The Downfall of India's Princely States

November 2023 9781805260530 360pp, 16 colour illus
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On 25 July 1947, India’s last Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, stood before the Chamber of Princes in New Delhi and prepared to deliver the most important speech of his career. He had just three weeks to convince more than 550 sovereign princely states—some the size of Britain, some so small that cartographers had trouble locating them—to become part of a free India. Once Britain’s most faithful allies, the princes could choose between joining India or Pakistan, or declaring their independence. 

This is a saga of promises and betrayals, of brinkmanship and intrigue. Mountbatten worked with two of independent India’s founding fathers—the country’s most senior civil servant, V.P. Menon, and Congress strongman Vallabhbhai Patel—to save the subcontinent from self-destruction. What India’s architects described as a ‘bloodless revolution’ was anything but, as violence engulfed Kashmir and Indian troops put an end to Hyderabad’s dreams of independence. 

Most states accepted the inevitable, giving up their kingdoms in exchange for guarantees that their privileges and titles would be preserved in perpetuity. Instead, they were led to their extinction—not by the sword, but by political expediency, leaving them with little more than fading memories of a glorified past.


John Zubrzycki PhD has worked in India as a foreign correspondent and diplomat. His books with Hurst are Dethroned; The House of Jaipur; and Empire of Enchantment, chosen by William Dalrymple as a Book of the Year. He is also the author of The Shortest History of India.  

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