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Decolonization Reads: India #1

Tags: booksdecolonizationhistoryseries

When I returned home from my last trip, I picked up two reads which I'd seen on Asian Review of Books:

During World War II, Britain's colonies sent many volunteer soldiers to the Allies, while the Japanese formed regiments of Indians in occupied Malaya and Myanmar. Two years after the war, with rationing still in effect in Britain, the continued occupation of South Asia was untenable. In the independence process, the Partition infamously separated present-day India from West Pakistan and East Pakistan (Bangladesh). Communities were killed or forced from their homes along religious lines.
This recently re-entered American consciousness through Ms. Marvel.

A lesser-known handover happened at the same time, as hundreds of Princely States - map - ended their autonomy and accepted dissolution into India.
After years of British schemes to find a place for the Princes in government, as a Parliament house (think House of Lords) or in semi-autonomy, the architects of the handover shocked the region by asking the Princes to choose either India or Pakistan. This was followed by more forceful pushes, and pleas to Indian patriotism.

Dethroned tells the general history, and highlights states with more complex cases:

Few dynasties had deep roots, often forming in the late 1700s to mid 1800s during East India Company rule. Treaties with the British allowed Princes to rule with little intervention, some living in opulence, others in corruption and depravity, others in faraway European mansions. From a 1992 article:

His Highness didn't know that rupee notes came in fives, 10s or 50s. He thought they were all the same value, and he got into a terrific argument with the ticket vendor. I don't think he'd like me telling this - source

Autonomy of multiple tiny states within India would lead to additional confusion.
Junagadh serves as one example of this, with multiple enclaves and cutouts. It was merged with over 200 other princely states to form Kathiawar (now part of Gujarat state).
Nearby Baroda/Vadodara (about the size of New Jersey) refused entry into 1949.

Agencies combining multiple states had been created in the early 20th century. From the Punjab States Agency, one state joined Pakistan, some joined India at independence, and others (Jind and Bilaspur, together about the size of Rhode Island) waited into 1948.

States with loyal subjects were now turning on the princes, with the people wanting to join an independent India. The Indian government began a pressure campaign by requiring states to have elected representatives, offering financial incentives, and sometimes supporting challengers to the throne. Several princely states acceded to India under a set of conditions, only to be merged with rival states, or to relinquish further control.

Much is made of the Partition lines being drawn by Brits unfamiliar with the area in the final weeks. Dethroned portrays the Princely States settlement as similarly under-prepared and impulsive, making last-minute phone calls to stop big announcements and write new ones. But the decision to send new officers rather than empowering Sir Conrad Corfield (a seasoned envoy to the Princes, who shredded the British Raj's intel files) suggests that the British leadership already had plans in mind?

Nepal made a treaty with the British in 1923.
Burma had been separated from British India since 1937.
Bhutan was more complex legally, but India recognized their independence in 1947.

I forgot that Pondicherry was one of the French colonies and joined India only in 1954. This is embarrassing because I have been there, too.

This post is part 1, part 2 will cover Goa's annexation in 1961.

Not mentioned in Dethroned, but another famous holdout was Sikkim. I first heard about them when a web form went viral on Reddit or Twitter for a dropdown full of former countries. India annexed the kingdom in 1975 through military occupation.

Where are they now? South Asian royalty and friends

In 1971 a constitutional amendment ended all legal meaning to titles, and the remaining "privy purse" allowances.

Lord Mountbatten was compelled to write a letter opposing the abolition of the allowances.
Sir Corfield, envoy to Princes, wrote a book: The Princely India I Knew, from Reading to Mountbatten a few years before his death in 1980.
Former rulers continued challenges, one successful through 1985, one unsuccessful in 1992.

Karan Singh, the son of the last maharaja of Kashmir, has held several titles including governor, India's Minister of Education, and ambassador to the US: His son Vikramaditya Singh held office, but is at odds with political parties over the current state of Kashmir and how the school curriculum covers his family.

Yashwant Rao Holkar II, who tried to keep Indore from being merged with other states, died in 1961. Biographical news articles in 2017 and 2019 say the Maharani Usha Raje Holkar is a private person, donates to charity, and manages the family estate.
In 2015, the heir apparent Yeshwant Rao Holkar III married Nyrika Crishna at Ahilya Fort, which the family has converted to a boutique hotel. The couple appeared in Vogue India in 2017

The Nawab of Junagadh fled to Karachi. His son Dilawar Khanji inherited the title and briefly served as Governor of Sindh, Pakistan. The grandson Jahangir Khanji took over the title in 1989, died in July 2023, and has little other info on Wikipedia. The current Nawab, Ali Murtaza Khanji, has no article - but there is a Facebook Page with public appearances.

Two years after a contentious accession to India, the Gaekwad of Baroda tried to reconvene a Union of Rulers. This attracted the wrong kind of attention to his finances, and he was forced to resign. His son Fatehsinghrao Gaekwad assumed the title while continuing a professional cricket career, later being a commentator and serving in Parliament. After his death there was uncertainty about family finances, but the title passed to his brother Ranjitsinh Pratapsinh Gaekwad, a member of Parliament. In 2012 his son Samarjitsinh Gaekwad succeeded the role, and resolved the financial feud with his uncle. Another former cricket player, Samarjitsinh runs a corporation including the palace museum and a golf club. His family has no sons, so the uncle (who also has a cricket history) is next in line.

The next Nizam of Hyderabadh moved to a ranch in Western Australia after the privy purse was abolished (his wife chose divorce). One profile says he drove bulldozers and a tank there? He then moved on to Turkey, married a princess, and died in January 2023.
His son Azmet Jah participated in a small coronation ceremony. The Telegraph says that he "has worked with Steven Spielberg and on movies like Basic Instinct". On IMDB he has multiple credits for "Camera and Electrical Department", most recently on Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. The Wikipedia article also had Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - it's the right time frame, but unsourced.
There is some debate about calling the Nizam a "pretender", which seems harsh, but they did the same for his father.
An affiliated organization chose someone else as their preferred successor. After reviewing their coronation video and an apparent failure to get support from the Islamic seminary, it seems like Azmet Jah has a firm hold on the title.

An official report on the Hyderabad massacre remained classified for decades. During Modi's 2012 campaign, where the 2002 Gujarat riots were relevant, transparency for Hyderabad reentered public discourse. In 2013 a copy appeared at the Nehru Memorial Museum.

Sidney Cotton, pilot, spy, and gun-runner between Hyderabad and Pakistan, befriended Ian Fleming and is believed (especially in Australia) to be an inspiration for James Bond.

During the final years of independent Sikkim, the King had a son (currently a monk) and later married an American. After the dissolution of their country and marriage, the former Queen lives in Brooklyn (2013 interview). In 2023, BBC Hindi reported on a conspiracy theory that she was CIA?

I don't know when I would do this, but based on vibes, I'd like to visit Goa, Hyderabad, and Sikkim on a future India trip. Also I haven't given up on visiting Bodh Gaya (where the Buddha sat under the tree).

Updates to Previous Reads / Media

We Are Lady Parts returned for a second season. They got Malala on the show!? Overall this was ambitious in bringing up social issues and surreal elements, though at times this makes Amina less of a main character. Then there's a meta episode about being known for 'funny Muslim songs' and not being able to talk about politics.

The Who Shat On The Floor At My Wedding podcast also has a second season, this time helping solve a family mystery in Sweden.

I remembered that Bill Clinton co-wrote The President is Missing with James Patterson, but wasn't aware that they wrote a second book The President's Daughter in 2021. This includes a plot point that the Chinese embassy in Belgrade had a secret military purpose (insert F-117 rumors here). In the author Q&A Clinton sticks to the official story: "our maps indicated that that was an intelligence post for the Serbian government". Maybe Clinton could help produce a conspiracy-confirming remake of Primary Colors next.

Los Angeles County offered free admission to museums on Juneteenth this year, for people who register and attest to being descendants of the enslaved or 19th century freedmen:
It looks like this was announced on June 4th or 5th; the natural history museum and La Brea Tar Pits first posted it on social media 10 AM on the day-of.

Just found out about /r/AcademicQuran

Argentina's libertarian president introduced by Condoleezza Rice at the Hoover Institution

From 2020–2022, the Butter Pecan Podcast covered issues of race and food - it's named for the history of butter pecan ice cream and segregation-era restrictions which I didn't know about.
This inspired me to check in on As The Ice Cream Churns - they resumed Instagram posts on the account this year after the founders lost control of Ample Hills and The Social. They get ice cream at Brooklyn Farmacy and make some tasty-looking snacks at home.