Madras, August 23, 1947
Tomorrow India will split into two full-fledged dominions within the British Commonwealth. India proper will have a population of about 290,000,000; Pakistan will have 70,000,000. Some states, like Hyderabad and Kashmir, have not yet declared whether they will join one of the new dominions or remain independent. Nehru has made it clear that refusal to join will be regarded as an unfriendly act, and Mountbatten has tried to persuade recalcitrant princes to see the wisdom of joining.
Many of these princes are threatening to make nuisances of themselves, as Nehru bluntly said a month ago. Since the division of India has taken place, and the British withdrawal will be almost complete with the formal declaration tomorrow, princes like Nizam of Hyderabad are reviving old claims to territories such as Berar, which he ceded to the British some decades ago. Berar is a rich, cotton-growing region with a population of 4,000,000 virile Hindus who would rather fight than accept again the suzerainty of Nizam, a ruler with medieval conceptions of the relations between a prince and his people.
Nizam is not alone in pursuing former grandeur. Lesser princes, who have apparently decided to join the Indian union, have collected, during recent months, suspiciously large quantities of war material. They harbor strange notions of princely dignity and privilege. Autocracy dies hard, however much the princes may accept the outer forms of a democratic regime.
What makes these princes a formidable menace to India’s infant democracy is that, with their considerable resources, they can find work for large numbers of demobilized soldiers who are desperately looking for employment. Over 1,500,000 of these men who helped the Allies win the war are today a danger to the establishment of democratic rule. They fought the war because they were paid well to do so; no high principles of liberty or freedom moved them. A demobilization officer once explained his difficulties to me. “These men,” he said, referring, at the moment, to a unit which had been in Italy for two years, “they like Italian wives, dancing with Italian women, going to the cinema. How can they now go back to their Punjab villages, which have none of these attractions?” Demobilized soldiers, scattered throughout India, want work and adventure. Many princes can provide both, and arms in abundance.
That is one great danger. Another is the rapidly vanishing supply of food. Imports have been disappointing; Burma, normally our best supplier, is busy putting down gangsterism and cannot turn its attention to the export of rice. Our summer rains have been irregular and inadequate, and the forthcoming rice and maize crops will reveal a considerable deficit. Some provinces have a six weeks’ supply; others, no more than three. The daily ration has been cut down to eight ounces; further reduction seems impossible. The appearance of famine conditions has been reported from three regions near Delhi. Summing up the food situation, a worried official used these words: “Like 1943 [meaning the Bengal famine] but on a more widespread scale.” Late rains, even at this stage, may save the withering crops and provide water and fodder for cattle, but the new dominion governments, particularly Nehru’s, will face a severe food crisis immediately after the assumption of office.