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A Princely State

by Chris Nuttall

I was doing enough thinking about this while researching for Axis of Evil that I decided that it would make a nice POD (and pun).

During the run-up to Indian independence, the various Princes of India were very worried about their status, post-Independence. As far as they were concerned, they had their internal autonomy (ranging from excellent rule through absent-mindedness to outright tyranny) in exchange for toeing the British line. For the nationalists, both Muslim and Hindu, the solution was obvious; the Princely States should be absorbed by either India or Pakistan.

Historically, Mountbatten and his staff (its hard to reconstruct exactly what happened here) managed to convince most of the Princes to accept absorption into India, following clear signs that Britain had betrayed them/washed its hands of the situation. A handful maintained limited autonomy – until absorbed militarily by India – and one idiot chose to take his largely-Muslim state of Kashmir to India.

So, let’s have the Corfield mission, when Corfield went to London to plead the Prince’s case, sort-of succeed. London, which has other problems and doesn’t really want to be bothered, agrees that Corfield’s interpretation of the legal situation – that the Princes surrendered their rights to Britain, not an independent republican India – is correct. (Which it might well have been, but that is neither here nor there). Corfield returns to India, by-passing Mountbatten (again) and passes the message on to the princes, those who have the ability to stand for their rights.

So, when India becomes independent, the Princes have already declared their states independent again (most of them – a handful were tiny) and are refusing to cooperate with the Nationalists. Indeed, neither India nor Pakistan can function without the Princely states; their cut-off of services across their states and their private armies could hold off attack – unless the British remain involved. Add in months more chaos across the nation and thousands more deaths.

For nationalist reasons, both nationalist factions refused to allow the Indian army to remain united. The entire force was in the process of being broken apart when civil war began, and some of the units would be tempted to work for the princes. Assuming that the princes manage to work together – as indeed they would have to remain independent – they would possess a powerful force. Defeating the remains of the Indian army and occupying the British-ruled territory would be a simple matter.

Even if the army does not get split up – as might have happened through the butterfly effect – it would still face an agonisingly difficult situation. Imagine all of the interior states of the United States declaring independence at once. Without arms from the British – hell, without the British officers who commanded entire units – they would face an impossible task. Add in the mayhem of a land war raging across the entire subcontinent.

The worst outcome would be the Princes falling out. The war would be far worse than the last outcome, and truly devastating. The slaughter would be horrific as the smaller princes were devoured by the larger ones, and India might never recover.

It is highly unlikely that the Atlee Government would be either willing or able to impose a peace. The British simply didn’t have the resources to do so. (Although, if it starts soon enough, they might be able to re-establish control without any serious opposition.) The USA would likewise be unwilling to get involved directly. No other outside power has the ability to do so. The British probably hang on to Ceylon and confiscate the RIN.

Long-term, the most likely winners of the civil war would be the Princes. Not only did they have armies of their own, but they had better communications and a united cause that bound together Hindu and Muslim. As long as they worked together, we might end up with an Indian that was a patchwork of tiny states within a union.

Decolonisation hits a brick wall as people see the crash as proof that ‘they’re not fit to govern themselves, you know.’ Presumably, there would be less effort to prepare Africa for independence. On a long shot, the big winner might be the communists; royal and republican government would have taken a nasty blow.



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