The Royal Bounty

Two of the next gen­er­a­tion of Bar­oda’s Gaekwads re­solve a 25-year-old dis­pute to ben­e­fit from an in­her­i­tance that could be worth more than Rs 20,000 crore

India Today - - INSIDE - By Asit Jolly

Two of the next gen­er­a­tion of Bar­oda’s Gaekwads re­solve a 25-year-old dis­pute to ben­e­fit from an in­her­i­tance that could be worth more than Rs 20,000 crore.

On Oc­to­ber 23, the red bea­con atop the im­pos­ing nine­storey tower of the Laxmi Vi­las Palace was turned on again. Vis­i­ble from ev­ery cor­ner of Bar­oda, it once in­di­cated that the monarch was in res­i­dence. This time, the light sig­nalled that the ‘ma­haraja’ had re­gained own­er­ship of his 123year-old palace—at the end of a bit­ter, of­ten spite­ful, prop­erty dis­pute that spanned three gen­er­a­tions, two-anda-half decades, and that very nearly re­sulted in lay­ing one of In­dia’s rich­est re­gal in­her­i­tances to waste.

That day, the erst­while roy­als of Bar­oda buried their dif­fer­ences to ac­knowl­edge a mu­tual birthright. Twenty-seven mem­bers of the fam­ily signed a set­tle­ment to di­vide the fab­u­lously wealthy es­tate left be­hind by Fatehsinhrao, the last reign­ing ma­haraja who died in­tes­tate in Septem­ber 1988. The royal ti­tle was then trans­ferred to his brother Ran­jitsinh Gaek­wad.

“It did not hap­pen till it fi­nally hap­pened,” says Sa­mar­jitsinh Gaek­wad, 46, the in­cum­bent ‘ma­haraja’ who in­her­ited lit­tle other than the ti­tle when his fa­ther Ran­jitsinh died in May 2012. He is now one of the two prin­ci­pal ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the royal

Twenty-seven mem­bers of the fam­ily signed a set­tle­ment to di­vide the fab­u­lously wealthy es­tate left be­hind by Fatehsinhrao, the last reign­ing ma­haraja who died in­tes­tate in 1988.

set­tle­ment, the other be­ing his un­cle San­gram­sinh, 72.

The Gaek­wad for­tune is im­pos­si­ble to ac­cu­rately ap­praise in the ab­sence of a pre­cise in­ven­tory of the heir­looms that once in­cluded some of the world’s most pre­cious di­a­monds, leg­endary pearl jew­ellery, be­jew­elled gold and sil­ver arte­facts and price­less works of art. The col­lec­tion was sec­ond only to that of the Nizam of Hy­der­abad.

Rough mar­ket value es­ti­mates

Price­less gems such as the Star of the South and paint­ings by Ti­tian, Rubens, Peter Durer, Poussin and Boni­fazio are said to be miss­ing from the in­her­i­tance.

sug­gest that just the land owned by the Gaekwads could be worth well over Rs 20,000 crore. This com­prises nearly 2,000 acres of prime res­i­den­tial, com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial real es­tate, in­clud­ing 600 acres around the mag­nif­i­cent 187-room Laxmi Vi­las in Bar­oda. Then there are 24 ur­ban prop­er­ties owned by fam­ily-held firms, Au­laukik Trad­ing & In­vest­ment Cor­po­ra­tion ( ATIC) and Gaek­wad In­vest­ment Cor­po­ra­tion ( GIC), more than 100 acres of agri­cul­tural land and a re­ported 900 acres owned by the Bar­oda Rayon Cor­po­ra­tion in Su­rat. The royal es­tate also in­cludes 17 fam­ily trusts, in­clud­ing Dev­asthan, which man­ages dozens of tem­ples and shrines in Gu­jarat.

The royal set­tle­ment was driven by Sa­mar­jitsinh and his cousin, Prat­apsinh, San­gram­sinh’s 42-year-old son and heir. This in the face of 25 years of in­tense ac­ri­mony that be­gan im­me­di­ately af­ter Fatehsinhrao’s demise in 1988. The late ma­haraja’s youngest brother, San­gram­sinh, first went to court in 1990 against his wid­owed older sis­ter Mrunalini­raje Puar’s at­tempt to take con­trol of the es­tate by al­lot­ting her­self 1,500 shares in ATIC, set up by Fatehsinhrao to man­age the fam­ily’s joint hold­ings. A year later, he sought ver­ti­cal par­ti­tion­ing of the es­tate while chal­leng­ing their mother Shanta Devi’s right to the prop­erty. In June 2003, a year af­ter Shanta Devi’s death, San­gram­sinh con­tested her will, al­leg­ing the doc­u­ment, which dis­in­her­ited him, was fab­ri­cated by Puar and his brother, Ran­jitsinh.

The dirt flew thick and fast with both sides bring­ing a se­ries of cases, al­leg­ing con­spir­acy, forgery, fraud, il­le­gal sale of dis­puted as­sets and sur­rep­ti­tious dis­posal of heir­looms, in­clud­ing some of the prized jewels and 18th cen­tury art­works. Be­sides civil suits, cases were filed with the Com­pany Law Board, the Gu­jarat Rev­enue Depart­ment and even Cen­tral and state au­thor­i­ties re­spon­si­ble for pre­serv­ing an­tiq­ui­ties.

“There was just too much bit­ter­ness,” ad­mits Prat­apsinh. The young scion of the Gaek­wad fam­ily, who at­tended Kasauli’s Lawrence School Sanawar with Jammu and Kash­mir

Chief Min­is­ter Omar Ab­dul­lah, says the long feud had given rise to “too many neg­a­tives and ex­tremely frag­ile egos” among older fam­ily mem­bers. “Even dur­ing the course of the ne­go­ti­a­tions to set­tle, we could never put them in the same room,” he says.

Sa­mar­jitsinh too was des­per­ate to bring the ac­ri­mony to an end. “We all needed to get on with our lives. I was pre­pared to do ev­ery­thing to keep the feud from pass­ing on to the next gen­er­a­tion,” he says, seated in his rose­wood-pan­elled of­fice in Laxmi Vi­las. The ‘ma­haraja’ wanted to en­sure that his lit­tle princesses, Pad­ma­jaraje, 7, and Naraini­raje, 5, did not grow up with the angst he had to suf­fer.

The turn­around be­gan on De­cem­ber 8, 2012, when sev­eral fam- ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing San­gram­sinh, Puar, and their three sis­ters, who had not met each for years, gath­ered at Delhi’s Taj Palace Ho­tel. Supreme Court lawyer Gopal Subramanium acted as an in­de­pen­dent me­di­a­tor. “It was not easy,” Sa­mar­jitsinh says as he re­calls how an email from his un­cle in Mum­bai had al­most ended it all in Fe­bru­ary this year. “We are not go­ing ahead,” the cur­sory mes­sage read.

The cousins re-ini­ti­ated ne­go­ti­a­tions in May, and less than six months later, got ev­ery­one to agree to a set­tle­ment wherein both sides re­tained pos­ses­sion of as­sets they con­trolled.

The terms of con­sent signed on Oc­to­ber 23 give Sa­mar­jitsinh and his fam­ily ex­clu­sive own­er­ship of the Laxmi Vi­las Palace, all other build-

SHAILESH RAVAL/ www.in­di­a­to­day­im­ages.com

PRAT­APSINH WITH FA­THER SAN­GRAM­SINH; (LEFT) SA­MAR­JITSINH WITH HIS MOTHER SHUBNANGINIRAJE AND WIFE ARADHIKARAJE

MAN­DAR DEOD­HAR/

www.in­di­a­to­day­im­ages.com

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