In February 1938 the Indian National Congress convened for its 51st Session at Haripura, a village in Bardoli District, Gujarat. The session was attended by over 2,00,000 people. Subash Chandra Bose, the newly minted President of the Congress Party, presided over the session.

The Haripura Session was convened in the background of a constitutional crisis: Congress Ministers of the United Provinces and Bihar had just resigned in response to the Governor-General’s interference in the release of certain political prisoners. This strained relationship between the Governor-General and the Provinces was yet another vindication of the Congress’s claim that the British government was not sincere about federalism and provincial autonomy.

The Government of India Act 1935 has proposed a federation for India. The Congress was opposed to the Act and the federal scheme it proposed. The Congress used the Haripura Session to critique a specific aspect of this federal scheme: the position of the Princely States.

The 1935 Act proposed to codify a federal arrangement that recognised two political entities in India: the British Indian provinces and the Indian (Princely) States. The British India government exercised control over the provinces, and the Princes ruled the Princely States with significant autonomy.

The Congress passed a resolution at Haripura stating that it was not ‘opposed to the idea of a federation’ but argued that ‘ a real federation must…consist of free unites enjoying more or less the same measure of freedom and civil liberty, and representation by democratic process of election.’

The Congress was insistent that the Princely States should, like the British Provinces, also have representative institutions like a legislative assembly. The differential status of the Provinces and the Princely states, the Congress warned, would ‘encourage separatist tendencies and involve the States in internal and external conflicts’.

The Congress resolution at the Haripura highlights an often forgotten aspect of India’s freedom movement: Indian political leaders were determined to set Indians free from not just British rule, but also the rule of the Princes.