of meetings between the nawab and Jawaharlal Nehru in London and, with his sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, at Sadiqgarh, when he was offered incentives to join India.
Gurmani was additionally concerned with the situation regarding the division of the Sutlej Valley between two national authorities. He believed that if Bahawalpur was in Pakistan, and India controlled the headwaters of the river, they might reduce the supply to Bahawalpur, returning farmland to the desert. In fact, this was exactly what happened in the 1950s leading to the start of the Indus River diversion project.
Meanwhile, it was all horse-trading. Rumour and counter-rumour ran from Delhi to London, through the states of Rajputana and into Bahawalpur, as rulers bargained accession for the best deal and greatest level of independence within the new parameters.
The states contiguous to Pakistan – Bikaner, Jaisalmer and, in particular, Jodhpur –flirted with offers to them made by Muslim League leaders. Likewise, it was believed, the nawab of Bahawalpur might extract greater concessions if he acceded to India. Wayne Ayres Wilcox described Bahawalpur as “lying along the Sutlej River, with its irrigated face toward the Punjab and its arid back to the great Indian desert”.
When Sadiq Muhammad Khan flew to London for negotiations with the British government, the British floated the idea, rumoured to have been proposed originally by Prime Minister Gurmani, of a regional unit of neighbouring states, a Rajputana States Confederation, as a buffer zone between the two countries. Sadiq Muhammad Khan was offered the first presidency. In answer, he said, “I believe we are all gentlemen here. My front door faces Pakistan, my servants’ entrance faces India. I believe a gentleman usually enters his house through his front door.” His grandson adds, “We have been regretting it ever since.”
On 15th August 1947 the nawab declared himself amir and Jalalat-ul-Mulk ala Hazrat, His Majesty the king of the independent state of Bahawalpur.
His action was considered inflammatory by the Muslim League. It resulted in a progression of events described below by Wayne Ayres Wilcox, in The Consolidation of a Nation, and also quoting Moon. The nawab’s satisfactory simile to describe his intentions to the British may have suggested more clarity of intent than was genuinely the case.
Lieutenant Colonel ASB Shah, the secretary of the ministry for states, later testified to the Pakistan government’s reaction:
I had recommended that the Government should not recognise the new title assumed by the ruler. The new titles appeared to me to be incongruous because the Nawab had not possessed them before Partition and in the Political Department we were very jealous of the Rulers assuming titles to which they were not justified.
Equally serious was the lack of a Standstill Agreement between the state and the central government. Two missions visited the state in 1947 – the first, under Major Short, from July until September; the second, led by General Iftikhar of the Pakistan Army and Mr Ikramullah, secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, arrived in connection with very serious communal riots, but the presence of a ranking political officer belied its dual nature.
Gurmani had discussed a Standstill Agreement with representatives of both governments on “matters of common concern”, to which the Government of Pakistan had agreed. The Government of India would only accept the Standstill Agreement in the standard form prepared for all states in case any exceptions created difficulties with other states. On 14 August 1947, Gurmani signed the agreement between the Government of India and Bahawalpur on matters relating to “currency and coinage, extradition, irrigation, motor vehicles, relief from double income tax, and other arrangements relating to existing privileges and immunities enjoyed by the rulers”.
Such a document, regarding a state that would almost certainly be attached in some form to Pakistan, was not likely to hold much relevance.
Gurmani informed Ikramullah, the secretary of the ministry of external affairs and commonwealth relations, observing, “It will take some time to get agreement and arrangements in regard to the matters of common concern between the Pakistan Government and Bahawalpur State.”
At this point, Gurmani and the nawab themselves went into a standstill mode of delay and hesitation, with the intention of retaining as much independence as possible. Ten days after Partition, the nawab made a statement of his intentions, which was somewhat contradictory: “The States have once again become fully independent and sovereign territories. These important and far-reaching changes enable us to shape our own destinies.”
The nawab foresaw Bahawalpur’s future as an Islamic state, but at the same time alluded to the need for the protection of minority rights, called for religious freedom and justice, and asked for cordial relations with all his neighbours. He added:
In view of the geographical position of my State and its cultural and economic affinities with the Pakistan Dominion, my representatives should participate in the labours and deliberations of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly...which will enable the two states to arrive at a satisfactory constitutional arrangement with regard to certain important matters of common concern.
The speech clarified nothing except that Bahawalpur would negotiate with Pakistan as a separate legal entity.
No accession was forthcoming by the end of September, and Liaquat Ali Khan told Colonel Shah that there was a “hitch” in Bahawalpur’s accession and asked the secretary to try to secure an instrument through the good offices of Mr Amjad Ali, a friend of Gurmani. In October, after several delays, the reluctant chief minister came to Karachi with a signed agreement, which was accepted by the governor general on 5 October 1947.
Excerpted with permission from Bahawalpur: The Kingdom That Vanished, Anabel Loyd, Vintage Books.