The Jodhpur connection with Ooty

The Arranmore Palace, spread over 36 acres, was built by Maharajah of Jodhpur Hanwant Singh in 1925 to be used as a retreat

Updated - May 27, 2022 10:59 am IST

Published - May 26, 2022 09:44 pm IST

The Tamizhagam Guesthouse in Udhagamandalam.

The Tamizhagam Guesthouse in Udhagamandalam. | Photo Credit: M. SATHYAMOORTHY

A few weeks ago, when issues concerning the Members of Legislative Assembly were deliberated in the House, Water Resources Minister Duraimurugan rejected a suggestion by a member for holding sittings in Udhagamandalam. He also recalled how his party, the DMK, had opposed such a move in the past (in 1959).

In 1959, the State legislature was bi-cameral. While the Assembly met in Udhagamandalam for 10 days, from April 20, the Legislative Council transacted its business during May 4-9. The Arranmore Palace, now called Tamizhagam guesthouse, accommodated the two Houses.

What was not much known was the Jodhpur connection with the historic building. It was built in 1925, when Hanwant Singh was the Maharajah of Jodhpur, as a retreat. Spread over 36 acres, with lush lawns and gardens (now maintained by the Horticulture Department), the structure has four suites, 35 rooms and one dormitory. Besides, it has two conference halls — the small one with a seating capacity of 30 and the big with the capacity of 200.

During May 2021-March 2022, the Palace drew 940 guests, of whom 939 were paying guests, according to the Public Department’s Policy Note for 2022-23.

A perusal of the materials provided by The Hindu Archives reveals that the idea of holding a session in Udhagamandalam cropped up in May 1956 when Kamaraj was the Chief Minister. As it acquired strength, Kamaraj and his colleagues, including C. Subramaniam and M. Bakthavatsalam, zeroed in on the Arranmore Palace as it was there that the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, a regional body, held its meeting in June 1948. The then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had inaugurated the meeting.

Before having the meetings of the legislature at the Palace, the State government decided to purchase it. The government, which had purchased the property at a cost of ₹ 5 lakh, took possession of the building on December 28, 1958, according to the official document. At that time, Gaj Singh was the Maharajah of Jodhpur. He still remains as the titular head of Jodhpur. Four months later, the Palace became the venue of the meetings of the Assembly and the Council. Subramaniam, who was the Finance Minister, told the Assembly once that the government had not gone in for any new furniture, while converting the ball room into the Assembly chamber.

A report published by The Hindu on May 3, 1959, providing an account of the Assembly’s sittings, said, “Over 6,000 visitors saw the proceedings of the House during its nine-day session. In fact, the average daily number of visitors was larger here than in Madras [the original name of Chennai], but owing to the limited accommodation in the galleries, they had to wait in long queues to gain admission and were allowed to watch the proceedings in batches at intervals of half-an-hour.” Out of 206 MLAs [then], 171 members, including the nominated member (an Anglo-Indian woman), attended the Udhagamandalam session.

It was on the second day of the session of the Assembly [April 21] that Speaker U. Krishna Rao announced that the government had decided to rename the Palace as Tamizhagam. This move figured during the question hour of the Council on May 9. As the State was then known as Madras, a member asked whether the changing of the name of Arranmore Palace was a prelude to renaming the State. Industries Minister R. Venkataraman, who was also the Leader of the House, replied that the government did not want to put any fetters on the imagination of members. Venkataraman, who later became President, had one unique distinction. It was at the Raj Bhavan, Udhagamandalam, that he was sworn in as Minister in April 1957. A. J. John was the Governor then.

Prior to 1959, on two occasions, the State’s legislative body met in Udhagamandalam. On May 25 and 26, 1915, the Governor’s Council, created under the Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909, held its deliberations under the presidency of the then Governor, Lord Pentland. The body, with less than 40 members, was filled mostly with Europeans. It met again two years later for three days, of course in the month of May.

An interesting fallout of the legislature’s meetings in 1959 was that some members had mooted the idea of having one of the sessions in Madurai, too, where the problem of accommodation would not be felt, unlike in Udhagamandalam. However, this proposal was not pursued.

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