The midnight of August 15, 1947, had changed India forever, as the most significant change did happen that India gained independence after a grueling British occupation for a couple of centuries, and finally, we as a nation awoke to life and freedom. But if freedom is the hard-earned dream come true for us, then stitching together the hundreds of territorial and princely states into a distinct whole nation was an aspiration much harder to realize and as of August 15, lay was yet to be unfulfilled.
The biggest challenge after the departure of the British was the amalgamation of more than 500 princely states into the Union of India. The princely states, both exploited and pampered by the British, maintained a position of semi-autonomy under the colonizers and were the toughest challenge facing free India.
Indian Government created the Instrument of Accession and on July 25, 1947, and all the princely states were told there was a “take it or leave it” political offer from the Government, which is not going to be repeated.
The government formed a ‘New State’ department, where Sardar Patel was the head and V. P. Menon was appointed as the secretary. Together they, under the guidance of Lord Mountbatten, were given the responsibility to cajole, convince, and coax the princes to accede to the Indian union.
One by one, many states queued up to sign. Though, there were many states that were adamant not to be assimilated with India, some of them thought this to be the moment of their lifetime to acquire independent statehood, while many others were in view of joining hands with Pakistan. States like Hyderabad, Travancore, Indore, and Jodhpur were stood aloof.
Another state that wished to declare independence was Bhopal, which had a Muslim Nawab, Hamidullah Khan, ruling over a majority Hindu population. A close friend of the Muslim League, the Nawab was staunchly opposed to Congress rule. He had made clear his decision to attain independence to Mountbatten.
Not many people are aware that he was the great grandfather of bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan. He was a staunch supporter of Pakistan and Jinnah. He governed the Bhopal riyasat by Sharia law. He even wrote a letter and invited the King of Afghanistan to invade India and make it an Islamic nation.
On August 2, 1947, he wrote a letter to Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Nawab Hamidullah Khan was so desperate to join Pakistan to serve Islam, that he almost pleaded to Jinnah to assimilate Bhopal into Pakistan, and he was ready to serve Pakistan in any capacity. However, Jinnah wrote back to him stating that “no ruler could run away from the dominion closest to him”.
Bhopal’s Nawab also formed a ‘Chamber of Princes’, which was a group of many princes, who don’t want to remain in India. This group was created to act as a pressure group and a bargaining lever to protect and perpetuate the princely order and benefits.
Fortunately the Government of India was aware of his ill-intentions and the then Home Minister Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel was ready with his strategy to foil his evil plans.
To foil the Nawab of Bhopal’s plan of a combined state of princes on par with Pakistan and India, Sardar Patel moved swiftly and smartly. He brought the vagrant princes around after they disclosed the role of Nawab of Bhopal as a saboteur. Sardar broke the unity of the princes and used the Maharajas of Bikaner, Patiala, and Cochin to frustrate Hameedullah Khan of Bhopal.
Hameedullah Khan sensed the withering support and lack of any other options, he was finally ready to sign the instrument of accession and assimilate Bhopal with India. Later, Bhopal was taken over by the Union Government of India on 1 June 1949.