Jaipur: Maharaj Devraj Singh looks relaxed as he walks through the grounds of Lily Pool, a palace that was once the residence of his late grandmother Rajmata Gayatri Devi. Dressed in a long black coat thrown over a mustard t-shirt and pants, and emblazoned with colorful Rajasthani mojiris (shoes), he told ThePrint he was optimistic about the future.
A long real estate battle between two branches of the Jaipur royal family has just ended and Devraj is now ready to wave the white flag for those close to him who have become adversaries.
Earlier this month, thanks to Supreme Court mediation, the long-running family dispute finally saw a mutually acceptable solution regulation over two sprawling properties, together valued at around Rs 15,000 crore – Rambagh Palace and Jai Mahal, both currently run as five star hotels by the Taj Group in Jaipur. A room in one of these heritage properties comes at a steep price, starting in the tens of thousands of rupees per night.
Devraj said the income from these properties would help finance his dreams of rural development and heritage conservation in Rajasthan, but also on his priority list is mending broken family relationships.
“I’m going to approach my cousins, even if they don’t approach me. We want to live in peace together. I want to work with them, support them, ”Devraj said.
The parents in question are the children of Prithviraj Singh and Jai Singh, the sons of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II – the ruler of Jaipur from 1922 to 1947 – and his second wife Maharani Kishore Kanwar.
Devraj Singh and his sister Lalitya Devi are the children of Jagat Singh, the only son of Man Singh II and his third wife Gayatri Devi.
According to the settlement, Devraj and Lalitya will become owners of the Jai Mahal Palace, while their surviving half-uncle Jai Singh and his cousin Vijit Singh (son of the late Prithviraj Singh) will retain full ownership of the Rambagh Palace. The settlement was reached through a court-appointed mediator – Joseph Kurian, a retired Supreme Court judge.
While the settlement has been touted as “out of court”, much discontent has flowed between the different branches of the family and there are still property issues to be unraveled.
For example, there is still some confusion about Lily Pool. It is located right next to Rambagh and is considered by many to be an extension of the palace. Devraj disagrees and says it’s his house.
“The case is pending, so I will not be able to go into details, but everyone knows that Lily Pool was the home of Rajmata Sahab. It’s not part of Rambagh, ”Devraj said.
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The genesis of the quarrel
Devraj Singh and Lalitya Devi have been fighting a legal battle since 2006 over what they say is the legacy of their father Jagat Singh, but the feud has much older roots.
From the book Jaipur House by historian John Zubrzycki, Man Singh II donated the Jai Mahal Palace (previously called Natani ka Bagh) to his youngest son Jagat in 1956. In 1981 Jagat and his half-brother Prithviraj established Jai Mahal Pvt Ltd, with both as directors.
In 1984, they transferred the property to the Taj Group for a 75-year lease. At that time, Jagat Singh owned 99% of the company with 5,050 shares, while Prithviraj and his son Vijit owned less than 1% of the company with 50 shares.
However, Harrow-educated Jagat Singh had a turbulent personal life and struggled with alcoholism, leaving him unable to concentrate on business. His marriage to Thai Princess Priyanandana Rangsit in 1978 produced two children – Devraj and Lalitya – but the couple split in the mid-1980s.
In 1997, Jagat Singh is dead at the age of 47 due to complications from alcoholism. “It is unfortunate that my father passed away just as my parents were starting to mend their relationship,” Devraj told ThePrint.
A financial shock followed a few years later when, in the early 2000s, Priyanandana Rangsit reportedly made a disturbing discovery.
Zubrzycki’s book states that Priyanandana searched the Registrar of Companies and found that Jagat’s stake had been diluted to 7 percent and that Prithviraj and her son now owned 93 percent of the company. Jagat’s shares in the Rambagh Palace Hotel had also been reduced to around 4 percent, from 27 percent.
While Devraj’s legal team declined to comment on the issue of the alleged dilution of the shares, a source close to the Royal Family told ThePrint that it appeared to have happened over time.
“Jagat had a drinking problem and didn’t think correctly most of the time. Rajmata Gayatri Devi and Jagat often signed blank papers and left them in Prithvi before going on tour abroad. This is how the dilution was carried out, ”said the source.
However, in court proceedings later, Prithviraj said the shares were diluted to take out loans and expand the business of the company and that Jagat only attended 12 of 62 board meetings. since the takeover of Taj. Prithviraj’s lawyers, according to Zubrzycki’s book, felt this demonstrated Jagat’s lack of interest in running or managing the business.
A contested will
On March 30, 2006, Devraj and Lalitya filed a petition with the Company Law Council and accused Prithviraj and Vijit of “committing illegal and fraudulent acts”.
On April 27, 2006, Prithviraj and Vijit replied that Devraj and Lalitya had no rights to the properties since they were not Indian citizens (Devraj and Lalitya are Thai and UK citizens respectively, and both hold cards Overseas Indian Citizens, or OICs,).
Prithviraj’s legal team also produced a letter in the courtroom which they claim was written by Jagat. Dated 23 June 1996, this letter stated that Lalitya and Devraj had been entirely cut off from Jagat’s estate and that all of his inheritance would be transferred to his mother Gayatri Devi.
However, Gayatri Devi’s relationship with her grandchildren improved in her later years and she eventually changed her position. In April 2009, a few months before her death, she wrote to the board of directors of Jai Mahal Pvt Ltd, transferring her entire stake to her grandchildren.
This was not the end of the saga, and Prithviraj’s family branch continued to challenge Gayatri Devi’s will in a bitter legal battle throughout the 2010s.
In 2020, Prithviraj died from complications related to Covid. According to sources close to the royal family, a settlement would not have been possible if Prithviraj had always existed.
However, author John Zubrzycki, in an email response to ThePrint, said Prithviraj’s death was probably not the only factor.
“Prithviraj took on the role of Gayatri Devi’s financial advisor and he was the person who really took charge of the extended family’s financial transactions. He has also been at the forefront of most disputes regarding property, inheritance, wills, etc. “Zubrzycki said.
“More colonies likely”
Sawai Man Singh II had children with each of his three wives, and the royal family of Jaipur is therefore divided into three distinct branches.
These families and the state of Rajasthan are currently in a protracted legal battle in a case pending before the Delhi High Court. A settlement case (Jagat Singh v Lt. Col. Bhawani Singh) has been pending before the Delhi High Court since 1986.
According to an attested list of movable property in Annex 1, dated November 20, 1998, consulted by ThePrint, 17 properties in Jaipur and its surroundings are disputed between the three branches of the royal family of Jaipur and the state of Rajasthan. .
Outside of Jaipur, the disputed properties are Jaipur House in New Delhi, Jaipur House in Mt Abu, and Viman Bhawan in Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan.
Important disputed properties within Jaipur include City Palace (the part owned by the undivided Hindu family), Raj Mahal Palace, Takht-i-Shahi (commonly known as Moti Doongri Fort), Rambagh Staff Quarters, Amroodo ka Bagh and Ashok Club.
Among these properties, the land that has been acquired by the state is the staff quarters in Rambagh, the domestic garage and bungalow No. 37 (Ram Sharan House) and bungalow No. 36 (Hotel Lakshmi Vilas).
In addition to such real estate, jewelry, works of art and other items of inestimable value are also currently in dispute.
“No one has a clue how many jewels and artifacts members of the royal family currently own. In fact, the story is when Rajmata was ill in 2008, the media learned that she was taken away. to Lily Pool, her residence, but in fact she had been secretly transferred to Santokba Durlabhji Hospital, ”a source close to the royal family, who claimed to have first-hand information about this incident, said.
“When the commotion was unfolding, Devraj and Lalitya were kicked out of Lily Pool and a certain family member, I won’t say who smuggled priceless jewels and artifacts out of the palace.”
When ThePrint contacted Vijit Singh via WhatsApp, he declined to comment. Devraj’s legal team said by phone that they would not be able to speak to the ongoing trial in New Delhi. ThePrint also attempted to contact City Palace, home of the incumbent Maharaja Padmanabh Singh, by phone and WhatsApp, but there was no response.
Devraj, however, says more settlements could be reached in 2022. “It’s not my plan to challenge for more properties, but we hope to see more settlements within the family in 2022,” Devraj said. .
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
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