AS SUN SHONE on turncoat Jyotiraditya Scindia, royal of erstwhile Gwalior state, death eclipsed veteran Himachal politician and Bushahr royal Virbhadra Singh. The times beckon us to reflect upon the prominent figures from erstwhile royalty who made their presence felt in the body politic of the nation.
Most of the erstwhile princely states in India came into existence with the weakening and subsequent collapse of imperial Mughal authority.
The first attempt to subordinate them was by Governor General Lord Wellesley under his famous policy of subsidiary alliance. Gradually all princely states came under British paramountcy.
Bereft of any substantive responsibility many of them turned to debauchery and yet quite many of them played a prominent role in public life.
As realization dawned upon the British to associate Indians with governing the nation, Raja of Banaras and Maharaja of Patiala were amongst the first Indians nominated to the imperial legislative council.
A host of Indian princes attended the second round table conference held to institute constitutional reforms in India. With the passage of Indian Independence act 1947, the British paramountcy lapsed and the princes were left to fend for themselves. Having negligible military wherewithal vis-a-vis Indian government nearly all thought it prudent to merge with the Indian union.
The role of gritty Sardar Patel in this chapter of Indian history is well acknowledged. The ambivalence shown Hyderabad and Junagadh was soon put to rest by the Indian government with little coercion. Kashmir was somewhat more contentious and remains so ever since.
Independence meant that they were assigned privy purses and could retain their titles (subsequently abolished in 1971). Many of them were appointed titular heads of states with lofty titles of Rajpramukhs and Uprajpramukhs but without much substance.
Maharaja Yadavinder Singh of Patiala and Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala were respectively appointed Rajpramukh and Uprajpramukh of erstwhile PEPSU state.
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur of Kapurthala, who was already active in politics before Independence, became the first health minister of independent India.
Gradually realization dawned upon many of the royals that they would need to move beyond the Single Malts and polo if they were to remain relevant, lest the wily Congress politicians would push them to obscurity. The urge to save upon the leftovers of their princely wealth also propelled many of them into politics.
Among those who made a mark were the Scindias of Gwalior. They were one of the many offshoots of the Marathas.
Late Vijayraje Scindia had a brief interlude with congress but went on to be one of the earliest members of Jan Sangh and a stellar leader of BJP.
Her son Madhav Rao Scindia, with whom she had an acrimonious relationship, remained in the top echelons of the Congress. Her daughter Vasundhra Raje, a Dholpur royal, shone through as Rajasthan CM from BJP.
Her grandson poached by Modi Shah duo from Congress was sworn in as Union minister yesterday. Late Vijayraje was also imprisoned by Indira Gandhi during the emergency.
Gayatri devi, princess of Cooch Behar and later Rajamata of Jaipur also made a mark as a multiple time MP.
She was among the leading figures of Swatantra party. She was hounded by tax authorities at the behest of Indira Gandhi and also arrested during emergency.
Among many other Rajasthan royals dabbling into politics are Diya Kumari of Jaipur, Vishvendra Singh of Bharatpur and Jeetendra Singh of Alwar.
In Himachal Virbhadra Singh of Rampur Bushahr made a mark as one of the tallest leaders of the state.
His wife and son are also dabbling into politics. Maheshwar Singh, scion of Kulu royal family, is another royal in politics from Himachal Pradesh.
In Punjab Capt Amarinder Singh, scion of Patiala royalty has made a mark as the longest serving Congress CM of Punjab. His dalliance with Akali Dal post Bluestar was eclipsed by the Badals and he subsequently returned to Congress fold where he is heading the state for a second time.
His Father Maharaja Yadavinder Singh remained a Rajpramukh of erstwhile PEPSU state, a legislator and ambassador to Italy and Netherlands. His mother and wife remained parliamentarians. Sajida Begum, fourth wife (subsequently divorced) of last Nawab of Malerkotala also remained a legislator twice.
From J&K Karan Singh, scion of Kashmir royal family, became sadar-e-riyaasat at a young age and subsequently a parliamentarian and a union minister. His sons also dabble in politics.
The royals had their finest moment of glory in VP singh, Raja of Manda who rose on to become the Prime Minister of the country.
The infamous UP muscleman politician Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaya who hails from erstwhile Bhadri estate of oudh should also find a mention in the league of former royals in politics.
As India is about to enter its seventy fifth year of independence, it will be interesting to see what the future electorate of the country holds for these erstwhile royals.
Politics is about cut throat competition and naivety doesn’t survive for long in it. Only the dexterous royals will cut through the nooks and crannies that political path is strewn with.
Also Read: The Brahmins And India’s Caste System
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