'A Tryst with Destiny'
Besides the division of the Punjab, the other major problem overshadowing the transfer of power was the question of the princes. They had, after all, wrecked the central government provision of the 1935 Act by refusing to enter a federation, and now they threatened the successful conclusion of the transfer of power. Nobody had told Mountbatten that the princes might be difficult: 'I had been given no inkling,' he wrote later, 'that this was going to be as hard to solve as British India, if not harder.' 1 As a result, he had not bothered to give it much thought until the decision for partition suddenly brought the princely states into focus. 'When the date was fixed for August 15,' recalled Sir Conrad Corfield, who as political adviser was responsible for the states, 'it became more important than ever that he should appreciate the difficult position of the Indian States. It proved impossible, however, to distract his attention from British Indian problems.' 2
Two-fifths of the land area of the sub-continent, and 100 million of its 400 million inhabitants, were ruled by the princes — Maharajas, Nawabs, Rajas and so on. These were medieval monarchs, complete autocrats, with all internal power concentrated in their own hands or those of their families and favourites. They looked upon their states' revenues as their own personal piggy-banks, squandering their wealth on women, horses, Rolls Royces, planes, gambling — all the playthings of the super-rich. Not surprisingly, their states suffered, tending to be more backward than the rest of India. In matters of law and order or civil liberties, or health, in economic and educational terms, the princely states remained firmly trapped in the Middle Ages.
In all, there were 562 princely states in India, ranging in size from Hyderabad and Kashmir, each of which was almost as big as mainland Britain, to mere dots on the map. The rulers of this crazy patchwork of political dependencies all owed allegiance to the British crown. To British India, the viceroy was the governor-general; to the princes, he was the crown representative. It had