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Sir Bhagvatsinji - The Great Ruler

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    50 years ago, Hindu youth of noble lineage and still nobler destiny to cup the reins of government of ruler of Gondal, a state of Bombay some thousand sq. mile in extend. Today his grateful and devoted people begin to celebrate the Jubilee of reins which, both by its record of achievement and by its length has well deserved the epithet of Golden.

     His Highness Maharaja Bhagvatsinhji, Thakore Saheb of Gondal was born in 1865 and from his earliest year showed promise of those attributes, which have since earned for him the title of “The Selfless Ruler”. In preparation for the arduous responsibilities he was one day to assume he applied himself, during his minority with uncommon diligence to the acquisition of a sound and practical education and soon proved to be of such scholarly ability that according to an eminent ability ‘In knowledge he stood head and shoulder among is fellows’. 

     He was not yet 19 year of age when, by virtue of his extraordinary ability, he was installed as the administrative head of the state, yet he had already earned for himself a considerable reputation as author and scholar. In 1883 he made a tour to Europe, and his account entitled “The journal of a visit to England” was remarkable for the evidence it contained of a capacity shrewdly to observe and rightly to appraise the various aspect of our western civilization.

      By the time he was 21 his attainments had been recognized in striking fashion. He was made a fellow of Bombay University in year of his installation, and, two year later, took in the ordinary course, by examination, the degree of MBCM and MRCP at Edinburgh University. Before the age of 30 he had been invested by Her Majesty Queen Victoria as Knight Commander of the Indian Empire, had added to his academic distinctions the degrees of Doctor of Laws (Edinburgh), Doctor of Civil Law (Oxford), Doctor of Medicine (Edinburgh), and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, and had been made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In his thirty-third year he received at the hands of Her Majesty at Balmoral the rank of Knight Grand Commander of the Indian Empire.

       Of the personal attributes of the Maharaja Shree, as distinct from the scholastic attainments, which have so aided him in his task of government, much has been written by the chroniclers of the period in this and other countries. They cannot, however, be illustrated better than by the transformation he has wrought in the condition of Gondal and its people.

        It is given to few men of his country to enjoy so long a life, for the years between the fiftieth and sixtieth are the most critical with Hindus. Fewer still are able to pursue so active an existence and to practice with success the arts of statecraft for half a century. Rarest distinction of all, however, is to have in the hearts of his people – not all of who are of his own race and religious persuasion. Let us see what good has been done in Gondal to earn such loyalty and affection for its Ruler.

         Gondal is an inland State in the Kathiawar province of the Bombay Presidency. It depends for its income chiefly upon the yield of the soil, and the welfare of the agricultural community has been one of the main preoccupations of its Ruler since his assumption of office. In the course of his speech at the Installation others, which has been amply fulfilled, and to which much of the subsequent prosperity of Gondal is attributable, He said: “It will be my earnest desire to see……. that the Kunbi enjoys the fruits of his labour.”

         A liberal policy of tax revision was instituted in order to lighten the burden of the Kunbis, of cultivators, who hitherto had laboured under financial and other handicaps of such a character that tillage of land, the State, was an uphill and unpromising vocation. The peasants were indigent, ill housed and nourished, hampered by illiteracy and by the primitive nature of their equipment and environment. That they ever did raise crops betokened fortitude deserving of the help that the Maharaja Saheb gave them.

        Possessed of the firm conviction that the future of Gondal was inseparably bound up with the prosperity of its peasantry the Maharaja Shree pursued a policy of light assessment which, during the half-century of his administration, has improved immeasurably the condition, the outlook and the hopes of this important section of the community.

       More than 50 taxes were abolished, and a new system of assessment, obviating the hardships, complications and delays of the old, was introduced. Substantial amounts owing by subjects to the State in respect of debts incurred prior to his installation were remitted, and in 1909 even Customs duties were abolished.

      These sacrifices of State revenue notwithstanding, Gondal’s farsighted Ruler has been unstinting in the allocation of expenditure on public services and in the provision of means whereby the peasants might enjoy a broader, freer and less hazardous existence.

       Insufficient rainfall and resultant failures of crops had many times reduced his people to a lamentable state of hopeless famine and despair. By lavish expenditure of both energy and money a vast system of irrigation was inaugurated. The State today has 7904 wells, against 2,250 in 1884, and two huge reservoirs. The Veri waterworks, besides irrigating 2,300 acres of land between the town of Gondal, capital of the State, and Moviya, eight miles away, supply drinking water to the capital. A sum of Rs. 6,51,000 was spent on the construction of the lake at Paneli, a village on the Gondal railway, and the canal, which is ten miles long, distributes water to 8,400 acres.

       The results of this enlightened policy are everywhere apparent. Arable acreage increased from 2,26,550 in 1884 to 3,11,634 in 1934. The annual income of the State, which was less than 14 lacs of rupees when His Highness became Ruler, exceeded 79 lacs in 1934. Fifty years ago the cultivator, having despite all adverse circumstances raised his crop , struggled to convey the produce to market in primitive vehicles drawn with the greatest difficulty over crude and marshy tracks. The Maharaja Shree has built 300 miles of roads, 57 miles of municipal streets, innumerable culverts and bridges that place Gondal in an enviable position among native State in respect to transport routes.

        The Maharaja Saheb of Gondal with the zeal of Caesar has developed communication. There is a network of railways, owned by the State, serving the more important parts of Gondal, and a well-organised telephone system links the villages.

         Urban development in the State of Gondal has been carried out on a scale in every way compatible with country’s agricultural policy. Pratically everything that can be devised to make the life of the inhabitants, of both towns and villages, safe, healthy and comfortable has been introduced, and even the casual observer must at once be impressed by the clean and orderly appearance of the streets, the number of stone-built houses in the villages and the handsome – public. Many of the State and municipal buildings are competitive in architectural quality with the most modern edifices of a European capital.

         Education and hygiene, as might be expected under a Ruler so distinguished in scholarship and medicine, have throughout the period of his administration been foremost in the Maharaja Thakore Saheb’s schemes of development and reconstruction. He has done much to dispel the cloud of illiteracy, which darkened the lives of the people, and has himself compiled a lexicon of the Gujarati language – a remarkable achievement for a Ruler who devotes so much of his time to the details of administrative work and to the personal welfare of his subjects. The latest feature of the Maharaja Shree’s educational policy is the introduction of compulsory female education. The number of schools in the State has increased from 30 in 1884 to 191 in 1934 and scholars totaled 19,780 boys and girls out of a population of more than 1,35,000 attended schools.

      There is no space here to recount, even in the barest outline, the full tale of benefits and amenities introduced by this Ruler, who, having drunk deep at the wells of both Western and Oriental culture, pledged himself to a programme of service which has turned out to be more comprehensive, more constructive and more fruitful than even he could have imagined fifty years ago.

      Trade has prospered, poverty, disease and crime have ceased to be insoluble problems, and unemployment does not exist. Throughout the country are such modern urban features as electricity supply, waterworks, public parks, well-aligned asphalted roads, playgrounds, markets, hospitals and infirmaries; His Highness was the first to start a traveling dispensary, as he was also a pioneer in the development of railway enterprise. One of his most conspicuous achievements was the establishment of a boarding college for the sons of landowners – a class whose interests had hitherto run counter to those of the ruling chiefs.

      In a State where such prosperity reigns there has been no change in the civil list expenditure for fifty years. The Maharaja Shree sets his face against personal and public extravagance, and exemplifies his policy by a frugal and unostentatious life, eschewing magnificence for himself and mixing freely and simply with his noteworthy to students of Eastern life, that the Maharaja Saheb of Gondal is more accessible than many a business man in the Western world; he will receive any of his people, rich or poor, and give for the racial problems that beset so often and so sorely administrators in the East, these have no incidence in Gondal, where Hindu and Mohamedan live together in harmony.

      His own words addressed on one occasion to “fellow natives of Dhoraji”, best summarise the personal qualities of the great Ruler in India. “Life” he said, “be it long or be it short, can have no value for me unless I can be of some use to my people.” It is this sentiment which has inspired and governed the administrative acts of a long and distinguished career; which, by the light it throws upon the spirit of the man himself, explains the reverence and affection of a people for its Prince; and which, no doubt, will make for Gondal and its Ruler a still more illustrious future.




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