Still keeping Victoria’s promise

But breaking Sardar Patel’s

There were over 554 Princely States within India’s boundaries in 1947. By the time the Constitution came into force on January 26th, 1950, every one of them had acceded to the Republic of India. That feat was made possible by the energy and ingenuity of two men: V P Menon, the secretary of the States department, and his political boss, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the Home Minister. Together the cajoled, coerced or convinced the Maharajas, Nawabs and other rulers to hand over political power to the Indian Union. In return the Republic of India made them solemn promises: their pensions, special privileges and rights were enshrined in the Constitution.

On October 12th, 1949, defending the guarantees that the Indian Union gave the former rulers, Sardar Patel told the Constituent Assembly: “These guarantees form part of the historic settlements which enshrine in them the consummation of the great ideal of geographical, political and economic unification of India, an ideal which, for centuries, remained a distant dream and which appeared as remote and as difficult of attainment as ever even after the advent of Indian independence… the minimum which we could offer to them as quid pro quo for parting with their ruling powers was to guaranteed to them privy purses and certain privileges on a reasonable and defined basis. the privy purse settlements are therefore in the nature of consideration for the surrender by the Rulers of all their ruling powers and also for the dissolution of the States as separate units… The Rulers have now discharged their part of the obligations to by transferring all ruling powers and by agreeing to the integration of their States. The main part of our obligation under these agreements is to ensure that the guarantees given by us in respect of Privy Purses are fully implemented. Our failure to do so would be a breach of faith and seriously prejudice the stability of the new order.”

Just two decades later, the Indira Gandhi government breached that faith. On December 28th, 1971, the 26th amendment to the Constitution abolished the privy purses and withdrew the recognition granted to all former rulers.

All, that is, except the Prince of Arcot.

Why the exception? Because, it turns out, that the Government of India is honouring a pledge made by Queen Victoria in 1867. The British colonial government, after applying the notorious doctrine of lapse, appointed Azim Jah as the Prince of Arcot, and awarded him a tax-free pension in perpetuity.

The Indian republic broke the promise it made. But it’s still keeping the one Queen Victoria made. Now isn’t that something?