Welcome to the third part of my second monarchist trilogy. In the previous two parts we covered monarchist movements and claimants to vacant thrones in East and Southeast Asia. In this episode we will cover the vacant thrones and the movements to restore them on the Indian Sub-continent. In those previous installments we usually cover movements to restore monarchies over an entire modern nation-state, but that’s not how India works.
In modern western thought we have the tendency to treat a place as big India as being monolithic. How many times have you heard someone refer to Africa as a country? So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the same would happen to a smaller land mass. Instead of going over each country and giving their backstory as to how their respective monarchies lost power, I’m going to give you it all at once, because it kind of happened all at once.
So for starters here’s something you should know about India, it is, in its entirety, a western invention. Now what does that mean? I’m not saying this in an attempt at Eurocentrism. The modern day countries of Europe and India would not exist were it not for European Imperialism.
The country of India is staggeringly vast in terms of population, land mass, cultures, languages, and religions. We tend to think of everyone in a country speaking the same language, but India has a bunch of them, and some of these languages are incomprehensible to others. We also tend to think of Hinduism as a monolithic belief system but in reality is staggeringly diverse. It is more appropriate to think of Hinduism as a family of religious beliefs that can be quite different from each other. They don’t all worship the same gods, and many of them interpret the nature of their gods very differently. Some do so in ways that seem familiar to western religion, and others do so in ways that a western mind can’t wrap their heads around. These two factors are important because what should be understood is that before European imperialism, India was a hagepage of differing rival kingdoms and dynasties fighting each other for control of the region just like Europe.
Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies,” which would eventually just be called the British East India Company. The company was given a Monopoly by Queen Elizabeth I for all imported goods from east of the Cape of Good Hope. The company grew throughout the following two and a half centuries to the point of controlling much of India directly. However corruption and financial mismanagement always plagued the company, but because it made the right people a lot of money the British Government allowed it to continue operating. This would change in 1857 with the Sepoy Rebellion, when a bunch of hired soldiers working for the company mutinied. The Company wasn’t able to put the rebellion down themselves, and so the British government had to send their military to do it for them. At this point governance of India was handed over to the British government, and the EIC would be fully nationalized in 1858.
The British government took control of the parts of India that were under direct control of the company, but this left a good portion of the country still under the rule of their local Dynasties. These Dynasties were technically independent, but were all made to sign treaties of alliance with the British, willingly or by force. These states remained in a legal limbo between being independent and being colonies of the British until 1947 when it was decided that India would be granted independence after a Partition that would, in theory, split the country into a mostly Muslim state, Pakistan, and a Mostly Hindu state, India. At the time independence was granted, the portions that each country controlled only consisted of the portions ruled directly by the British. The law that granted India and Pakistan their independence also gave the Indian Princely states the right to join India, Pakistan, or to remain independent. All of the states would join one of the two, either willingly or by force.
Initially most of the Princes got to keep their status as royalty within their own state, and had certain rights recognized by their respective central governments. However in both India and Pakistan the princes eventually had their titles and privileges revoked by the mid 70s. India’s princes lost theirs due to a constitutional amendment passed in 1971. The Princes of Pakistan, however, didn’t lose theirs all at once. Individual Princes lost there titles and privileges throughout the years for various infractions and political whims.
So that was a lot of set up, but if you think that we’re any where near the end I suggest that you look at the time code and buckle up.
Let’s start with the Princely state of Hyderabad. It was a Hindu Majority state, but had a Muslim ruling Dynasty, Asaf Jahi. Its last ruling monarch, Mir Osman Ali Khan, didn’t want to become part of India due to his Islamic faith, and resisted. Ideally he wanted to become an independent Kingdom within the British Commonwealth of Nations, but the British were not interested. He kept negotiations with India going while also engaging in talks with Pakistan. However, due to Hyderabad’s geographic location India couldn’t allow it to join Pakistan, so in September of 1948 they invaded Hyderabad in what was called Operation Polo. The true number of casualties is hard to estimate. The Indian government’s official numbers is between 30 and 40 thousand, while other estimates posit numbers of 200 thousand and higher, mostly Muslims.
After the annexation Hyderabad was made a state, and Mir Osman Ali Khan was appointed as governor of that state from 1950 until 1956 when it was split along linguistic lines, after which the pieces were merged with neighboring states. Ali Khan would eventually die in 1967, but not before having just a ridiculous number of Children.
Being Muslim and a royal, polygamy was considered normal and expected. So he had numerous wives and consorts. He is reported to have had 149 children, but the one that interests us in this series is his son, Azam Jah. He was born in 1907 and in 1932 he married Princess Durru Shehvar, the daughter of the last Caliph of the Ottoman Empire, Abdulmecid II. With the Princess he had a son, Mukarram Jah, born in 1934. Upon the death of Mir Osman Ali Khan, Azam Jah was skipped over in the line of succession for his eldest son, Mukarram Jah, the current head of the House of Asif Jah, and the primary claimant to the Throne of Hyderabad. Like his father and grandfather, he was the richest man in India until the 1980s. In the 1990s most of his ancestral assets were taken from him by the Indian government. At this point, however, he still has a net worth of around 1 billion dollars, and spends most of his time in Turkey.
South of Hyderabad was the Kingdom of Mysore. Under the rule of Jayachamera… Jayachimera… Jaya… I’m just gonna call him Jaya, under the rule Jaya Wadiyar the Kingdom of Mysore became the first Princely state to join India, agreeing to do so on the eve of independence. He became the first governor of the state of Mysore from 1950 to 1956. He would continue to serve as governor of Mysore from 1956 to 1964 after it was reorganized along linguistic lines. His last public office would be serving as governor of the State of Madras from 1964 to 1966. He would die in 1974, and was succeeded as Maharaja by his son… uh… Srik.
Aside from serving as the head of his family, he also served as a member of India’s parliament, as well as becoming a fashion designer, and a promoter of the Mysore silk industry. Upon his death in 2013 he didn’t have any children. It was customary in Mysore for the widow of the Maharaja to adopt an heir who would succeed her deceased husband. After over a year of consultation with Mysorian nobility, she selected Nara’s great nephew… and thank god his name is pronounceable, Yaduveer. In 2016 he married a member of the royal family of Rajasthan, and in December of 2017 they had their first child.
But back in southern India we have the Kingdom of Travancore, and its last ruling monarch Sree Chithira Thurinal Balarama Varma. He ascended to the throne at the age of 11 in 1924. When India declared independence in 1947 he initially declared independence of Travancore and resisted joining India, but after much pressure he agreed to join, and like many other former royals he served as governor of his state until they were reorganized in 1956. Sree made a name for himself by modernizing and industrializing Travancore, as well as abolishing the restrictions on people of lower castes from being allowed to enter certain temples in Travancore, for which he received much praise from Mahatma Gandhi.
He continued to reign as Maharaja of Travancore until his death in 1991, when he was succeeded by his younger brother, Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, reigning until 2013 and was succeeded by his nephew, Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma. Moolam is the managing director of the spice trading company, Aspinwall.
From Tranvancore we look west to the Khanate of Kalat, and its last ruler Ahmad Yar Khan. Before coming to the throne, Ahmad served as a British intelligence agent in the 1920s, reporting on the spread of Russian and Marxist influence within Balochistan. He hoped that his service with the British would help get Kalat British aid after independence. The UK and India both recognized the independence of Kalat, but Pakistan refused. In April of 1948 Pakistan invaded Kalat and annexed it. Ahamd accepted annexation and was allowed to keep his titles, but his brothers refused, choosing instead to lead an insurgency against the Pakistani army until 1950. Ahmad was allowed to keep his title until the province of Kalat was dissolved in 1955. He would briefly declare himself Khan again in June of 1958, but was arrested during the 1958 coup. The arrest would trigger another insurgency in 1959. He would later be released, and had his titled officially restored for a brief time in 1962.
Upon Ahmad’s death in 1979 his son Mir Dawood Jan would succeed him as the titular Khan of Kalat. Dawood would be succeeded by his son, Mir Suleman Dawood Jan, who has been living in exile in London since the death of tribal leader Akbar Bugti, who had protected him. His word still carries weight in parts of Pakistan, and some Pakistani politicians have asked him to return in order to pacify tribal rebellions in Kalat.
The last princely state we are going to cover is the Kingdom of Sikkim, and its last ruler, Palden Thondup Namgyal. Sikkim was a number of states that were negotiated over between the Indian Nationalists and the British government. The policy of the British government was that Indian Princely States would have to right to either remain independent or join with India or Pakistan, however the Indian Nationalists argued that Sikkim wasn’t an Indian Princely State, but a Himalayan Princely State, and therefore shouldn’t be given the freedom to join whoever they wanted. When Independence happened in 1947 the status of the Himalayan states was uncertain, but a standstill agreement was signed in February 1948 that delayed their decisions until later.
The Independence of India inspired a political movement in Sikkim called the Sikkim State Congress, and among the groups demands was to join India. The royal government countered them by appointing several of their members to secretary positions, as well starting their own counter movement, the Sikkim National Party. Not satisfied with this offering, the SSC began a campaign of civil disobedience. This became such a problem that Palden requested military assistance from India, who agreed to send aid in exchange for Sikkim becoming a protectorate, thereby handing over to India all diplomatic, defense, and communications affairs, leaving Sikkim autonomy over most of its domestic affairs.
In 1953 Sikkim established a council of state and a constitutional government. Throughout the 60s and early 70s ethnic minorities such as Nepalis and Bhutanis demanded greater representation in the government, resulting in an anti-royalist riot outside the royal palace.
The rulers of Sikkim, referred to as Chogyals, had managed to retain their titles and privileges after the constitution was amended in 1971 because they were not a full part of India, therefore the Indian Constitution didn’t apply. However there was growing resentment in the Kingdom, and from this point much of the information becomes difficult to verify because in 1975 there were claims of anti-Hindu discrimination by the Chogyals, who were Buddhist. In response to these accusations the Indian government invaded Sikkim, and occupied the country with somewhere between 20 and 40 thousand troops. To put that in perspective, Sikkim only had a population of 200 thousand. So they sent at least 1 soldier for every ten civilians.
The Indian army disarmed the Sikkim government and held a referendum, which resulted in over 97 percent in favor of annexation by India. This number, and the large number of troops stationed in Sikkim during the referendum raises a lot of red flags, and this incident has become extremely controversial in India. For years the Indian government censored any material about the event from being printed or published in the country. China and Pakistan both called the referendum a farce, but Indira Ghandi liked to remind people of China’s annexation of Tibet, or the portions of Kashmir annexed by Pakistan. To this day, however, China does not recognize Sikkim as part of India, and instead legally classifies it as an independent Kingdom under foreign occupation.
Upon the annexation of Sikkim what first happened was that India amended its constitution giving Sikkim a special status referred to as “Associate State”, but a month later they amended the constitution again to abolish that previous amendment, thereby making Sikkim a full fledged normal state within the country, with its monarchy abolished.
The last Chogyal, Palden, would leave Sikkim and India, eventually making his home in New York, where he died of Cancer in January of 1982. He was succeeded by his son Wangchuk Namgyal, who retains the title of Chyogal. However, according to the Hindustan Times he is something of spiritual recluse, spending most of his time in Nepal and Bhutan, living very much like a Buddhist monk.
Now, there are a lot of other princely states in India and Pakistan, but the trouble is that for most of them not much is recorded, or at least not much is recorded on the internet, and I don’t have the funds or the skills to hunt these people down in that part of the world, so I’m afraid this is where I’m drawing the line. There are other stops on the subcontinent we need to make, so we move on from one Himalayan kingdom to another, Nepal, who’s empty throne is a rather recent development.
Nepal managed to avoid colonization by European powers by practice of strict isolationism. It managed to avoid British Imperialism, but it also resulted in the country becoming economically stagnate. Nepal did get involved in British affairs by means of hiring out their highly trained warriors, the Gurkhas. The Gurkhas would fight alongside British soldiers in the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, and in both world wars.
After the Second World War a democracy movement sprang up in Nepal calling for constitutional government, and in some cases for the abolishment of the monarchy. When the royal family refused a rebellion ensued, which resulted in the king, Tribhuvan, and his family taking refuge in India in 1950. The Prime Minister was angered at the king and crown prince fleeing the country, so he called a meeting of his cabinet, and declared that the king’s 4 year old grandson, Gyanendra Bir Bikram, to be the new king. India refused to recognize the new regime, and so peace talks commenced, which resulted in an agreement for the king to return, and establish a democratic government.
Tribhuvan died in 1955, at which time his son, Mahendra, was crowned king. He issued a new constitution in 1959, and the following election gave the socialist Nepali Congress Party a substantial victory. When the king discovered he couldn’t work with the NCP he suspended the constitution, dissolved the parliament, and declared the government would now be ruled by a hierarchical system of councils ranging from the village level, up to the national. Mahendra would die in 1972, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Birendra.
He continued to rule through the councils system until 1990 when protests and riots broke out across Nepal. He responded by agreeing to issue a new constitution. This quieted things down initially, but it ultimately failed in preventing the Nepalese civil war from breaking out in 1996, and lasted until 2006. Pr
Before the civil war could end, however, tragedy struck the royal family when Crown Prince Dipendra massacred the royal family, killing 9 people, including King Birendra, and his queen, Aishwarya. Dipendra would shoot himself, but survived long enough to recognized as King before dying three days later. At that point King Birendra’s brother, who had previously crowned back in 1950 while his family fled the country, Gyanendra became king once again. The massacre did irreparable damage to the royal family, destroying the mythology around it.
Between 2001 and 2007 Gyanendra would suspend and issue numerous constitutions in his attempts to deal with the growing Maoist insurgency. After one of these reissued constitutions a seven party coalition voted to strip the king of his powers. It then announced that the monarchy would be abolished after its next election in 2008.
Since then, Gyanendra has expressed in interviews that he doesn’t see the interim government’s decision to abolish the monarchy as legitimate, but he wanted to stay out of politics in order to let the peace process conclude. He is willing to return to the throne if asked by parliament.