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  • Print publication year: 1997
  • Online publication date: October 2009

7 - Fin de siècle


It appears … as if this great problem of the States has been satisfactorily solved within the last three weeks of British rule.

Earl Mountbatten, 16 August 1947


Asked in October 1946 about the prospects for the new year, Yeshwant Rao Holkar's personal astrologer made this prediction: ‘Guru has been the only protective planet in the Horoscope but he also becomes suddenly weak and evil from January 1947 … the evil influence on health [and prosperity] which is … absent now will start from the end of January 1947 and become dangerous … from March 1947 onwards till August 1948.’ When the axe came down on the rulers in August 1947, Yeshwant Rao doubtless gained some comfort from the knowledge that his fate and that of his brother princes was predestined and thus unavoidable; but in reality the demise of the princes – at least, in its final form of 1948 – was a product not of mysterious cosmic forces but of earthly ones: of power shifts, economic imperatives and human miscalculations.

Among the latter perhaps the greatest – for it lay at the root of many others – was the widespread belief within the ranks of the rulers that there was no necessity for drastic change and that ‘reforms’ could be introduced without significant effect on their own lifestyles. As we saw in the previous chapter, the COP had been trying for years, without success, to formulate a common policy on the matter of the rulers' use of state funds for private purposes.