Obituary: The Maharaja of Nabha

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The Independent Online
Pratap Singh was the last of the former Punjab princes to have ruled his home state - as Maharaja of Nabha, in north India, - before it was merged into the Union of Indian States after independence in 1948.

A pioneer in the field of wildlife preservation, Singh established the Wildlife Society of India in the early Sixties and devoted his energies to enhancing environmental consciousness at a time when few were even aware of the importance of such issues. Passionately fond of cars, of which he possessed several rare specimens, Singh was also the moving spirit behind the Vintage Automobile Association of India.

Nabha state, some 150 miles north of Delhi, comprised around 947 square miles of territory and its Maharaja was accorded a 13-gun salute by the Viceroy of India. Along with the neighbouring princely states of Patiala, Faridkot and Jind, Nabha traces its origins to the warlike Phul misl, or clan, and was one of Punjab's Phulkian states in the mid-19th century. The Phulkian states played a crucial role in the two Anglo-Sikh wars of the 1840s, helping the bedraggled army of the British East India Company extend its suzerainty over the turbulent, but wealthy, Punjab, which was ruled for nearly 40 years by the legendary one-eyed Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Pratap Singh Malvendra Bahadur was born a Jat Sikh of the Sidhu clan, the son of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh, in 1919. He was only nine when Ripudaman Singh was exiled, after a running feud with the neighbouring Maharaja of Patiala led to clashes between the armies of the two principalities.

Bhupendra Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala - who was famed for his sexual prowess and appetite, had 365 wives and was forever on the lookout for pretty women - kidnapped a girl from Nabha after she refused his overtures. A furious Ripudaman Singh tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to negotiate her release and eventually retaliated by kidnapping several Patiala beauties. This led to clashes between the two armies until the situation became serious and the Viceroy intervened and established a commission to adjudicate the dispute. The commission ruled against Ripudaman Singh who was forced to abdicate in 1928 in favour of Pratap, then only nine years old.

Till 1940, however, when Pratap Singh was anointed Maharaja at the age of 21, a Council of Regency comprising state ministers and British Agents ruled the state. But after ascending the throne, Singh worked hard to build up the Nabha State Imperial Service troops into a formidable force. After independence this levy became a part of the Punjab Regiment of which one battalion still bears the title "Nabha Akal".

Singh ruled Nabha until it was merged with the Union of India in 1948 as part of the Patiala and East Punjab States Union. This later merged into the larger, modern-day Punjab a few years later.

Kuldip Singh

Pratap Singh Malvendra Bahadur, maharaja: born Nabha 21 September 1919; Maharaja of Nabha 1940-48; married Princess of Dholpur (two sons, one daughter); died New Delhi 22 July 1995.