Modern infrastructure and reforms of the rulers of Rajpipla

Railway bridge over the River Karjan being inaugurated by Lord Willingdon in 1917 during the reign of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla.

Railway bridge over the River Karjan being inaugurated by Lord Willingdon in 1917 during the reign of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla.

The takeover by the British crown from the East India Company in 1858, following the Mutiny, saw a period of stability in the Indian princely states, free of threat of external aggression. The rulers could focus on development and reforms in the period leading to independence of the country in 1947, and subsequently the merger of the native kingdoms.

The 34th Gohil Rajput ruler of Rajpipla, Maharana Gambhirsinhji succeeded to the gadi when his father Verisalji II abdicated in his favour on 17th November 1860. He reigned under a Council of Superintendence until he came of age. Invested with full ruling powers in 1863, he was the only Rewa Kantha chief with first-class jurisdiction, that is, power to try for capital offences all persons except British subjects. Maharana Gambhirsinhji was one of the Indian princes present at the Imperial Assemblage at Delhi on 1.1.1887. He built the 40 miles long road from Nandod (New Rajpipla) to Ankleshwar railway station on the Delhi-Bombay main line, at a cost of Rs.2,00,000 (₤ 20,000). Gambhirsinhji built schools, a dispensary and a jail, and carried out police reforms. During his reign Rajpipla State had its own postal system.

His successor Maharana Chhatrasinhji was educated at Rajkumar College, Rajkot, and trained as a magistrate and revenue officer before his accession. Having succeeded on 10th January 1897, he was installed on the gadi at the Fort, Junaraj (Old Rajpipla) on 20th May 1897, with full ruling powers. He immediately set about instituting a programme of reform and development, and was instrumental in saving thousands of lives during the epic famines of 1899-1902, granting famine relief during this period amounting to Rupees 9,00,000. He built the Ankleshwar-Rajpipla railway line, which he initiated in the very first year of his reign in 1897. Having travelled widely in India and Europe, he attended the coronation of King George V in London in 1910. He also attended the Durbar at Delhi in 1911.

Maharana Vijaysinhji, who succeeded on the death of his father on 26th September 1915, was educated at Rajkumar College, Rajkot, and Imperial Cadet Corps., Dehra Dun. He was invested with full ruling powers at the Fort, Junaraj on 10th December 1915, and later bestowed the British title of Maharaja on 1st January 1921. Maharaja Vijaysinhji began construction of a modern civil hospital in the very first year of his reign in memory of his father. It was inaugurated by the great ruler of Baroda, Sayajirao Gaekwad in 1919. He also built a modern hospital, five regional dispensaries, and a veterinary hospital. Having introduced free primary education, affordable secondary education, and scholarships of Rs.6,000 per annum for technical and collegiate education, Maharaja Vijaysinhji constructed the huge, stately high school in the early 1930s on a small hillock opposite the main bazaar. A widow fund was set up.

Agriculture and animal husbandry improved substantially during his reign through the implementation of drought and flood relief programmes. In the scarcity year 1918-19, he granted liberal remissions and suspensions amounting to Rs.3,00,00. Another Rs.4,00,000 were spent on relief works and gratuitous doles. Farm yields grew with modern farming methods, introduction of new varieties of seeds, and improved quality control. The quality of cotton, grains and fruits were improved. Short-stapled Ghoghari cotton was eliminated, and long-stapled 1027 A.L.F. (farm cotton) introduced. As a consequence, the reputation of Rajpipla cotton was built in Bombay and other cotton markets. The land revenue system was regularised.

The visionary ruler constructed a power house supplying electricity and water to the town. He had plans to build a dam across the Narmada to generate electricity, supply drinking water and for irrigation, and was in the process of raising finances for the project. The State was merged before his dream could be realized. But it was a precursor to the modern Sardar Sarovar Dam, which has become a lifeline for the people of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

He extended the railway line from the old station right into Nandod town by building a magnificent iron bridge over the river Karjan, which was inaugurated by Lord Willingdon, the Governor of Bombay, in 1917. The Maharaja set up a 12-mile railway line between the Narmada bank near Jhagadia – on the Rajpipla-Ankleshwar line – and Netrang, which was completed by the year 1932, increasing the network to 62 miles. He also constructed a 19-mile steam railroad, and a tramway connecting the towns along the Narmada with villages in the interior.

An extensive network of good motorable roads was constructed. Interestingly, for one who preferred sea voyage, Maharaja Vijaysinhji had an airstrip laid out, on which small planes landed in Rajpipla as early as the 1930s. He had plans to convert this into a 150-acre aerodrome on the banks of the Karjan, south of the town of Rajpipla.

The civil and criminal justice systems were reformed. A salaried civil service was introduced, together with a system of retirement pensions, which did much to eradicate corruption; The salaries of the army and police were increased.

The far-sighted ruler introduced town planning methods. He built a modern bazaar with a wide central avenue, town hall, public garden, community centres for various communities, and a large guest house.

Sports were made compulsory for students in Rajpipla State. The dhaba ground hosted several sports like cricket, football and hockey. Maharaja Vijaysinhji built a club, named Rajpipla Gymkhana, which was also inaugurated by Lord Willingdon, on 26th February 1917. There was a polo ground beside, which was subsequently built upon after merger of the State.

Thus, much of the infrastructure still being used by the people of Rajpipla was set up by the last three Gohil Rajput rulers in the concluding nine decades of their total rule of six centuries over the principality of Rajpipla.

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