For nearly 75 generations the Maharanas of Mewar have valiantly fought against intruders. But the feud between the present scions may bury their glorious past.
By Rohit Parihar
Palace intrigues are nothing new to the Rajputs of Rajasthan. But for a dynasty that successfully fought invaders for 14 centuries, a bitter two-decade-old family feud threatens to bury its glorious past. In a sense history is repeating for the maharanas of Udaipur, the royalty of Mewar. Nearly 400 years ago, just before his death Maharana Udai Singh -- the founder of Udaipur -- named one of his younger sons, Jagmal, as his successor. The nobles were upset because they were not taken into confidence and it was against the tradition of anointing the eldest son as ruler. So soon after Udai Singh's last rites were performed, the nobles went up to Jagmal and pulled him down from the throne. The man who was then rightfully crowned was none other than Maharana Pratap, the most revered Rajput warrior.
A similar power struggle is on among Maharana Pratap's present-day descendants. Except that the fight between brothers Mahendra Singh, 58, and Arvind Singh, 54, is in the courts. It all started in 1984, when Maharana Bhagwat Singh willed his entire property through a trust to younger son Arvind. He not only made Arvind the executor of the will, but also included daughter Yogeshwari Kumari as a trustee. Elder son Mahendra Singh (who had a year before accused his father of wasteful expenditure and sought division of the vast property) was left out on the ground that only Arvind was capable of looking after the legacy.
Even Rajmata Sushila Kumari was excluded from the will, but the
maharana's mistress Annabella Parker, a British national, was made a beneficiary. The nobles protested and insisted that Bhagwat Singh had no right to will away the Mewar property and that Mahendra Singh was to be treated as head of the Hindu undivided family. On November 19, 1984, thousands of Rajputs gathered at the City Palace and declared Mahendra Singh as their maharana in a public coronation. Mahendra Singh could have stayed put in the palace but apprehending an ugly turn to the dispute which the government could exploit to disrepute the royalty, he preferred to fight it out legally and left the disputed property under his lock and government seal. But Arvind Singh, as executor of the will, gradually took possession of the properties, leaving Mahendra Singh virtually on the streets.
Today the disputes -- over a 100 cases still pending in courts -- remain tangled in a legal web. Given the murky and complex state of the Mewar family's finances, as also the worth of antiques, gold, silver, jewellery and immovable property, including massive palaces, it is almost impossible to make an accurate estimate of the total wealth in dispute. But even by conservative reckoning, it runs into hundreds of crores of rupees. In the meantime, some recent developments have given a further twist to the family feud.
» Mahendra Singh claims that Sushila Kumari, who died on November 5 last year, willed her property to him. According to him, she put under her lock the first floor of Shambhu Niwas, a palace within the City Palace complex where she spent most of her life, and gave the keys to Mahendra Singh. Arvind Singh has also put his locks on the palace citing the pendency of some of the cases related to the will.
» Now while Arvind Singh maintains that Mahendra Singh should move the civil courts over his grievances, the elder maharana has petitioned various authorities, including Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, saying the Government should ensure that Arvind Singh does not take control of the disputed floor. But as Udaipur Collector Prem Singh Mehra says, "It is a civil matter and he should either go to court or lodge an fir against his brother for trespassing."
» After Sushila Kumari's death there have been more unfortunate developments. The sons got together to perform her last rites but other ceremonies were held separately. There's also uncertainty over the construction of her chhattri (a tomb) at the family's cremation ground. Similar disputes in the past have resulted in the chhattris of Bhagwat Singh and his mother Virad Kunwar remaining incomplete.
» Besides the earlier allegations of misappropriations in the family's Eklingji Trust and FERA violations by Arvind Singh, a criminal angle was added to the feud. In May last year Mahendra Singh expressed fears of a conspiracy by Arvind Singh's creditors to eliminate the younger brother and implicate the elder in it. The state police and the CBI looked into the case but nothing came of it.
So far, the dispute has not helped the brothers in any way. Though Arvind Singh has expanded his hotels business and leads a royal life, he has lost respect among the locals. Mahendra Singh is still considered the maharana but has rather meagre earnings, forcing him to lead an upper-middle class life. His foray into politics didn't help either. He won the Lok Sabha elections from Chittorgarh in 1989 on a BJP ticket but fell out with the party when he refused to support L.K. Advani's rath yatra. He later joined the Congress but lost in two subsequent attempts at the hustings. As he now admits, "The political parties only wanted to cash in on me and succeeded in playing one brother against the other to damage what could have been one of the most powerful royalties."
With the cases dragging on, the brothers are now tired. While Mahendra Singh rues that no one appreciated his leaving the City Palace to prevent bloodshed in 1984, Arvind Singh is upset that the royalty's peaceful merger with democratic India never got due recognition. Says Mahendra Singh: "I never expected things to turn out this way. Governments have taken advantage of Arvind Singh's ambitions to damage our honour." Arvind Singh, however, is more direct: "He is being stubborn and turned down my offer for settlement after our father's death." In the end it all boils down to their egos. The elder brother considers it below his dignity to ask for his right from the younger brother who does not have the magnanimity to give it on his own.
As M.S. Krishnawat, whose family has been associated with the maharanas for generations, says, "While Mahendra Singh wants to live in the shadow of the past, Arvind Singh looks upon himself as maharana of the future." Arvind Singh financing the recent book The Maharaja and the Princely States of India and appearing on its cover is being viewed as an attempt in this direction. And those who do not live in the present do suffer.
© Living Media India Ltd