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How did the princely states integrate into independent India?

The princely states integrated into independent India through a process of accession and merger, led by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

After the British left India in 1947, the country was divided into two dominions: India and Pakistan. However, the subcontinent was also home to 565 princely states, which were not directly ruled by the British but by local monarchs. These states were given the option to join either India or Pakistan, or remain independent. The task of integrating these states into the Indian Union fell to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs of India.

Patel, along with his secretary V.P. Menon, embarked on a diplomatic mission to convince the rulers of these states to accede to India. They used a combination of persuasion, negotiation, and in some cases, threats of military action. The Instrument of Accession was the legal document that was used to formalise the process. It was a conditional agreement that allowed the princely states to retain their internal autonomy but surrender their defence, foreign affairs and communications to the Indian government.

Most states agreed to accede to India, but there were a few notable exceptions. The state of Hyderabad, ruled by the Nizam, wanted to remain independent. However, after a year of failed negotiations, the Indian government launched a military operation known as 'Operation Polo' in 1948, which resulted in the annexation of Hyderabad. Similarly, the state of Junagadh initially chose to accede to Pakistan, despite having a majority Hindu population. This led to public unrest and eventually, the ruler fled to Pakistan, paving the way for its integration into India.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir was a unique case. Its ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, initially chose to remain independent but was forced to accede to India when tribal invaders from Pakistan threatened to overrun his state. This led to the first Indo-Pakistan war and the issue of Kashmir remains a contentious one till today.

The process of integration was not just political but also administrative. The states were reorganised on linguistic lines in 1956, which led to the formation of new states and the absorption of the princely states into these entities. This process was largely peaceful and marked the end of the princely states in India.

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