In the mid-1940s, it became quite clear that the British were on their way out, and India would frame a Constitution for itself. The ‘India’ here was technically the British India provinces that were under the control of the British India government. The Princely States of India however, had a separate political and administrative relationship - one that was direct with the Crown.
A key question that many were wrestling with was: what would be the future of the Princely States? Unlike the British India provinces, the Princely States enjoyed a certain deal of independence and were directly under the British crown – an arrangement often termed as ‘paramountcy’. What would become of them when the British left and India would frame a Constitution? Would the British continue to exert its influence on the Princely States?
The Cabinet Mission which was tasked with putting forward proposals on the constitutional future of India had prepared a memorandum on the question of the Princely States, and this was presented by the Chamber of Princes on 12 May 1946, and issued for publication on 22 May. This memorandum indicated the policy that the British were going to adopt.
First, the Memorandum encouraged the Princely States to play a significant role in erecting a new constitutional structure for India and to also join this new constitutional framework. Second, it recognised that India’s new constitutional form would take some time to materialise and so, in the meantime, the British wanted the Princely States to negotiate with the British India provinces on common economic and finance matters to prevent administrative difficulties.
Towards the end of the Memorandum, is where we find the big announcement. It said that once a new government or governments came into being in India, then Britain would find it hard to continue its paramountcy over the Princely States and therefore -
‘his Majesty’s Government will cease to exercise the powers of paramountcy. This means that rights of the States which flow from their relationship to the Crown will no longer exist and that all rights surrendered by the States to the paramount power will return to the States’
Also, any political arrangements that the Princely States had with the British Provinces would cease.
In this scenario, the Memorandum urged the Princely States to explore a federal relationship with the new Indian government(s) or enter into other political arrangements with them. The next few years would be marked by intense political churning. While many Princely States expressed their intention to exist independently, eventually, all of them decided to join either India or Pakistan.