Junagadh’s accession to Pakistan on September 15, 1947 was the first test of the Indian Independence Act of July 1947, which allowed the princely states to accede to either of the two dominions. Junagadh was the premier state in the western Kathiawar region of India, commanding great strategic importance as a maritime state. It was bound on three sides by territory that had acceded to the Dominion of India, and its only free outlet was to the Arabian Sea. In 1941 it had a population of 670,000, of which over 80 per cent were Hindus, ruled over by a Muslim Nawab.
Being the premier state in the region, the Nawab had great interest in maintaining the unity of the region. A press statement to the effect on April 11, 1947 read: “What Junagadh pre-eminently stands for is the solidarity of Kathiawar and would welcome the formation of a self-contained group of Kathiawar states.” As noted by Menon, till mid-1947 Junagadh had been hinting that it would join India, rather than Pakistan.
But the Dewan, Abdul Kadir Hussein, a Muslim Leaguer, had already been working on the Nawab, trying to make him accede to Pakistan. Journalist Mosley noted: “Hussein now went to work on the Nawab and soon convinced him that the Congress would kill off his beloved dogs [he has a penchant for dogs — he had hundreds of them!], curb his passion for cruel sports, ration his concubines and rationalise the gir lions.” The result of these arguments was that the Nawab was not able to make up his mind by the lapse date and thus Junagadh went on to become a technically independent state on August 15, 1947. Menon still thought that Junagadh would accede to India, but the new Dewan, Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto, a staunch Muslim-Leaguer, had by September 15, and persuaded the Nawab to accede to Pakistan.
The notification of this accession in the newspapers outraged New Delhi which simply could not allow the presence of Pakistani territory deep inside India. Nehru wrote to Liaquat Ali Khan that “in case Junagadh became a part of the federation of Pakistan, Government of India cannot be expected to acquiesce to such an arrangement.” Jinnah, being a constitutional layer himself, was simply struck by such a statement from Nehru and wrote to Mountbatten saying that Nehru’s objection was “totally inconceivable and untenable….the position of Indian states is very clearly defined and it was repeatedly accepted that after the lapse of paramountcy, every Indian state is independent and sovereign and free to join Pakistan or India Dominion.” Menon too, was surprised by the accession of Junagadh to Pakistan and noted that “Junagadh was an economic and administrative unit embedded in and deriving its sustenance from Kathiawar. Its detachment would turn it into a hothouse plant with no powers of survival.”
Together with protesting the accession of Junagadh to Pakistan, the government of India took steps to ensure a bleak future for the state. On September 17, 1947, the Indian cabinet decided to disperse troops around Junagadh, with the pretence of ensuring peace in the region. V.P. Menon was also sent to meet the Nawab so that he could bring him into the Indian fold. Menon could not see the Nawab on September 19, for he had been taken ill, but did have discussions with the Dewan, Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto, in which he emphasised the linked nature of Junagadh with India, asking the Nawab to reconsider his decision.
This mission proved to be futile for neither could the Nawab see Menon and nor could the Dewan take any decisions over the issue. As a result, the government of India resorted to two other tactics in order to bring Junagadh into line. The first was an economic blockade of the state, which choked the state of food and materials by the end of October 1947. The second tactic was the Arzi Hukumat (Provisional Government), which was set up under the leadership of Samaldas Gandhi, a nephew of Mahatma Gandhi, under the auspices of the government of India in Bombay.
The Arzi Hukumat, urged by the government of India, started agitating for the accession of Junagadh to India both inside and outside the state. The government of India too recognised this government as the constitutional government of the state by the September 25, 1947 declaration that “the Nawab of Junagadh by transferring allegiance of his Hindu subjects against their wishes to Pakistan has forfeited his claim to the allegiance of his subjects, and that the Dominion of Pakistan by accepting the Nawab’s Instrument of Accession had violated the principle of self-determination.”
Along with this, India also placed huge contingents of State and Dominion troops along the border with Junagadh, ready to jump in at a moment’s notice. Jinnah vehemently protested to such moves and wrote to Mountbatten that “any encroachment on Junagadh sovereignty or its territory would amount to hostile act.” Mountbatten replied with a threat saying “Each acceptance of accession by Pakistan cannot but be regarded by Government of India as an encroachment on India’s sovereignty and territory and inconsistent with friendly relations that should exit between two dominions.” Thus, the issue had reached stalemate with neither side willing to compromise with a looming Indian attack on the virtually defenceless Junagadh.
As heated discussions continued between Karachi and New Delhi, the contested accession of two feudatory states to India, Babariawad and Mangrol, gave New Delhi the prime pretext on which to send troops into the region. The states in the Kathiawar region had for long been a source of confusion with regards to jurisdictions, for many of them had territorial pockets deep inside each other’s territory. The whole region, with a total area of 22,000 square miles and a population of four million comprised 14 salute states, 17 non-salute states and 191 other jurisdictions. Under these circumstances judging which states had sovereign rights to accede to either dominion was at best difficult, if not impossible.
The three states of Manavadar, Babariawad and Mangrol, were in different degrees tied to Junagadh state under the 1943 Political Department Attachment Scheme. Menon held discussions with the Khan of Manavadar, but despite his exhortations, the Khan acceded to Pakistan on September 24, 1947. Further complications set in when the Sheikh of Mangrol, who had been under the suzerainty of Junagadh, acceded to India on September 20, with the agreement that New Delhi recognise Mangrol as independent from Junagadh. However, within two hours the Sheikh retracted his accession, but now the Government of India refused to accept the retraction, contending that the accession had already been accepted by the Governor-General — a mere two hours after it was signed hundreds of miles away from New Delhi. As a result, Junagadh became cautious of the activities of its vassals, and sent troops into another vassal territory, Babariawad, on September 21, 1947.
Apparently, the leaders of the 51 villages that constituted the Babariawad territory had already declared their accession to India and as such the Government of India decided to take action. New Delhi maintained that with the lapse of paramountcy, the attachment schemes and vassal status of these states had also lapsed and as such they were no longer bound to Junagadh, and her decisions.
By the last week of September 1947, Junagadh and India were close to a confrontation, with both asserting their claims to Mangrol and Babariawad. Already, the Indian cabinet on September 17 had decided to put troops very near the Junagadh territory, the Kathiawar Defence Force, so that they could move in at a short notice.
Nehru tried to have some negotiations with the Pakistanis on the issue, but as he constantly insisted on the legality of the accession of the feudatory states to India, nothing concrete could be achieved. Thus, the government of India decided to take unilateral action and sent in troops to occupy Babariawad on November 1, 1947. This action increased unrest in Junagadh and Manavadar, where the elements of the Provisional Government, now encouraged by the nearby Indian troops, began to take over leading to a complete breakdown of law and order in the state.
The deteriorating security, food and economic situation of Junagadh made it easier for India to take over the state. The Nawab, together with his household and most of the state treasury fled the state by the end of October to Karachi, leaving the stateadministration in the hands of the Dewan, Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto. Sir Shah Nawaz tried desperately to shore up defences but the tightening blockade of the state left few options for him. He wrote to Liaquat:
“The Indian Dominion seem to have made out a perfect plan of strangling Junagadh on all fronts, internal and external, with the help of our own feudatories…who have been bought over with promises of independence and aggrandisement….our supplies are being cut off……Non-Muslims are leaving Junagadh territory by sheer fright of threatened conflict….Muslim refugees from disturbed parts of upper India are pouring in….I earnestly appeal to the Pakistani Government for help.”
Pakistan, too, could not provide much help, due to its own administrative and refugee problems, and even the grain rations and seven companies of police it did provide were not enough for the rapidly deteriorating economic and law and order situation of Junagadh. Though highly unlikely and untenable as Junagadh had already acceded to Pakistan in terms of Foreign Affairs and Defence, Menon argues that the Nawab gave the Dewan full authority to decide the future of the state, which he did by calling upon the Government of India to take over the administration of the state.
Sir Shah Nawaz thus wrote to Buch, the Regional Commissioner, “The Junagadh Government, therefore, have requested that in order to avoid bloodshed, hardship, loss of life and property and to preserve the dynasty, you should be approached to give your assistance to the administration.”
Thereafter, the government of India took over the administration of the state on November 9, 1947, under the pretext of restoring law and order. The government of Pakistan reacted strongly to this action and Liaquat sent a telegram to Nehru protesting such blatant occupation of a state that had legally acceded to Pakistan. He wrote, “Your action in taking over the State Administration and sending Indian troops to the State without any authorisation from Pakistan Government and indeed without our knowledge is a clear violation of Pakistan territory and breach of international law.” Nehru, arguing the need to regional stability refused the demands made by Liaquat for the withdrawal of Indian troops but promised a plebiscite on the issue.
The resulting plebiscite on February 20, 1948, under the aegis of the Indian army, was in favour of India with the official count noting that out of a total of 1,90,870 votes cast, only 91 cast their votes in favour of Pakistan. Thus, for India the matter was finally settled by this Indian administered plebiscite, whereas Pakistan never accepted these results and to date considers Junagadh a legal part of Pakistan.