Monday 24 June 2013

When Cantonment refused to merge with Bangalore

The Cantonment today-it was the Civil and Military Station till 1947- is an integral part of  Bangalore and in some ways it can be called the perfect showpiece of  Bangalore’s urban planning.
Even today, the Cantonment differs with the rest of the City as it is characterised by broad roads, tree-lined avenues, large footpaths, looming spires of churches and military establishments which are an oasis of calm and green cover.
At one time, MG Road, the erstwhile South Parade, was the jewel in the crown of Cantonment. Much of South Parade’s British links have disappeared over the years  but some vestiges still exist.
Many of the roads and localities in the Cantonment bear British or European names, a testimony to the British administration of the Cantonment ever since its founding in 1806 till the Indian Independence in 1947.
It was only after August 15, 1947 that the Government passed a bill merging both the Cantonment and Bangalore Petta areas. Till then, Bangalore was a city of two municipalities and two administratively controlled areas-the Cantonment directly by the British and the Pettah by the Mysore Government of the Wodeyar Kings.
But what many are not aware is that several decades ago, residents of Cantonment, including European living in the locality, vehemently opposed the idea of  merging their area with Bangalore City.
Many residents, including several well-known personalities, opposed the move by the Mysore Government seeking merger of both the municipal bodies of Bangalore which were then to come under the jurisdiction of the Wodeyars.
The story of this rather strange episode in the history of Bangalore City starts in 1927 when the British Government appointed a commission to look into constitutional reforms in and for India. Its actual name was the Indian Statutory Commission and it had seven British members of Parliament as its members, including Clement Atlee, who decades later became Prime Minister of United Kingdom and oversaw the transfer of power to India in 1947.
Since the Commission was headed by Sir John Simon, it came to be known as Simon Commission. It published its 17-volume report in 1930, proposing among others the abolition of diarchy system of governance and the establishment of representative government in the provinces. It also recommended that separate communal electorates be retained until tensions between Hindus and Muslims had died down.
It suggested the formation of an all-India federation in which British Indian provinces and native Indian states (princely dominions) would join as members. The Wodeyars of  Mysore initially declined to enter the federation but reversed their decision only of the annual subsidy of Rs. 35 lakhs it was paying to the British was abolished. This subsidy had been a burden on the kingdom ever since the British gave back the seat of power to the Wodeyars after the fall of Srirangapatna in 1799.
Another condition that Mysore put forth to join the dominion of India was that the Civil and Military station (Cantonment) should be handed over to it.
The then Dewan of Mysore, Sir Mirza Ismail, on January 29, 1933, submitted a memorandum to the then Viceroy Willingdon (Major Freeman Freeman-Thomas, 1st Marquess of Willingdon, 1931-1936) seeking merger of Cantonment with Mysore. The Dewan’s argument was simple. The Mysore State could not have another independent entity within its own kingdom and since Bangalore was being run independently by the British, it was a blot on the dignity of the Maharaja and the pride of the people.
The recommendations of the Simon Commission and the memorandum of the Dewan soon created a furore in Bangalore. While the Pettah welcomed the developments, Cantonment appeared shocked and soon began leading a movement against its merger.   
Some Muslim residents of Cantonment decided to hand over a memorandum to the Resident of Mysore Lt Col G.T.C.Plowden. They said they were opposed to the merger as the Mysore Kingdom did not have jurisdiction over them. They claimed that the Wodeyars got the Kingdom only after the death of Tipu Sultan in Srirangapatna in 1799. The Kingdom should have been rightly handed over to the sons of Tipu Sultan and not to the Wodeyars, was their refrain. A more serious claim made by them was that their language, religion, culture and tradition was distinct and that they were at stake in Mysore.
It also charged the Mysore Government of neglecting the Muslims and not caring for them and their culture and heritage. However, several other leading Muslims of  Mysore such as S.G. Mohiyuddin of the Daily Al Kalam, an Urdu newspaper from Bangalore, and Mohammad Abbas Khan denied the charges made against the Mysore Government.
However, the idea of a merger was not an easy issue to digest for even other people. Initially, even the Anglo-Indians and the Congress Party unit of  the Civil and Military station opposed it.
The Bangalore Traders Association also protested against it and submitted a memorandum. The issue gathered so much momentum that it even figured in a debate in the House of Commons in Britain on May 7, 1934. It was then that  Major-General Sir Alfred William Fortescue Knox (1870-1964), a  career British military officer and later a Conservative party politician,  suggested reconsidering of a 'policy which would place thousands of Europeans and Anglo-Indians unwillingly under the rule of an Indian state. The then Secretary of State for India, Sir Samuel Hoare (1889-1959), closed the debate when he agreed that there were negotiations about the civil station but none about the military station.
The Resident of Mysore, Lt Col G.T.C.Plowden, said only a  partial retrocession of the civil and military station had been agreed upon. He clarified that Parade grounds. South Parade, Shop area, parts of Ulsoor and all the military barracks and military establishment would not be merged into Mysore.
With both Hoare and Plowden standing firm on the issue of partial merger, demands began to be made by several communities seeking safeguards. When this was brought to the notice of the Dewan, he assured full cooperation from the Mysore Government and promised all steps and necessary safeguards to assuage the feelings of the residents of Cantonment.    
Interestingly, DVG or D.V. Gundappa was among the many people who took on the no-merger group. DVG took to task the people who were opposed to the merger and reminded them that it was Bangalore they were talking about and not some distant province. He also questioned the rationale of  a Cantonment in the 20th century.
Even as the debate was hotting up, the second world war broke out. Soon, the issue along with several others was brushed under the carpet and it died a natural death. However, the two entities continued: the C and M station ruled by the British and the Pettah by Mysore.
On July 19, 1947, almost a month before Independence, the British Government began the process of transferring the control of  establishments in Bangalore to Mysore State. The then Resident of Mysore, Walter Cambell, oversaw the transfer. The first institution, which they transferred to Mysore was the Indian Institute of Science. On June 26, they transferred the civil area to Mysore and the C and M station on August 14, 1947. Cambell left for England on August 15.
Soon there came only one municipality and the two areas were merged to form the corporation of the city of Bangalore  

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