India’s history is littered with incidents where unspeakable brutality has been carried on its citizens by outsiders, but look hard enough, and there are usually some Indians who had aided and abetted it.
Like most other leaders of the Congress party, Captain Amarinder Singh, the current Chief Minister of Punjab, is a dynast. He father, Yadavindra Singh, was the last Maharaja of Patiala, and his grandfather, Bhupinder Singh, was the Maharaja of Patiala from 1900 to 1938. Bhupinder Singh had close relations with the British — he owned 20 Rolls Royces, and even spent a season playing cricket for the MCC in London.
During Bhupinder Singh’s reign as the Maharaja of Patiala, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre had taken place. In 1919, nearly 20,000 people had gathered at the eponymous maidaan during a curfew, and acting Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer had ordered troops of the British Indian Army to fire their rifles into a crowd of unarmed civilians. Nearly 400 Indians had died in the brutal onslaught.
But it wasn’t as though the ruling Maharajas were looking out for these ordinary Indians. The then-Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, Michael O’Dwyer, fondly remembered the contributions of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh in his autobiography.
“In 1919, during the ‘Amritsar Massacre’, the Maharaja gave aid to the British,” he wrote in the Maharaja’s obituary for the Times.
Michael O’Dwyer also recounts the Majaraja’s loyalty to the British. “Bhupinder Singh was extremely loyal to the British empire. In October 1914, he left Patiala with his Imperial Service Troops and headed for the Western Front to command his troops there for the British. However, on the journey over he was beset by ill-health and had to return to India. He did though donate his troops to the First World War and spearheaded a large recruitment drive for volunteers. Patiala State sent more than 28,000 men to fight in the war and their involvement encouraged other Sikhs in the Punjab to volunteer; nearly 89,000 Sikhs were involved in the war. The total financial contribution of Patiala to the war in terms of material and cash was Rs 1,17,16,822/6/2,” he wrote.
And the Maharaja of Patiala, in turn, was handsomely rewarded by the British for his loyalty. “Singh was given Freedom of the City of Cardiff in 1918 and Freedom of Edinburgh in 1935. He was given the keys to Brighton in 1921 and unveiled the Southern Gateway of the Royal Pavilion there in October 1921, a gift from Indian princes for the kindness of Brighton to their wounded soldiers during the war,” he wrote.
Things didn’t turn quite as well for Michael O’ Dwyer. In 1940, in retaliation for the massacre, O’Dwyer was assassinated by revolutionary Udham Singh. The Maharajas of Patiala, though, did alright. After the death of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh 1938, his son Yadavindra Singh took over the throne, and became the first prince to accede to the Indian Union in 1947. His son, Amarinder Singh, now serves as the Chief Minister of Punjab as a member of the Congress party.