3 MARCH 1961, Page 5

Monarchs and Maharajas



THERE are relatively few examples an history, as far as I know, of nations which have managed, so to speak, to eat their monarchies and have them. Among those few England and India are, in their different ways, splendidly and incongruously pre-eminent. We didn't put an end to our princes by beheading them, exiling them, imprisoning them or sending them fleeing across the snow with wolves snapping at their sleighs. Like England, we, too, left them sitting in much of their glory, but tactfully and gently removed the source of power from their thrones.

Yes, they kept their titles, their (slightly re- duced) retinues, their private lands, their public jewels, their privy purse, their social chic and their aura of glamour. It was just that they didn't really rule any more. Some of them protested— rather fancifully in one case by backing a brigand called Bhupat the Tiger in a campaign to raid and terrorise villages so that the people would beg for a return of princely rule and the times of quiet and security. When the prince's palace was searched. by the police and found to con- tain virtually a small arsenal, he explained it away rather grandly by saying that shikar (hunt- ing) was a traditional sport of kings and how could he be expected to maintain his style of life without his proper privileges? People were shocked by his methods but not by his argument, though -the district voted Congress in that year's election.

Other princes, more practically, set to work to regain part of their power in a more orderly way by standing for election from their States— both the Maharaja of Baroda and the Maharani of Gwalior are MPs. Some were appointed by the independent government as Governors of their districts, some joined the foreign service or represented India at the UN, some took their army careers seriously, and some retired to their estates and palaces, continuing, on the surface, the old order, ignoring the underlying changes.

And yet the sense of royalty remains among Indians and accounts for a good part of the wild enthusiasm with which Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were greeted here—indeed, even when President Eisenhower on his visit to India was met by cheering crowds, a large number of his village well-wishers were welcoming the `King of America.' If to outside observers this blithe acceptance of royalty in two more-or-less- Socialist States seems odd, to us it is the most sensible way to behave. Like the British, we are used to swallowing several inconsistencies before breakfast (or whenever the morning papers arrive). For years we have accepted without any strong feelings of absurdity the idea that part of our dountry was under princely rule and part was not, and that even the part that 'wasn't tech- nically was under a monarch several thousand miles away. We accepted the Viceroy as a sort of royal stand-in, but saw nothing funny in the fact that our leaders spent many years trying to kick the viceroys out of India while often re- maining good personal friends of theirs. And there was never any bitterness towards the' monarch, it wasn't his fault, poor thing. Possibly this was the clearest sign that we recognised the withdrawal of real power from the throne. Royalty is above politics, and both India and England have made this literally as well as figuratively true.

Consequently it seemed to most of us perfectly proper that when the Queen visited Jaipur she should be given only the necessary formal lun- cheon by the Governor of the State (a political appointment), but that her real entertainment should be in the hands of the Maharaja. As royalty together they rode in a State elephant procession in the correct feudal way. Again, according to ancient royal rules, the nobles of the State assembled at the old palace to pay their respects to the Queen, and the traditional wel- come with music and tilak (a red mark placed in blessing on the honoured guest's forehead) were accorded her. And of course the Maharaja took the Queen on a hunting trip and everyone would have felt disgraced if it hadn't been arranged in true princely style, conducted from a royal hunting lodge, equipped with mobile camps ready to serve a picnic banquet on Persian carpets in any part of the jungle. And if this picture isn't quite in keeping with a modern India of five-year plans, nationalisation and austerity, well, it was our Socialist government that engineered the visit and the Indian' people have had a very good time reading every delicimis detail on the front pages of their newspapers.

An important factor in the Indian view of the monarchy is that Indians, in the words of a local journalist, 'traditionally love pomp and pageantry and adore and worship Royalty through their maharajas.' In a country where an ordinary tourist with a camera can attract a huge crowd on any street corner, what a field day a State visit from a foreign monarch provides! What a mar- vellous excuse to dress up in one's gayest clothes, decorate the family bullock cart with garlands of flowers, declare a school holiday for the child- ren and set off from the village to see whatever part of the festivities comes your way! The fact that Indians behave with the same exuberant sense of occasion for their own elections (of an independent government that has renounced monarchy) would come as a surprise only to people who don't know India. A Show is a Show regardless of who provides it, and British and Americans elections would seem pitifully joyless to' Indians. Of course there has been a good deal of solemn talk about how this unprecedented reception of the Queen indicates India's strong belief in the Commonwealth and its wish for even closer ties with England, and certainly there is far more affection and respect for the English in India than anyone would have thought possible in the acrimonious days of the struggle for inde- pendence. But I'm pretty certain that most of the millions of Indians who have turned out whenever the Queen has made an appearance came to get a glimpse of a famous and glamorous young woman and to get a breath of all the excitement that surrounds her.