Thursday, April 28, 2011

Maharaja, 13, inherits palace intrigues, feuds, lawsuits

Padmanabh pays his respect to the late Bhawani Singh. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras
n 27 April, 13-year-old "Maharaj Kumar" Padmanabh Singh will become the "Maharaja" of Jaipur. This adopted son of the late "Maharaja" Bhawani Singh will ascend the throne after 12 days of mourning. The heir apparent of Jaipur's erstwhile royals is a Class V student at Ajmer's Mayo College and inherits the Kachhawa rulers' immense wealth running into several thousand crores. However, young Padmanabh will wear a crown of thorns as a huge chunk of his property is mired in litigation.
Bhawani Singh's adopted son is actually his grandson, the son of his daughter Diya Kumari and her husband Narendra Singh. Bhawani Singh, who did not have a son, adopted Padmanabh on 22 November 2002. Bhawani Singh's father, Sawai Man Singh II — originally from Isarda village near Sawai Madhopur — was adopted by the then ruler, Madho Singh II, in September 1921. Even Madho Singh was adopted by the Jaipur rulers. Bhawani Singh was born to Sawai Man Singh and Marudhar Kunwar on 22 October 1931.
Padmanabh's biological father Narendra Singh worked as a clerk in Jaipur's City Palace. Bhawani Singh's only offspring, Diya Kumari, chose to marry him against the wishes of her family. Narendra Singh was awarded the title of "Maharaj" by the late king, an honour that was questioned by many as sons-in-law were not given this coveted title.
The Jaipur royals are involved in litigation over the control of their immense wealth. Sawai Man Singh had three wives, Bhawani Singh's mother Marudhar Kunwar, a second wife Kishore Kunwar and a third wife, the famous Gayatri Devi. Kishore Kunwar had two sons, Jai Singh and Prthviraj Singh. Gayatri Devi had one son, Jagat Singh.
Gayatri Devi and her two stepsons, Prithviraj and Jai, were involved in a legal dispute over how the ancestral palaces and wealth should be distributed among the next generation. Jagat Singh, a party to the dispute died a decade ago. Jagat had also filed a petition against Bhawani Singh in the Delhi High Court demanding a share in the royal wealth.
Prithviraj and Jai Singh run the famous Rambagh Palace, a heritage property converted into a hotel. The current conflict centres on the ownership of Jai Mahal, a palace hotel once owned by Jagat Singh.
Jagat Singh got the Jai Mahal Palace from his father Sawai Man Singh. When Jagat died without a will in London in 1997, his two children, Lalitya and Devraj, assumed that they would inherit the hotel and a part in other family properties. They came from Thailand, where they were based, before the death of Gayatri Devi to discover that their share in the palace hotel had dwindled from 99% to 7%, while their uncle Prithviraj Singh's share had increased to 93% from 7%.
Bhawani Singh supported Jagat's children's claim. Gayatri Devi, before her death named Devraj and Lalitya as her heirs. This is being disputed by Prithviraj and Jai, who say that the children's claim is based on a fake will. Gayatri Devi's estate was estimated to be worth $214 million.
Jagat Singh's divorced wife, Priyanandana Rangsit, a Thai, accused the stepuncles of robbing her children. She started legal action, claiming that the grandmother had wrongly recognised a "forged will". Devraj and Lalitya filed a petition in the Company Law Board (CLB) accusing Prithviraj of fraudulently diluting their shares and misleading them.
n administrator has been appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee the Jaipur royals' property. No member of the family can sell, lease or rent out any property. Thus, young Padmanabh will be able to control only the City Palace which was in possession of the late Maharaja. He can rent out the palace for shooting, parties and weddings, but what his actual income will be may depend on his step uncles, Prithviraj and Jai. "The step uncles were not happy when he was made the heir. But Bhawani Singh adopted Padmanabh after completing all legal formalities which the step uncles cannot challenge. The Maharaja wanted an out of court settlement, but his stepbrothers did not agree to it," said Ramesh Sharma, advocate of the late Maharaja.
"The litigants are growing old. They should sit down and resolve their disputes. We don't know what will happen to their huge wealth," said Bhawani Singh Malsisar, a close relation of the royals.

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