Rival claims from Raja Harinder Singh’s younger brother Majitinder Singh’s family
The tussle over the Rs.20,000-crore property of the royal house of Faridkot, which was settled in favour of the late Raja Harinder Singh’s two daughters by a Chandigarh court on July 25, has developed a twist in the tail.
Evidently, the frail, unassuming 85-year-old Amrit Kaur, the Raja’s elder daughter who — due to the court’s verdict has come to own half of the fabulous property of the Faridkot house — will now have to contend with rival claims from the family of her father’s deceased younger brother Majitinder Singh who have produced yet another ‘will’ made in 1952.
Ms. Amrit Kaur is living with her retired police officer husband in Chandigarh.
Majitinder Singh’s grandson Amarinder Singh Brar claimed that contrary to reports that only Ms. Amrit Kaur has been disputing the will of 1982, now declared as forged by the court, he said their claim to the entire property is protected according to the Rule of Primogeniture preserved by the article covenant signed between the government and Raja Harinder Singh, when the State ceded its territory to India on May 5, 1948. He claimed that Section 5 (ii) of the Hindu Succession Act 1956, according to which the two sisters had been given the entire property, “actually exempts application of the Act to the properties of erstwhile rulers, and the exception has also been recognised by the Supreme Court.”
Mr. Brar claimed that the Rule of Primogeniture (the right of the first-born son or eldest surviving male heir to inherit the family estate) is a customary tradition that prevailed in ruling princely families, including Faridkot, and cited examples from his family tree to prove that several times in the past the younger son has inherited the State when the elder son died or did not leave a male heir.
The only son of Raja Harinder Singh died in 1981 and the Raja himself passed away in 1989. Of his three daughters, Maheepinder Kaur died in 2002 in Mashobra under mysterious circumstances, while the others, Ms. Amrit Kaur and Ms. Deepinder Kaur inherited the property as per the court’s verdict.
Mr. Brar quoted from the will of 1952 to point out that the Raja actually disinherited Ms. Amrit Kaur because she married a commoner, the Raja’s ADC Harpal Singh. “Since the will of 1982 has been declared as invalid then this 1952 will comes into force,” he said.
However, Ms. Amrit Kaur told The Hindu that her father left no will, and doubts the authenticity of this one too. “I married in 1952 and in 1955 my father formed a Trust in England, making all of us children the beneficiaries. I continue to get my share of the income from it, and after my brother died, the bank operating it, following the Rule of Primogeniture began depositing his share also in my account. I continue to get his share till date.” She and her lawyer stress that this is because the Rule of Primogeniture as envisaged in the Raja of Faridkot Estate Act 1948 provides that if the holder of Faridkot estate has no legitimate male descendant surviving then the succession shall pass to the close agnates, of which Ms. Amrit Kaur is the eldest.
Meanwhile, as the court has declared that the Meharwal Khewaji Trust — which has been controlling the properties since the Raja’s death in 1989 and is headed by Ms. Deepinder Kaur — is non-existent and invalid, there is a question mark over who will administer the properties. Ms. Amrit Kaur says she has not thought about it as yet, while her lawyer Ms. Khaira alleged that the ‘so-called trustees’ have withdrawn Rs. 2 crore from two banks in Faridkot after the judgment came. “They are criminally liable for this action,” he said.
Ms. Amrit Kaur, meanwhile, is looking forward to the prospect of being able to visit her family palaces in Faridkot which she was barred from visiting since 1995 by the Trust. “They told me that I could visit only if I withdrew the law suit.” She alleges that her deceased sister Maheepinder Kaur, who had been made vice-chairperson of the Trust, had learnt of its illegality and challenged it in 1998. “She died under mysterious circumstances and the Trust sold off precious paintings by old masters and several pieces of antique furniture from the palace in Mashobra where she stayed.”
Ms. Amrit Kaur’s battle now is with her younger sister Ms. Deepinder Kaur, chairperson of the now defunct Trust, who married into the royal family of Burdwan in Bengal, and the heirs of her father’s brother Majitinder Singh. The other two sides have already declared that they will appeal against the court order that gives her the entire property. Quite evidently, there is much more to this royal saga that is expected to reveal more twists and turns.