New Delhi, Nov 14 : It was while researching for his book 'Bonfire of Kashmiriyat: Deconstructing the Accession' that he came across old memos, letters and documents in archives, besides papers and some confidential communique bequeathed by his grandfather to him that journalist and author Sandeep Bamzai realised that there was another title in the waiting -- his latest, 'Princestan' (Rupa) that hit the stands recently.
Exploring how in the run up to independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Lord Mountbatten countered the plan of a handful of Indian princes, under the patronage of Mohd Ali Jinnah, Lord Wavell and British PM Winston Churchill to not join either India or Pakistan, and create a Third Dominion known as 'Princestan', the book offers an insight into what really went into 'making' the country as we know it today.
"While researching the book on Kashmir, I was dealing specifically with Kashmir and Maharaja Hari Singh, but this particular part which came through the material fascinated me no end. It did not take me long to realise that I was on to something which was of much importance as far as modern history was concerned. It had to be explored in depth, as that would be the second part of what would ultimately be a trilogy," says Bamzai.
Adding that it took him 14 years to piece everything together, the author says that for a professional journalist and an editor, it can be quite an impossible task to be sitting and writing a book. "So, five years ago, when I left Mail Today, where I was the Editor, I told myself that this was as good an opportunity to do this. Still, it has taken me four years, then of course Covid happened. It has been five years since I started on the project from ground zero," says Bamzai, who is currently the Editor-in-Chief and CEO of an independent news wire.
While it took him about a year of research at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) to write the manuscript, the toughest part was truncation. He smiles, "Now, every writer tends to think that he has created this grand and magnificent opus, but then, very long treatise do not work. I had done an astronomical number of words because I was so fascinated by the subject. The book launch was planned in April, but Covid played spoil sport." Talking about the value addition in the field of modern history of the sub-continent that his latest work brings to the table, Bamzai, also the author of 'Guts & Glory: The Bombay Cricket Story' says that while much has been written on Indian princes by foreign writers, there is no detailed work available on their attempt to carve out a Third Dominion, including in the works of biographers of Nehru, Patel and Mountbatten. "Now these are stories which my grandfather, who was the special correspondent of Blitz between 1944 and 1946, exposed. Some of it comes from that, and much from my deep dive both at the The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library and ORF. Finally, what you see is the composite of all that." For someone who was an economics student, and did not study history, but has written five books, including those that deal with the societal impact of either cricket or history, going back in time and walking on a new territory has been a fascinating journey. "Believe me, now I am totally besotted by the idea of history. Whenever I read something, there is this urge to see its historical value and what perspective can be brought to bear on that particular thing. It is as if the mind has undergone some kind of a transformation. I have been a business and finance journalist for decades, till I decided to move on to the 'political-economy' space, where again the same skill sets are required. But yes, this is a brand new avenue which I have explored. I won't call it a dark space for it is truly illuminating and fascinating." The author feels that in the times we live in, it is paramount to look at history consistently and reinterpret it in face of new facts coming to life through research. "This is what I have tried to do with 'Princestan'. Sardar Patel was the key person as far as cornering the princes was concerned and he reorganised modern India as we know it today. Of course, there was VP Menon, who sadly didn't get as much credit as he deserved. In this book, I look at the three-legged relay race that took place -- Nehru kicking off the process, Patel, who is handed over the baton doing monumental work and Mountbatten who makes a dash for it by completing the work by August 1947, a year before the original date." On the role of Nehru, Bamzai feels that he had to bring out the fact that the leader with a Fabian socialist thinking and upbringing despite studying in England was completely anti-monarchy. "What I discovered was that he felt much anger and angst towards princes. He warned them multiple times that they would have to agree. For him, the construct of India was not merely the 18 provinces, but also 565 other princely states. In fact, Sardar Patel picks up the same idiom and grammar of the idea of India when he tells Lord Mountbatten in a private conversation -- 'I need the whole basket of apples', referring to the entire community of Indian princes." The Princes themselves resort to endless subterfuge, deceit and chicanery to stay out of the ambit of the new India. The story gathers momentum as they individually and collectively plot with the British rump to keep a bit of India, Churchill's famous line to viceroy Lord Wavell.
Bamzai feels that it was when Mountbatten gave the princes a tongue-lashing that the latter felt completely let down as they assumed that in the eventuality of decolonizing, the British, owing to the treaties and the law of paramountcy, would look after their interests.
Ask the author who among the three he found more fascinating to work on, and he feels that it would be unfair to give leverage to one individual over the other.
"Let's not forget, despite all that is said about the division between Nehru and Patel; when it came to the matter of India, they were on the same page. Mountbatten made some glaring errors which continue to haunt us -- it was his, and not Nehru's decision to take India to the UN on the Kashmir issue. I call them the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Together they broke down these princes one by one. Some of the incidents that I have also encapsulated in the book are truly fascinating -- the Nationalistic role of Maharaja of Bikaner, Patiala, the chicanery of Nawab of Bhopal; the Nizam of Hyderabad, probably the single biggest prince who had been given the title of 'His Exalted Highness' by the British. Then comes Maharaja Hari Singh. In fact, the state of Jammu and Kashmir on October 26, 1947 was bigger than France. What we have left is just a truncated part.The Karakoram range and Aksai Chin have gone to the Chinese, and of course Pakistan has occupied a large part of the territory." Presently working on the third part of the trilogy which should be out next year, considering the fact that bulk of research for that was done almost in parallel with 'Princestan', he says, "I realised that there was more material, impressions and revelations that could be kept aside for yet another book that I call the third part of this trilogy," says the author.
Bamzai, feels that the 'process' of journalistic writing and working on a non-fiction book just cannot be compared. "It's a totally different ball game. As the Editor, you have to be on the button all the time. There is no respite especially in a modern day news cycle where there is no lean season. Being news junkies, we have to be capturing everything and lending a different insight into the goings on. While you're working, it is pretty much impossible to get a book. In my present profile, it is impossible for me to take my eyes off the ball even for a moment. Yes, one can snatch some time for research and a bit of writing, but the bulk of the writing has to be done at one time. Perhaps that is the reason that it has taken me four and a half years to put this together." Talk to him about the spate of books, especially in the fiction space emerging from Kashmir, especially in the past 15 years, and he feels that it is important that more narratives come from that region. "I may not be a migrant who was chased out, but I have been hearing the brutal and shocking stories of my close relatives who were forced out of the valley. It is a supremely ironical situation, and I have written about this innumerable times -- Kashmiri Hindus being nomads in a Hindu majority country. I have seen people being displaced, losing their homes, going to different places with their small children to create new lives for themselves. It's never easy.
"Everyone, including the left liberals love talking about ethnic cleansing -- in Bosnia and Palestine, but not a word on what happened to the Pandits in Kashmir. An entire community which has given so much in terms of intellectual heft has been treated in this disdainful manner by governments of different hues. Nobody has bothered, except people like Bal Thackeray, Pramod Mahajan and Sudhanshu Mittal who ascertained admissions for Pandit kids. Even as films as disappointing as 'Shikara' are being made, Hindu refugees are still living in tents in Jammu, even after 30 years! People were forced to leave the valley in January 1990 when V.P. Singh's government supported by the Left and the BJP was in power. There have been Congress governments and Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government after that, but who has done anything? At least the current Prime Minister has done something which no other Indian leader could do -- revoking the abomination called Article 370. Till that was in place, mobility and integration with the Union of India was impossible. Thankfully, the domicile bit too has been done and now people from across the country can buy land there. Some well-meaning moves have been made. But yes, as far as the rehabilitation of the Hindu refugees is concerned, nobody has done anything." And it is not just non-fiction, the author has plans to enter into the fiction space too. "I have two-three books in mind. After working for 37 years as a journalist, I have seen enough. There is much material with me to explore," he smiles.
-- The story has been published from a wire feed without any modifications to the text