• The Princess have assumed new and increasingly active within the political system. Strikingly, It is the operation of that system to which the bulk of responsibility must go for increase in princely political activity. If the former rulers had been left alone after giving up their thrones, only a few would have sought political office, but most would probably have faded from public view.
  • They were, however, not left alone; political parties intruded, offering the former rulers political status in exchange for the votes they could deliver from among their former subjects. Formost  among the parties exploiting this arrangement was the same Congress party which has recently tried to end all princely privilege.
  • Similarly, the events designed to eliminate the last prestiges of princely status have paradoxically led to the political revival of the Princess who have been drawn into further political activity in of their privy purses and privileges and- by their perspective- there honour.
  • As they shed the aloofness which has kept many out of competitive politics, the Princess may also be expected to shed some of the mystique which has undergirded their traditional support. Only their ability to convert traditional resources into political gains while learning new political and organisational skills will determine whether the short- term resurgence of the Princess will be maintained as a long- term characteristics of Indian politics.

Perspective of Observers

  • Until recently many observers of Indian politics have conveyed the impression that the princess passed from the political scene when their  states were integrated in 1948 and 1949. The Princess, we are told, “were pensioned off, and retired into their make- believe word of hunting and other pursuits”- “Since 1956 they have Virtually disappeared from the Indian political scene”.
  • Other observers have noted the participation of members of former rulling families in elections, but have generally regarded this phenomenon as vestigial, anachronistic, temporary and destined to declined this popular image of obsolescence of princes suffered some revision when numerous princes scored heavily in the fourth general election, but few commentators even then could have predicted that the princes would become, by late 1970, the core of disruptive controversy which has shaken some foundations of India’s constitutional system.
  • The controversy has called into question the relationship between the prime minister and Parliament, the legitimacy and role of the upper house (Rajya Sabha), the sanctity of treaties, the powers of the President and role of the supreme court. Moreover, it has provided the first occasion in two decades of independent elections earlier than at the constitutionally established maximum interval of five years. The election, called by Prime minister Indra Gandhi for early March 1971 presents the voters with fundamental-though not clear-cut- issue described by Left as “ socialism versus feudalism”, and by right as “constitutional democracy versus arbitrary rule”.
  • The phoenix-like rise to prominence of princes in the late 1960s is the consequence of two related phenomenon:
    1. Their increasing participation in electoral politics;
    2. The attempt of the central government to terminate their privy purse payments and other privileges.
  • A brief review of both of these phenomena will help to explain the disruptive and often trago-comical events of late 1970 and to place the 1971 election in their social and political context.  

Princely Electoral Behaviour

  • Princess and members of princely families have competed for parliamentary and assembly seats since the first general elections in 1951-52. Contrary to general impression, their level of participation has steadily increased over this period of nearly two decades. The various factors explaining this rise are many and diverse, but the following appear prominent:
    • First, “traditional” support has not been eroded nearly so rapidly as Nationalist elites anticipated. In some areas popular disappointment with the unfulfilled expectations of nationalist rule have generated a Nostalgia for “the good old days” under princely rule.
    • Secondly, Many former rulers have broadened their bases of support by adopting modern campaign techniques, building political party organisations and campaigning popular positions on salient issues. Donald Rosenthal has term this process “popularisation”, the process by which displaced political Elite choose to remain active in politics by associating themselves either with dissident sections of the elite structure which has been replacing them in political power or by appealing over the heads of the political Elite to groups in society which are only weekly mobilized.
    •  A third factor has been the general decline in princely “aloofness”. A minority of the princess at the time of merger saw a career in electoral democratic politics as a logical extension of their princely reign. others have been drawn into political life through the persuasion of local or national political leaders, fellow princes, or constituents, or have been motivated by some major issue to seek redress through political action. The coming of age and succession to princely title of younger, less tradition- bond and less reticent individuals- many of whom only dimly remember autocratic rule- provides further explanation for both the increase in princely Candidacy and the maintenance of popular support. A brief regional review of princely activity will illustrate the interaction of these various factors.
  • Patterns of princely political behaviour vary from state to state and region to region. The regions with the highest rates of princely candidacy are Odisha and the adjacent Chhattisgarh region of Madhya Pradesh.
  • Princely states in the both regions were merged with formerly British ruled territories at the time of merger and in both areas recruitment of members of princely families by local Congress leaders has been strong since 1952. In Orissa, this has been matched by development of Gantantra Parisad, a party which was formed in 1949 and which merged with the Swatantra party in 1962.
  • The other two princely region in Madhya Pradesh- Vindhya Pradesh in the north-east and Madhya Pradesh Bharat/ Bhopal in the North-west– have shown disproportionately low levels of princely electoral activity, despite the prominence of Rajmata of Gwalior in Madhya Bharat. The major factor here in persuading members of princely families to stand for office has again been the Congress, Though the Rajmata of Gwalior- “Queen mother” of largest and most prestigious former princely state in Central India- left the Congress on the eve of 1967 elections and has since become a strong force behind the development of Jan Sangh in Madhya Pradesh.
  • Gujarat also shows regional diversity, with most of politically active rullers in Saurashtra and Kutch allied to Swatantra and those in the rest of Gujarat (which was part of Bombay state, 1949-60) attached to the Congress caste particularly the influence of Gujarat kshatriya Mahasabha, has been an important factor in mobilizing the former rulers, particularly in Saurashtra.
  • Elsewhere, regional factors appear to be secondary to national and personal ones in explaining princely political activity. Almost all of the remaining princely politicians- in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura and Manipur Maharashtra, Mysore, and Madras- have stood for office either as Congress candidates or as independents.
  • In short, former rulers and members of ruling families have become politically active differentially, but at increasing frequency and- in some areas- in regionally distinct patterns. Party- wise most princely politicians have been recruited by the Congress.
  • In fact, during the period 1951 – 70, slightly fewer than half of all members of princely families who stood for office were either Congress or ex- Congress members such that (Brij Raj Singh of Kota and late Harishchandra of jhalawar) Princely support of Congress has declined, however, through 
    1. The Exodus of Princess to opposition parties prior to the 1967 elections;
    2. The subsequent exodus of a few more rulers over the privy purse issue; and 
    3. The Congress split in late 1969, which left the Princess in both successor parties. 
  • Swatantra (including Gantantra Parishad in Orissa) has been the second strongest party among the princely families, though limited to the three states of Orissa, Rajasthan, Gujarat. The Jan Sangh shows increasing strength in Madhya Pradesh and Eastern Rajasthan,though in the rest of India, Jan Sangh princes are still greatly outnumbered by Independents. Whether, as some have suggested, princely support for opposition parties in 1967 led to the congress attack on the princes after those elections, it is clear that the Congress attack has precipitated further loss of princely support. At the same time, the congress hold on many of the princes has lasted much longer than one might expect under circumstances. This persistence of Congress support may be attributed to:
    1. Great respect among many princess for Nehru and Nehru’s Congress
    2. Respect for Indira Gandhi, reflected in the princess’ widely held belief, as late as 1970, that she was “weak” or “being used by the Young Turks in the Congress” but not that she was personally “out to get the princess”. 
    3. Respect for the continued power of Congress
    4. Fear that Indira Gandhi’s Downfall would unleash Anarchy or communist power,
    5. Distaste for any alternatives to Congress,
    6. Actual agreement (on the part of one or two princely politicians) with the privy purse abolition policy, and perhaps other factors as well. 

Privy Purses, Privileges, and Pressure Politics

  • Along with the myth that the princess were fading from Indian politics has been the belief that the princess were too heavily bound by traditional animosities and divided by status considerations ever to act in concert in their own interests. Yet since 1967 this belief has also suffered modification, as the princess have organized to combat the Congress attack on their privileges and privy purses, and (at the time of this writing) have thus far succeeded.
  • The privy purses and privileges which the government attempted to abolish in late 1970, were established in several separate agreements between the central governments and the rulers in 1948 and 1949, and guaranteed in the Indian Constitution of 1950. Most of the guarantees were incorporated into the merger agreements by which states’ Union were established. The formulas which determined purse amounts varied from region to region but generally were keyed to the annual revenue of a state. In crude terms, maintenance a privy purses and privileges was the price India paid for the bloodless revolution from princely to Republican rule, a price which the architects of integration considered exceedingly low.
  • The 284 princess receiving privy purses and their heirs were to receive them in perpetuity, though several purses (including all those over 1 million rupees) were to be reduced with succession. The prospect of maintaining these arrangements forever, though, led to some demand for revision within a short time after their establishment.
  • Nehru appealed to the princess in the early 1950s to make voluntary cuts in their payments while there is no evidence that any did so, many have used large portions of their purses to established philanthropic trusts and other Institutions. Suggestions of revision were not just one sided. The rulers of Bashar and Jhalawar, both subsequently Congress legislators, approached then Home minister Shastri in 1956, suggesting substitution of plan of phased reduction for the perpetual payments, but they were assured that their enquiry showed unnecessary distrust of the Government and that there was no cause to go back on agreements made in good faith.
  • The recent governmental attack on the princess developed directly out of the reverses suffered by the Congress in the 1967 elections. While retaliation against those princess who had opposed the Congress in the elections may have played some minor part in Congress thinking, the major reasons appear symbolic rather than substantive.
  • In order to refurbish the Congress image by postulating a more radical ideological posture, the Congress working committee passed at its May 1967 meeting (the first held after the elections), a broad policy resolution later known as the ten point programme. One of 10 points called for the abolition of princely privileges, but said nothing about privy purses. When the All India Congress Committee met in June, However, it amended the resolution to include abolition of privy purses as well.
  • In response to the AICC resolution several Delhi based princes met and wrote to all fellow privy purse recipients asking that they take no unilateral steps on the issue. In the following weeks they put together an all-India organisation called the “Rulers of Indian states in Concord for India”, issued public statements defending their position, and held an inaugural convention in Bombay on Independence Day August 15, 1967. In ensuing months the Concord became a complex, vocal and effective organisation.
  • Regional units, called “accords” were established in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa Gujarat and Saurashtra. The separate units in Saurashtra and Gujarat- Established prior to the Concord- have occasionally met in joint sessions. Informal communication occurs among the South Indian princes, but no regional group has been established there. The regional organisations and frequent mailings from the Concord office in New Delhi serve as effective channels for communication of Information and policy to the full Concord membership. 
  • The Concorde itself has three levels of organisation:
    1. Day to day activities are handled by “Ministritant committee” (Executive committee), headed by an “Incident General” (Executive director), the Maharaja of Dhrangadhra. The Ministritant committee has approximately ten members, most of whom were among the originators of the Concord in July 1967. 
    2. A larger, representative committee, called the “Conciliar Committee” takes care of general policy decisions. This body contains approximately 40 princess representatives, of all princely regions of India, and meets about three times a year 
    3. The broadest organisational body is the convention, to which all 279 rulers(i.e. Privy purse recipients) are invited. Conventions are held about once a Year and permit Concord members to ratify major policy statements. Convention and Conciliar Committee sessions are usually presided over by “Convener- General”(President), the Maharaja of Baroda, or the “Pro convener general” (Vice president) the Begum Bhopal.
  • The special titles of office- holders and committees in the Concord are not merely a nod to capricious fancy, but rather are designed to assuage possible ill-feelings over precedence or protocol. For the same reason, great pains have been taken to properly use different modes of address, greeting, and signature. As KM Panikker once noted with respect to the Chamber of Princess “The organisation of a new institution is always difficult, but it is doubly so when that organisation is composed of Princess who have had no experience in collective work”.
  • Though many members of Concord have had “experience in collective work” they still must contend with traditional concerns of status and rank. The Chamber of Princes, which lasted from 1919 -1947, was an important precursor to the Concord, but the later organisation has had to overcome both the lapse of two decades after the end of chamber and the creation of a body designed for action and pressure, rather than for the discussion and prestige which characterised the chamber.
  • Though the Concord was created in the wake of the AICC resolutions, it is not solely concerned with the privy purse issue. It is registered with the Government of India as a “general purpose organisation”  and has taken action on several issues external to the privy purse conflict. It is clear, however, that the privy purse issue- which the Concord prefers to call the “Treaty regard” issue – has been the major focus of Concord attention and the factor which has cemented its drivers population together by transcending their regional, status, and other traditional differences.
  • Concord cohesion has probably been enhanced by the  prolongation of the privy purse controversy. The government could probably have taken the same action in late 1967 which it took in late 1970. Its failure to do so may be attributed to several considerations. 
    • First,The extent of the Government’s commitment to the course was unclear. The government gave every appearance of being pushed into action by the Congress left and the leftist parties. In May 1969, for instance, a privy purse abolition bill introduced in the Lok Sabha by socialist MP Rabi Ray was defeated in part because the Prime Minister promised that the government’s own bill would be forthcoming.
    • Secondaly if Indira Gandhi did favour abolition of privy purses and privileges, she would have preferred to negotiate an agreement with the princess and thereby avoid eliminating their political support, despite this desire to re-enact Sardar Patel’s “negotiated overthrow” of the Princess in 1947. The Government this time found the princess United and intransigent. They designated three “moderators” (the maharajas of Dhrangadhra and Baroda and the Begum of Bhopal) to represent them in negotiations and successfully thwarted Government attempts to circumvent this arrangement. While continually expressing their willingness to talk with Government negotiators, the Concord’s representatives remained firm in their basic stand against voluntarily giving up their constitutionally guaranteed advantages without clear assurence of some reciprocal benefit from the Government. The Princess argument took many forms, ranging from those who asserted the privy purse agreements to be “sacred pledges”. The breaking of which would destroy India’s bona fides among the nations of the world, to those who agreed that princely benefits should be phased out but thoughts the “persecution of the princess” and “negotiations” under pressure to be unacceptably improper method of procedure. The Princess seemingly had little to lose and possibly much to gain by their intransigence.
    • Finally, other issues of greater urgency or greater silence, such as the Presidential elections, nationalisation of banks, and the split in the Congress quite logically took precedence over the privy purse issue during the three year delay between the AICC resolution and introduction of the abolition bill. The Congress split had an interesting effect upon the spirits of the Concord. Until the split, Concord fortunes appeared ascendant. When the split occurred, however, three quarters of the Congress princess sided with Indira Gandhi’s faction, there by dampening the aspirations of opposition parties to woo them away. At the same time both Wings of the Congress found it necessary to assert their socialist credentials more strongly and their adherence to the 10 points program, including abolition of privy purses and privileges, The result in the Concord was a feeling of despair, as the following comments indicate.
  • “The Concord, after its inception and uncertain start, had steadily risen in stature up to the end of its second year. Concord MP’s had secured at least two notable triumphs, in making good use of the SSP resolution and finally in thwarting it. The body was then being spoken of with respect, as something to be reckoned with. A decline had set in soon after the beginning of the third year, with the cleavage in the Congress and its political aftermath”.
  • Unable to make any headway in persuading the Princess to capitulate with a minimum of pressure, Indira Gandhi finally introduced the long heralded abolition legislation in the Lok Sabha on September 1, 1970. The legislation was in the form of a Constitutional Amendment deleting those articles of the Constitution which relate to the princess. As such, its passage required a two-third vote in both houses of Parliament. Indira Gandhi could depend upon the support of the socialists, communists, the DMK, and most of her own Congress.
  • To secure the latter, She issued a whip to all Congress(R) members to vote for the bill. Several of the Princes remaining in Congress(R) requested permission to vote against the bill.
  • When refused, the Raja of Narsinghgarh, Bhanu Prakash Singh, resigned from his cabinet position as Deputy minister for Industrial development and the Maharaja of Tripura, who in 1967 had helped Congress to return 27 of 30 MLAs and Two MP’s from his former state, resigned from the Congress parliamentary party. Other Congress princes (except tourism minister Karan Singh Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, who voted for the measure) choose to vote against the bill without formal resignation from the party.
  • Despite the combined opposition of Swatantra, Jan Sangh, Bhartiya Kranti dal, the Congress(O) and several independents, the bill received the required two- thirds majority in the lower house on September 3 and was introduced the next day in the Rajya Sabha. On September 5, the Prime minister’s motion to consider the bill failed by one vote, thereby killing the amendment legislation.
  • The government had sought to get full constitutional sanction for their programme, but now reverted to an alternative course of action which had been previously discussed but set a side. On September 7, the Finance minister, Y B Chavan, read a presidential order in Parliament derecognising all the princes. Indira Gandhi thus accomplished by extra-parliamentary means what she had been unable to accomplish through Parliament. At the same time she recovered the initiative in the face of adversity, arguing that the narrow failure to acquire a two- thirds majority to the upper house was in fact a moral victory. Opponents declared that the presidential  derecognition order was a  “travesty of democracy” and unconstitutional. 
  • Pressing their case forward, eight of the “de-recognised”princes brought suit before the Supreme court of India challenging the Presidential Order. Fully anticipating the possibility of a court fight, the Concord had months earlier set aside funds for such a contingency and had engaged top legal experts to plead their cases. Those princes in whose names the suits were filed were similarly well chosen and respectable representatives from all parts of princely India.
  • The court accepted the case-despite the Goverment’s argument that Article 363 of the Constitution specifically prohibited reference to the Court of any issues involving privy purses-and after several weeks of argument, declared in a divided opinion on December 15, that the President of India had exceeded his authority and that the princes were still entitled to all the privileges and privy purses, they had enjoyed prior to the Presidential Order.
  • Again, Indira Gandhi lost little time in seeking to turn defeat into victory. In late December she advised President V V Giri to dessolve the Lok Sabha and to call for parliamentry elections a year earlier than the end of the five-year term of the fourth Lok Sabha.
  • By- elections following the Congress split in late 1969 had given Indira Gandhi Confidence that her party stood to gain from early elections and the court’s verdict provided a salient issue, If she is returned in March 1971 election with a solid majority, as she clearly anticipates, resubmission of the constitutional amendment bill will be high on her parliamentry agenda. This gives the fifth general election more of a plebiscitory character than any previous general election in India.
  • The key question for political analysis of the election will be whether the attack on the princes will have sufficientlly under-cut their traditional support in their own areas and whether the socialist stance of the congress will have won sufficient support in non- princely areas to compensate for Indira Gandhi’s alineation of formerly pro-congress princes and the mobilisation of previously apolitical rulers.
  • The Concord has carried the battle for protection of princely interests from negotiation table and publicity arena to the halls of Parliament and the Supreme court, and now to the electorate. In the process it has won some battles and lost others, but meanwhile has forged new and stronger links between members of the princely order transforming them from a traditional and disparate social grouping into an effective and cohessive intrest group, using modern political methods to protect their collective economic and social intrest.
  • Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the privy purse controversy, this transformation is likely to have some lasting consequences. Ruler differ on what role the Concord might play after privy purse issue fades from the public notice, but all appear agreed on the value of the association and the desirability of perpetuating it.
  • The part of the Concord might play in electoral politics is somewhat constrained by the diverse party affiliations of Concord Members and by the fact that few have aspirations for Concord itself to become a political party.
  • The Concord has encouraged rulers to stand for political office and some have advocated the organisation’s development as a permanent consultative body cross-cutting party lines. Rulers in the past occasionally been designated to negotiate electoral alliances among their respective parties and it is altogether possible that their generally urbane style and the channels of the communication established through the Concord might have provided some of the necessary lubrication for facilitating the forming of the “Grand Alliance” of the Jan Sangh, Swatantra, Congress(o) and the SSP.


  • Contrary to general assumption, The princes have not disappeared from politics, but rather have assumed new and increasingly active roles in India’s democratic political system. Strikingly, it is the operation of that system to which the bulk of the responsibility must go for the increase in princely political activity.
  • If The former rulers had been “Left alone” after giving up their thrones, a few would have sought political office, but most would probably have faded from public view in accordance with the accepted myth. They were, however, not left alone; political parties intruded, offering former rulers for political status in exchange for the votes they could deliver from among their former subjects. Foremost among the parties exploiting this arrangement was the same Congress party which has more recently tried to end all special princely status.
  • Similarly, the events designed to eliminate the last vestiges of princely privileges have paradoxically led to the political revival of the princes. Many of the princely order who had previously resisted the temptation to stand for election have been drawn into action in defence of their privy purses, their privileges, and-by perspective – their honour.
  • As they shed the aloofness which has kept many out of competitive politics, the princes may also be expected to shed some of the mystique which has undergirded their traditional support. This form of “defensive modernisation” thus complements the other events and processes which have operated over the past two decades to transform rulers into citizens and citizen-politicians. 
  • Only their ability to convert traditional resources into political gains while learning new political and organizational skills will determine whether the short- term resurgence of the princes will be maintained as a long term characteristic of Indian politics. Perhaps, as Pareto asserted, “history of the graveyard of aristocracies”, But for the present and near future, the former aristocrats remain an integral and prominent part of the Indian political scene.

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