PRATĀP SIṄGH, MAHĀRĀJĀ (1919-1995). Tall and handsome, His Highness Mahārājā Sir Pratāp Siṅgh, Mālvendra Bahādur, was the ruler of the princely state of Nābhā. The state ceased to be in 1948 when a new and larger political unit called Paṭiālā and East Puṅjab States Union, short PEPSU, came into existence. This new union comprised all of the Sikh states of the Punjab — Paṭiālā, Nābhā, Jīnd, Kapūrthalā, Farīdkoṭ and Kalsīā, and two others.
Pratāp Siṅgh was born on 21 September 1919, the son of Mahārājā Ripudaman Siṅgh. He began his education in Mussoorie, close to Dehrā Dūn, the summer home of the family. His father owned vast real estate in the vicinity. Pratāp Siṅgh joined there the famous Anglo-Indian school, Woodstock. He also received private tution from A.G. Dix of the Indian Education Service. In 1934, he entered college, in England, near Leatherhead, Mr Kelly, the late Principal of Aitchison College, Lahore, acting as his tutor.
For his strong independent political views, the father, Mahārājā Ripudaman Siṅgh, had clashed with the British authority and had been deprived of the throne of Nābhā. On the morning of 8 July 1923, Col Minchin, A.G.G. to the Viceroy and Mr C.M.G. Ogilive, ICS, who was to act as Administrator for two months, arrived at Nābhā with Gurkhā and Ḍogrā troops, 200 strong. Hīrā Mahal, the Mahārājā's residence, was surrounded. It was suspected that Mahārājā was keeping a number of Akālīs in hiding. Col Minchin proceeded straight to the sleeping apartment of the Mahārājā and demanded to know, "Where is the Akālī?" His question meant where the Mahārājā was. The Mahārājā was asleep and he was immediately placed under restraint. Next morning the Mahārājā along with his wife and the children, including the heir apparent, was taken to Dehrā Dūn, the family's favourite Dehrā Dūn. But on this occasion there was no food waiting for them. Nor any servants. The Mahārājā had virtually come this time as a prisoner.
This was the beginning of the Mahārājā's exile and separation from the family which were formalized when he was taken further south, to Kodaikanal, with a solitary servant, for permanent detention. The arrest was made under Regulation III,1818, which provision had also been invoked in the case of the last Mughal King of India, Bahādur Shāh. The Mahārājā was deprived of his titles and he lived in a small cottage guarded by ten constables. The state of Nābhā was placed under minority administration with the young son of Ripudaman Siṅgh, Pratāp Siṅgh, as the Mahārājā.
Pratāp Siṅgh was the eldest of the three sons of the exiled Mahārājā Ripudaman Siṅgh. ‘Ripudaman Siṅgh’ was a name which had become a legend for political radicalism and for the spirit of defiance it echoed. Even as a member of the Imperial Council to which he had been nominated in the early years of the century, when he was still heir apparent, he used to sit with the opposition and felt more at home in the company of Congress luminaries such as Motīlāl Nehrū, Pt Madan Mohan Mālavīya and Jinnāh. For his anti avant-garde leanings, he lost his throne. On attaining majority Pratāp Siṅgh was crowned the Mahārājā of Nābhā.
In the early hours of 22 September 1919, the Nābhā guns had boomed announcing to the public the birth of the heir apparent from the second Mahārāṇī, Mahārāṇī Sarojaṇī Devī, who was then in Mussoorie along with her husband. The delivery case was attended by Dr Edith Brown of Ludhiāṇā Medical College. Mahārājā Pratāp Siṅgh assumed full ruling powers in 1938. In 1943, he was married to Princes Urmilā Devī, daughter of the Mahārājā of Dholpur. The wedding was a glittering occasion. It was attended among others by the Sikh savant Bhāī Sāhib Arjān Siṅgh of Bāgaṛīāṅ and other members of the lately constituted Punjabi Sabhā, such as Ajaib Chitrakār, Professor Sādhū Siṅgh Dard, Sūfī Fakīr Mohd, Professor Hardyāl Siṅgh and Dr Devinder Siṅgh Vidyārthī.
As Mahārājā Pratāp Siṅgh occupied the throne of Nābhā, there was much ado among his Sikh subjects in the state and outside and among Sikhs generally that he had deprived himself of his Sikh symbols, keśas and beard. The Mahārājā remained defiant and refused to succumb to any public pressure. The matter was eventually taken up by the British prime minister of Nābhā, Mr Wakefield. The Mahārājā's resistance melted when the prime minister said that he would support him as the matter came to be discussed with the Viceroy. Touched by this remark of the prime minister and assured of his sympathetic and understanding attitude, he decided to regrow his long hair. To this end, the Mahārājā and his prime minister Edward Wakefield proceeded on a tour to a remote corner of the state territory, Bāwal. There the Mahārājā took the opportunity of redeeming his word and he returned to Nābhā a full-grown Sikh. He could now mix with the people almost unnoticed in his new accoutrements. The Mahārājā settled down to state business without any extensive notice being taken of his newly-grown beard.
In the changed post-War situation and in view of the new challenges arising, Nābhā, along with other princely states, lapsed as an autonomous unit and merged into the larger political complex styled PEPSU, Patiālā and East Punjab States Union.
The Mahārājā, born the son of a rebel, did raise a protest at the manner in which he had been divested of his state and of his ruling powers. He was prominent among the small group of protesting royalty, bearing the name Syndicate.
Pratāp Siṅgh was fond of manly sport and was given to chase. Another of his hobbies was car racing. There were many shiny and resplendent models in his garages.
In spite of the strong powers of determination he had inherited, he was a very soft and gentle person. He could never imagine himself disparaging a human being. He never spoke a harsh word to anyone. He did keep up the style and manner of royalty, but personally he was the least demanding of men. He paid special attention to matters sartorial.
Nābhā lost its entity as well as its authority on 5 May 1948. Nābhā territory lapsed with some of the Mahārājā's personal privileges and titles remaining intact for the time being.
Mahārājā Pratāp Siṅgh died in Delhi on 24 July 1995. The cremation took place the following day at the Royal cemetery in Nābhā.
Sardār Siṅgh Bhāṭīā