A Model Prince? Maharana Bhavani Singh and the End of India's States

John McLeod presents a study from the last days of the Raj of an Indian ruler who defied the stereotype of princely extravagance and self-indulgence.

At the end of the British Raj in 1947, much of India was governed by some 600 princes and chiefs, what anthropologists call 'little kings'. They had ruled in subordination to successive 'paramount powers' since the dawn of history and intended to continue doing so under Jawaharlal Nehru's administration in New Delhi. Within months, however, they were pushed aside by their new overlords, who claimed that this was necessary if every Indian were to enjoy the benefits of modern government.

Most historians agree that progress demanded the liquidation of the Indian states; and it is often added that the states were backward because their self-indulgent rulers cared nothing for the people's well-being. But history records many forward-looking princes who worked hard on behalf of their subjects, men such as Bhavani Singh, maharana of Danta state from 1925 to 1948; and this calls into question the usual explanation of the elimination of the little kingdoms of India.

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