PRATAP SINGH, MAHARAJA
PRATAP SINGH, MAHARAJA (1919-1995). Tall and handsome, His Highness Maharaja Sir Pratap Singh, Malvendra Bahadur, was the ruler of the princely state of Nabha. The state ceased to be in 1948 when a new and larger political unit called Patiala and East Punjab States Union, short PEPSU, came into existence. This new union comprised all of the Sikh states of the Punjab Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Kapurthala, Faridkot and KalsTa, and two others. Pratap Singh was born on 21 September 1919, the son of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh. He began his education in Mussoorie, close to Dehra Dun, the summer home of the family.
His father owned vast real estate in the vicinity. Pratap Singh joined there the famous Anglo Indian school, Woodstock. He also received private tution from A.G. Dix of the Indian Education Service. In 1934, he entered college, in England, near Leather head, Mr Kelly, the late Principal of Aitchison College, Lahore, acting as his tutor. For his strong independent political views, the father, Maharaja Ripudaman Singh, had clashed with the British authority and had been deprived of the throne of Nabha. On the morning of 8July 1923, Col Minchin, A.G.G. to the Viceroy and Mr C.M.G. Ogilive, ICS, who was to act as Administrator for two months, arrived at Nabha with Gurkha and Dogra troops, 200 strong. Hira Mahal, the Maharaja`s residence, was surrounded.
It was suspected that Maharaja was keeping a number of Akalis in hiding. Col Minchin proceeded straight to the sleeping apartments of the Maharaja and demanded to know, “Where is the Akali?” His question meant where the Maharaja was. The Maharaja was asleep and he was immediately placed under restraint. Next morning the Maharaja along with his wife and the children, including the heir apparent, was taken to Dehra Dun, the family`s favourite Dehra Dun. But on this occasion there was no food waiting for them. Nor any servants. The Maharaja had virtually come this time as a prisoner.
This was the beginning of the Maharaja`s exile and separation from the family which were formalized when he was taken further south, to Kodaikanal, with a solitary servant, for permanent detention. The arrest was made under Regulation III, 1818, which provision had also been invoked in the case of the last Mughal king of India, Bahadur Shah. The Maharaja was deprived of his titles and he lived in a small cottage guarded by ten constables. The state of Nabha was placed under minority administration with the young son of Ripudaman Singh, Pratap Singh, as the Maharaja. Pratap Singh was the eldest of the three sons of the exiled Maharaja Ripudaman Singh.
Ripudaman Singh` was a name which had become a legend for political radicalism and for the spirit of defiance it echoed. Even as a member of the Imperial Council to which he had been nominated in the early years of the century, when he was still heir apparent, he used to sit with the opposition and felt more at home in the company of Congress luminaries such as Motilal Nehru, Pt Madan Mohan Malavlya and Jinnah. For his antiavantgarde leanings, he lost his throne. On attaining majority Pratap Singh was crowned the Maharaja of Nabha. In the early hours of 22 September 1919, the Nabha guns had boomed announcing to the public the birth of the heir apparent from the second Maharani, Maharani Sarojani Devi, who was then in Mussoorie along with her husband.
The delivery case was attended by Dr Edith Brown of Ludhiana Medical College. Maharaja Pratap Singh assumed full ruling powers in 1938. In 1943, he was married to Princess Urmila Devi, daughter of the Maharaja of Dholpur. The wedding was a glittering occasion. It was attended among others by the Sikh savant Bhai Sahib Arjan Singh of Bagarian and other members of the lately constituted Punjabi Sabha, such as Ajaib Chitrakar, Professor Sadhu Singh Dard, Sufi Fakir Mohd, Professor Hardyal Singh and Dr Devinder Singh Vidyarthi. As Maharaja Pratap Singh occupied the throne of Nabha, there was much ado among his Sikh subjects in the state and outside and among Sikhs generally that he had deprived himself of his Sikh symbols, kesasand beard The Maharaja remained defiant and refused to succumb to any public pressure.
The matler was eventually taken up by the British prime minister of Nabha, Mr Wakefield. The Maharaja`s resistance melted when the prime minister said that he would support him as the matter came to be discussed with the Viceroy. Touched by this remark of the prime minister and assured of his sympathetic and understanding attitude, he decided to regrow his long hair. To this end, the Maharaja and his prime minister Edward Wakefield proceeded on a tour to a remote corner of the state territory, Bawal. There the Maharaja took the opportunity of redeeming his word and he returned to Nabha a full grown Sikh. He could now mix with the people almost unnoticed in his new accoutrements.
The Maharaja settled down to state business without any extensive notice being taken of his newly grown beard. In the changed post War situation and in view of the new challenges arising, Nabha, along with other princely states, lapsed as an autonomous unit and merged into the larger political complex styled PEPSU, Patiala and East Punjab States Union. The Maharaja, born the son of a rebel, did raise a protest at the manner in which he had been divested of his state and of his ruling powers. He was prominent among the small group of protesting royalty, bearing the name Syndicate.
Pratap Singh was fond of manly sport and was given to chase. Another of his hobbies was car racing. There were many shiny and resplendent models in his garages. In spite of the strong powers of determination he had inherited, he was a very soft and gentle person. He could never imagine himself disparaging a human being. He never spoke a harsh word to anyone. He did keep up the style and manner of royalty, but personally he was the least demanding of men. He paid special attention to matters sartorial. Nabha lost its entity as well as its authority on 5 May 1948. Nabha territory lapsed with some of the Maharaja`s personal privileges and titles remaining intact for the time being. Maharaja Pratap Singh died in Delhi on 24 July 1995. The cremation took place the following day at the Royal cemetry in Nabha.
1. Men on, V.P., The Story of the Integration of the Indian States. Madras, 1961
2. Syngal, Sardar Munnalal, The Patriot Prince or The Life Story of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha who Died as a Martyr. Ludhiana, 1961
3. Wakefield, Sir Edward. Past Imperative-My Life in India, 1927-1947. London, 1966