Friday, March 26, 2021

Did love make him blind?

 Did love make him blind? 

Sir Sayaji Rao ruled Vadodara State for 64 years and made it one of the most progressive States of India. But his successor Sir Pratap Singh (31Y) who succeeded his grandfather in 1939, ruined its prestige in 3-4 years. He married to Shanta Devi of Kolhapur in 1929 and had eight children before his second marriage (1944) with Sita Devi a married (1933) woman of Madras province and had a son. Interestingly, Sita Devi converted to Islam, obtained declaration from the court that her marriage was dissolved by reason of the conversion. Thereafter, she was reconverted to Hinduism (through Arya Samaj) and married Sir Pratap Singh. Sir Pratap Singh meantime amended Baroda law against bigamy with retrospective effect that nothing in it ‘shall apply or shall be deemed ever to have applied to His Highness.’ The marriage was not recognised by British Government nor by the GoI. 

After the second marriage, Sir Pratap Singh raised his privy purse from ₹23 lakh to ₹50 lakh in 1944. He was one of the first signatories to sign the Instrument of Accession in 1947, but when Goi approach him for cooperation following accession of Nawab of Junagagh to Pakistan, he wrote to Sardar Patel on 2/9/1947 and laid down certain conditions: demanded to make him King of Gujarat and Kathiawar and pass on the jurisdiction of the agencies which were not with them. Something like independent position like Nizam of Hyderabad he was aiming after elimination of the Nawab. Goi didn’t respond to it. 

Saurastra union was formed in January 1948. Initially reluctant, but after received a commanding letter from Sardar Patel, Sir Pratap Singh appointed interim ministry headed by Dr Jivraj Mehta in May 1948 and left for Europe without approving names of other ministers. During this phase, he made huge withdrawals (₹220 lakh) from state treasury as loan (tasalmat) and written them off by order before the ministry assumed charge. He further withdrew ₹105 lakh in May 1948. A meeting of the legislature was called by Dr Mehta and passed resolution to called upon him to abdicate in favour of his eldest son, and another resolution requesting the GOI to set up a council of regency during the minority of the new ruler. Sir Pratap Singh went to Delhi to meet Sardar and agreed to appoint a Council (with Sita Devi in it) to exercise his powers and functions during his absence. 

Goi appointed a Special Officer to audit the misappropriation and found out misappropriation of ₹11.5 crore in addition to his privy purse by Sir Pratap Singh between 1943 to 1947. Jewels, necklaces and diamond necklaces and other valuables were removed from Jawaharkhana and were sent to England. 

His relations with the popular Ministry were not happy. From a Maharaja, he became just a constitutional head. He was advised for merger of his State with Bombay as he as Maratha ruler couldn’t go long with his Gujarati subjects. He finally accepted the merger in lieu of the privy purse of ₹26.5 lakh on 31 January 1949. He had agreed to pay back the ornaments and money withdrew from the State treasury. A merger agreement between the Governor General and the Maharaja was signed on 21 March 1949. Govt of Bombay took over the charge of the State on 1st May 1949. Two trusts were created and placed all the properties under the trust. 

Later he challenged the legality of merger of Baroda with Bombay, but was rejected by a written reply from the Goi with legal arguments. Unhappy rulers made a Union of Rulers in Bombay in February 1951 and made Sir Pratap Singh as its President. He tried to work up agitation against the merger of the States. He had powerful ally in Rajasthan, the Maharaja of Jodhpur. They had ambition to get back their kingdoms if a war broke out between India and Pakistan. The PM took the matter seriously and as advised issued an order derecognition of Sir Pratap Singh as ruler (including stoppage of privy purse and privileges) under clause 22 of Art 366. His son Fatehsingh was recognised as ruler in his place. The privy purse for his son was reduced from ₹26.5 lakh to ₹10 lakh. One month time was given to submit his defence. The order was served on 12 April 1951. He submitted reply to the President on 18 April 1951 denying all the charges and suggested to refer the matter to Supreme Court but later he himself withdrew that suggestion. The couple pleaded before the President for his reinstatement, but finally the President rejected the appeal of reinstatement on 20 May 1951. 

What a fall of prestige of the famous State! On one side his grandfather Sir Sayajirao Gaekwad, popularly ruled the State for 64 years and earned a name of the most progressive ruler and was respected with 21 gun salute from the British Raj; and his grandson Sir Pratap Singh lost his fame and prestige in love of Sita Devi and in the company of his ill advisors. 

One may compare the situation of mutiny of 1857 against the British Raj when Dalhousie started merger of some of the Princely States v/v the silent merger of Princely States by the Congress government post independence under the great leadership of Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel and Dr Rajendra Prasad. 

Democracy wins.


18 March 2021


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