Pre-Independence, there existed multiple states in India and these were ruled by different rulers by the titles of ‘Maharaja’, ‘Nawab’, ‘Nizam’ and so on. While the negotiations for an independent Indian Government and Constitution were going on between the Congress Party and the representatives of the Crown, it was Sardar Vallabhai Patel and V.P. Menon who tried convincing, cajoling and persuading these Rulers to sign over their territories to United India.
Ultimately these Rulers signed treaties with the Dominion of India, handing over their provinces for certain privileges. Their ruled territories were surrendered and united with the rest of India and were only permitted to retain their personal properties. They were entitled to a certain sum of money which would be granted to them by the Government from the Consolidated Fund of India; this would be known as the Privy Purses. Their ‘Gaddis’ (thrones) along with their privileges would be inherited by any legitimate claim/successor. This arrangement worked for a few years.
Later, Nehru requested these Rulers to themselves reduce the amount of their Privy Purses but then retracted it for he believed that India must not go back on the promise it made.
In 1970, when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, the 24th Amendment Bill to the Constitution was introduced. It passed the Lok Sabha but did not achieve the 2/3rd majority in Rajya Sabha. On 6th September, a helicopter was sent to Hyderabad to Mr V.V. Giri, the President then to get the order signed. Soon after, the Rulers were served with the notice that they were derecognized from their titles, privileges and Privy Purses.
The Rulers challenged the validity of the order in the Supreme Court and Madhavrao Scindia, the Ruler of Gwalior’s petition was the first and the one with the most common points and thus was addressed by the Court. The case was heard by an eleven judge bench and was the judgment was narrated by J. Hidyatullah. Articles 291, 362, 363 and 366(22) were addressed and it was deemed that the Government of India had no authority to derecognize the Rulers and that these privileges were a right of the Rulers and an obligation of the Govt. The Presidential order was deemed ultra vires and thus, was completely invalidated and ignored. The spirit of unity and respect towards the Constitution and the promise made was restored.
But Congress did not stop and introduced the 26th Amendment Bill in July of 1971 and it was approved on 28th December of the same year. It turned these Rulers into commoners and was portrayed as a move to reinforce ‘unity and brotherhood’. This too was challenged but the Court deemed for the Bill (Act then) to be valid.
The privileges along with the Privy Purses of these Rulers were snatched away. This was a complete disrespect of the promise that India’s representatives had previously made and the spirit of unity and justice that the Court had reinforced.