Hanwant Singh was born on 9th June,1923. He first visited England when he was two years old and then again when he was ten. When he was thirteen he was sent off to Ajmer to attend the Mayo College, much to the grief of his mother who could not bear to be parted from her affectionate first-born. In 1936, in spite of the changes then sweeping through India, the Mayo College remained very much a Princes' College. Rao Raja (then Kanwar) Nahar Singh, Rao Raja Narpat's younger son, who was then leaving for his school in England, remembers being asked by his young prince, "And what are you taking to school?" "Two very large trunks", replied Tiger Nahar Singh proudly, but felt compelled, when Hanwant expressed disbelief, to ask, "Why what are you taking?" "Well", said the heir to the Gadi of Marwar, "a couple of cars, a few horses, some guns and, of course, my servants." (Including a barber and a tailor.) Fortunately the college with all its stern guardians and proselytizing tutors, and its Hurray Henry vision of the Empire, was not able to impress Hanwant Singh who, unaffected by the indoctrination, grew up not only one of Marwar's most interesting rulers but also a champion of his order.
That he would never quite be the patronizing english colonel's "beau ideal of a native prince", as had been his great-grand-uncle and, to a lesser extent, father, was clear from the beginning. "Even in school", recalls a class-mate, "his anti-British views were well known." And these hardened into something considerably stronger during his year at the Government College, also in Ajmer, where the young Rathore encountered the freedom movement for the first time. Ajmer, a part of British India and home to many popular leaders seeking refuge from the States, including Marwar's Jai Narain Vyas, was a hotbed of nationalist activity at the time and that was where, a world away from the classrooms of Mayo, the nineteen year-old prince learnt his politics.
In 1943, when the beautiful princess, Krishna Kumari of Dhrangadhra in Kathiawar, Gujarat, came to Jodhpur as Hanwant Singh's bride, Big Boy, as Umaid Singh called him, over six feet tall and well built, carelessly flamboyant, slightly eccentric but, like his father, refreshingly simple, was undoubtedly amongst the more attractive of India's young princes. Over sixty years before when Jaswant Singh II had married a princess of a small state in Gujarat, rank had permitted him to send only his sword in procession; but Hanwant Singh traveled to Dhrangadhra himself, with his father, brothers, uncles and a rather boisterous baraat or marriage party, as are most Rathore baraats, to bring home his painfully shy bride of sixteen.
They traveled in the royal saloons, sleek and shining white, and festooned with flowers, and it was a wedding befitting the Monarch's heir-apparent. For the princess, Jodhpur, though undoubtedly one of the more progressive Rajput states in 1943, was not particularly warm and welcoming. "Actually I was too young to get married", laughs the Rajmata, the Queen Mother, half a century later. "I had a little idea of Marwari but was not at all fluent in English which everyone seemed to speak quite well." The sixteen-year-old Krishna Kumari had also to contend with the purdah system, always harsher on the bahus or daughters-in-law of the house. "My mother-in-law used to go riding and many ladies enjoyed following pig-sticking heats in closed cars but the system was very strict in public." Things improved, however, quite soon. "My husband was very helpful and taught me English." And when, after six months, Umaid Singh "gave orders" that his eldest daughter-in-law need not wear a ghunghat or veil in his presence, Hanwant's child-bride was overjoyed.
Life in Jodhpur in the years left to the young couple to learn and play was not as idyllic as it had been only a decade before. There were still those wonderful picnics and drives in the country where one might pick up a brace of partridge, a few snipe and a couple of sand-grouse all in a matter of minutes, and those enchanted evenings on Mehrangarh's moon-swept ramparts, but it was not a happy time. War raged the world over, Marwar was recovering from a particularly terrible famine and the popular movement would not go away. It was in these trying conditions that Hanwant Singh trained to be Maharaja. During the day he attended office, studied court proceeding and took his place on the Council of Ministers. At night, risking the wrath of his father, he slipped out of Umaid Bhawan, rode into the walled city and put up anti-British posters...
Such was the man destiny placed on the Gadi of Jodhpur on 21st June, 1947.
Jodhpur's accession to the new Dominion of India two months later was the most tempestuous of all and remains, understandably, a moment of some pride for the Rathores. It may have been something of a submission; though there is no doubt that Hanwant Singh was excited by Jodhpur being part of a free and united India, but it was not an ordinary one, not humiliating. It revealed the man too; passionate, emotional and brave. On 15 August,1947, Maharaja Hanwant Singh was all of that, but in the half decade left to him, as he accepted challenge after challenge and surmounted obstacles unknown to his ancestors who had lived in far simpler times, he became much, much more.
Till 1947 the Hindu and Muslim in Marwar had lived together in peace for centuries. The Rathore-Muslim wars, frequent and bloody, especially in the pre-Mughal age when no less than seven Rathore rulers had died combating Muslim expansionism, had been essentially territorial, except of course, during Maharaja Ajit's years of revenge. As the conflict of interests had diminished, so too had the enmity. In fact, over the centuries many Muslims had served the rulers as soldiers and administrators, and even trusted bodyguards, and their cultural contribution to Marwar had been rich. Now, in the terrible weeks and months that followed the partition of the sub-continent, this harmony was threatened as elsewhere in India, and in Pakistan, the Hindu and the Muslim turned upon each other with unprecedented savagery. "The Hindus and Muslims of my state are like my two eyes", pleaded Maharaja Hanwant as tension mounted in his capital with thousands of refugees from Pakistan bringing in reports of barbaric atrocities. "And if anyone were to get hurt it would be like blinding me." Like Gandhiji's appeal elsewhere in the country, it worked, and in the thirty-six thousand square miles that made up the border state of Marwar, not a single untoward communal incident was reported in those few months. Nor did a single Muslim family abandon its ancestral home in the walled city of Jodhpur for Pakistan, as the Rathore personally led a peace march through the city and begged each one to stay. "You are my children! You cannot leave! You cannot insult me!" And they stayed. That was the magic of Maharaja Hanwant Singh.
Even in present times, when other cities in Rajasthan burn in communal frenzy, Jodhpur remains peaceful. That is Maharaja Hanwant's special legacy. Sometimes there is a little tension and then Bapji, like his father, leads a sadbhavna or goodwill march through the somber narrow streets, for that, a commitment given by his father, is his special duty. As for the Muslim community of Jodhpur, it too has a special place in its heart for Hanwant's son.
In the 1989 General Elections, defying all political logic, perhaps the only seat in India where it did so, it voted, as Bapji requested, for a candidate belonging to a political party entrenched in the brotherhood of chauvinistic Hindu organizations. (Bapji was supporting the candidate on a non-party basis.) Interestingly, Maharaja Hanwant Singh had banned the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), the parent of these organizations, in Marwar.
Even the Muslims of western Marwar who did migrate to Pakistan have not forgotten the Rathore for he protected them right up to Mirpur Khas, now in Pakistan, which used to come under the jurisdiction of the Jodhpur Railways. (Kanwar Narendra Singh, Rao Raja Narpat's elder son, was one of the last Jodhpur Railway officers to leave Mirpur Khas.) Even today, half a century after it all happened, over a door in a side street in the bustling port city of Karachi there reads a painted board; The Jodhpurian Friendship Society.
"But what more" demanded the Rathore, bringing to their (Mountbatten and V.P Menon's) attention Jinnah's generous terms, "can India offer me?" Menon immediately outbid Pakistan on the supply of grain and the import of arms, and promised to link Marwar with a railway line to a port in Kutch. It was a tremendous diplomatic victory for the Maharaja who had played the game like a seasoned veteran; but, as he put his signature to the Instrument of Accession, he was filled with a foreboding. Perhaps he saw the future clearly for he turned to Menon; Mountbatten had left the room; with his fountain pen which was now unbelievably a .22 Calibre pistol and cried with the voice of thirty six Rathores before him, "I will kill you if you betray my people...'
After Marwar's accession to the Dominion of India Maharaja Hanwant Singh had an elected assembly and elected ministers to assist him and for a brief period Marwar enjoyed a government as close to being ideal as was possible. The people implicitly trusted their Maharaja who, besides imparting a sense of stability and continuity to the new form of government, continued to enjoy sufficient executive powers to ensure his ministers performed their duties efficiently and honestly. Vyas and his colleagues on the other hand, including the peasant leader the late Nathu Ram Mirdha, had risen to power the hard way and understood their people's aspirations. It was an administration perfectly in tune with Marwar's economic, social and ecological needs. Unfortunately it would last only a year for, in Delhi, Nehru and Patel had changed their minds.
In July,1947 Sardar Patel had confidently told one of his associates that he expected the people of the States to rebel against their rulers within months of Independence. Before the year was out it was clear, however, to the intense dismay of New Delhi, that this was not going to happen. Far from rebelling, the people of the States were extremely happy with the responsible governments under their Maharajas and in some States, as in Jodhpur, the ruler may have in fact emerged a shade stronger. It was time for Operation Bulldozer.
The integration of the Princely States of India, the Merger, which began in 1947, "even before", cried the historian Mankekar, "the ink on the Instruments of Accession had dried", was completed by 1949. It was perhaps an even more shameful breach of faith than Mrs.Indira Gandhi's twenty-four years later for in 1947 the promises were broken by the very men who had made them. Nehru, who had personally received a donation of Rs.21,000 for his party from Umaid Singh on his 1945 visit to Jodhpur, had repeatedly stated, "The people may like to have their Rajas.The decision will rest with them", and Sardar Patel had guaranteed the States' independence, not only in the Instrument but personally. Yet, within months of 15th August, 1947, the rulers were being shamelessly bribed, cajoled, threatened and bullied to "voluntarily" merge with the Dominion of India. Not a trick in the book was spared. Indeed, in more ways than one were these days reminiscent of the early "buccaneering" days of the Company.
Maharaja Hanwant Singh naturally was against the Merger. He had acceded to India because he believed it to be in the best interests of his people and now, a year later, he opposed the Merger for exactly the same reasons. Jodhpur State was undoubtedly "viable", not only economically as even New Delhi had admitted, but also politically and geographically, the latter more so with Menon's assurance of a port in Kutch. It was big enough, many of India's modern states are considerably smaller, and socially and culturally distinct and cohesive. In 1948 there was absolutely no reason why Marwar should merge with India. Of that her twenty-five-year-old Maharaja was convinced.
He no longer ruled, not did he reign, but the Covenant he had agreed to allowed him his title, his privileges, for one Marwar would continue to enjoy a holiday on his birthday, and an annual privy purse of Rs.17,50,000. Similar terms were offered to the other rulers as well but it was in his choice of private property that the Rathore revealed yet again that he was special. Never a moustache-twirling, dialogue-spouting Rajput, he alone of all the principal rulers of Rajputana sought to protect the dignity of his ancestors and the sanctity of his history. The Sisodia gave away Chittor, that bastion of Rajput pride; the Kachwaha, Amber, but the Rathore would not be parted with Mehrangarh. (Besides which he also kept the major forts of Nagaur and Jalore and the fortresses of Siwana and Desuri; five in all). Today Mehrangarh is easily the best maintained fort in India, a proud memorial to eight centuries of Rathore rule and the custodian of much of Marwar's material and spiritual heritage.
The Maharaja desired Congress Party tickets for half the number of State Legislative Assembly (SLA) seats in his former kingdom but Jai Narain Vyas, the new leader of the Congress in Rajasthan and its interim Chief Minister, offered only a tenth. Vyas, desperate to enlarge his rural base, finally negotiated with the Marwar Kisan Sabha which merged with the Congress on the eve of the elections with, incidentally, an assurance of half the seats contested. And the Rathore was left to go to it alone. It was a battle as impressive as any in his history. "Durbar Bapji", pleaded Jai Narain Vyas, a little patronizingly, "I beg you. Do not stand for elections. Do not humiliate yourself." Maharaja Hanwant Singh was unperturbed. "Guruji", he laughed, "if I were to put a stone up against you, the stone would win."
The ambitious, and, some would say, audacious former Prime Minister of Marwar, then the interim Chief Minister of Rajasthan, was in fact opposing the Maharaja himself in Jodhpur City. It was one of the two SLA seats the popular leader had chosen for, to demonstrate his universal appeal, he had filed his papers to contest elections for a rural seat in the district of Jalore as well. Hanwant Singh, to his credit, tried to the very end to avoid a confrontation with his former Prime Minister whom he held in high regard, even offering him the seat in Jalore uncontested if he withdrew from Jodhpur. Vyas, however, was adamant. "Times have changed Durbar Bapji. Let us rule for you now." But Hanwant Singh understood his people like no one else. Though not the only Maharaja to contest the Republic of India's first general elections, he was the only one who had the foresight and courage to form his own party, a union of independent candidates, and accept the challenge.
His candidates for the thirty-five State Assembly and four Parliamentary seats that make up the former state of Marwar were hand-picked, the majority of them Rathores, young, bright and dynamic. His election office was Mehrangarh not Umaid Bhawan, his symbol the camel and his rallying call Main Thansu Door Nahin, I am not far from you, electrified Marwar as Ran Banka Rathore had never done. "I have no use for privy purses", he cried at a meeting in the walled city, a mesmerizing orator. "I have you, my people. Raise your hands, my privy purse!" And they did. (Nehru had threatened to revoke the purses if the Princes entered politics).
India's first General elections were held in January,1952. The result in Marwar was a forgone conclusion but the people were to be denied. At dusk on the twenty-sixth, the day of the counting of votes, Maharaja Hanwant Singh's two-seater air-plane crashed in southern Marwar as he flew from constituency to constituency for the results. The twenty-nine-year-old Rathore died on the spot. That night, even as they brought his body back to his stunned capital, the results were announced.
In Jodhpur Hanwant Singh had humiliated Jai Narain Vyas. The popular leader barely saved his deposit. (The Rathore polled 62.2 per cent of the votes to Vyas's 17.2 per cent) In Jalore too, Vyas had been soundly defeated by an equally embarrassing margin, by the young Champawat Thakur of Bhanswara, Madho Singh. (There the popular leader polled 18.9 per cent of the votes.) Dwarka Das Purohit, another prominent member of the Congress Party as well as a former Minister in Marwar's popular government, had also been defeated convincingly in Jodhpur.
Of the thirty-five assembly seats Hanwant Singh's candidates had contested, they had emerged victorious in thirty-one. Of the four parliamentary seats contested, they had won all four. The Maharaja had himself won the Jodhpur parliamentary seat, his opponent forfeiting his deposit, while his uncle M.Ajit defeated the veteran Congress leader Gokulbhai Bhatta convincingly in Pali.
Nowhere in India had the Congress been so completely vanquished. Marwar still wanted her Rathores but the Panchranga, suddenly frail and tired, wept at half-mast. "They did not tell me till the next morning. That night they told me that his plane had crashed and that his brothers had gone to bring him back. But I knew. Every time I went towards the window to look at the flag someone would stop me. Then in the morning I saw Brigadier Zabar in a white safa." Forty-one years later the pain has not gone away for Jodhpur's last reigning Maharani.
"Sabotage!" wept Jodhpur and within hours thousands collected around the government buildings baying for the unfortunate Jai Narain Vyas's blood. The leader, still in shock, had but one place to take refuge, the Umaid Bhawan. And as he rushed to the home of the men he had so long opposed, ashamed, embarrassed and terrified, for the Rathores the humiliation and pain of the Merger seemed suddenly to evaporate in the winter air. The angry crowd, however, followed Vyas to Umaid Bhawan and the palace was soon surrounded. "Send him out!" they demanded as the gates closed and the royal guards armed themselves to protect the Chief Minister of Rajasthan from his people. "He will not leave Umaid Bhawan alive today", they screamed. Salt was rubbed in Vyas's wounds that day as the oldest of his adversaries helped him escape to Jaipur.
It was Rao Raja Narpat Singh, personally an admirer of Vyas, though he detested Congressmen, "those bally dhotiwallas", who had first had Vyas arrested and jailed in 1929, and it was he who escorted him out of Umaid Bhawan, at dusk on 27th January,1952 in the heavily curtained Zenana Cadillac.
In Jaipur, where rioting broke out on the twenty-eighth, Vyas, humiliated beyond measure, announced his retirement from politics but a few months later successfully contested a by-election in the former state of Kishengarh and was elected the Chief Minister of Rajasthan. An early indication of the convoluted path Indian politics was about to take...
Had he lived, the politics of Rajasthan today; and indeed of all of India because many princes would have followed his lead; would have undoubtedly been different. It is possible that he would have worked towards Marwar's autonomy. It is certain that he would not have allowed the Rajputs to be sidelined from the mainstream of political life, as they have been. It is equally certain that he would not have stood by and watched the steady deterioration in the quality of public life and men.
Sadly his dream died with him. Even in medieval times the Rajputs had rarely fought after their king had fallen, and the first and so far only Rajput dominated political association collapsed too, soon after it's extraordinary leader's death. Hanwant Singh's men were young, inexperienced and without direction, and were quickly absorbed into the Congress Party where, no sooner had they joined, they lost their identities, and many their ideals.
In Jodhpur's city-centre there is a statue of Jai Narain Vyas; the new University and Town Hall are named after him too. There is nothing in Maharaja Hanwant Singh's name. His memorials are a sense of tragedy at the waste; of regret for a quality of life that could so easily have been; and of pride, for let the world not forget that the Rathores of Jodhpur went down fighting.
(Excerpts from 'The House of Marwar' by Dhananajaya Singh. Roli Books 1994)