That a promise made by no less a person than Sardar Patel was broken is certainly a blot on post-Independence history (Op-Ed, “Who betrayed Sardar Patel?” Nov. 19). Together, Patel and V.P. Menon cajoled, coerced and convinced maharajas and nawabs to accede to the Indian Union. In return, they were all guaranteed pension, privileges and rights under the Constitution. A contract is a contract. The Indian Republic should have kept its side of the bargain.
I was a college student when Indira Gandhi abolished the Privy Purses. I vehemently argued against the move in a debate because I thought the Privy Purses was pro-rich and anti-poor. I won huge applause from the audience consisting mostly of fellow students.
After reading the article, I realise how ignorant I was then. The small allowance of a few crores of rupees from our massive budget was no big deal to avoid the turmoil that would have occurred but for the peaceful settlement made with the former rulers.
It is unreasonable to argue that the abolition of the Privy Purses was an insult to Sardar Patel’s memory, when even long-running monarchies like England are facing growing demand from citizens that government funding of the royal family be stopped.
The Privy Purses might have been a token of gratitude expressed by the nascent Indian Union to the royals who decided to accede to India. But the rulers did not lose their personal wealth and holdings that gave them personal income. The wealth they gave up belonged to those who toiled day in and day out to build it up.
The article laments the ‘crime’ committed by our democracy, which came in the way of the feudal system in which royalty — by the accident of birth — bestowed some privileges on a few people. Can the regressive relics of an ancient exploitative period be preserved under all circumstances?
The abolition of the Privy Purses was a historical necessity, a blow to the feudal social superstructure. The purse was tax-free, money earned with no toil or sweat. The dream of building an egalitarian society based on socialist principles would have been undermined by continuing to pay our former rulers. Whether or not the Congress betrayed Sardar Patel one cannot tell. But, surely, the Indian Republic did not betray its historically disadvantaged and deprived sections.
The modern concept of kingship recognises rulers as holders of public trust. Hence, the sacrifice made by the erstwhile rulers should be seen as an act of demitting office. All property held by them, including the “12,000 miles of the railway system,” was held in trust on behalf of people.
After the integration of the princely states and the dissolution of their individual identities, the Privy Purses became antithetical to the concept of equality. A constitutional amendment is a tool to maintain the relevance of the Constitution even in changed circumstances. It is in exercise of this power that Parliament, recognising the discriminatory nature of the Privy Purses, abolished it.