On his 128th birth anniversary, a look at the work and life of Maharaja Shri Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla

Maharaja Shri Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla, who ascended the gadi in 1915 A.D., carried out massive reforms and infrastructure works. He established a stately high school where only nominal fees were charged, and introduced free primary education and scholarships. He built a large civil hospital in memory of his father Maharana Shri Chhatrasinhji in the capital Nandod, five dispensaries and a veterinary hospital in the State. A criminal-and-civil court was set up, pensions were paid to public servants, and the salaries of the police and military were increased.

The far-sighted ruler ordered the laying of good motorable roads. He added the Jhagadia-Netrang section to the Rajpipla Railways. He also set up a 19-mile (31 kilometres) steam railroad and tramway connecting the towns along the river Narmada with villages in the interior, and a power house supplying electricity and water to Rajpipla town. His town planning as far back as 1927 was far-sighted, and builders were given permission to construct, conditional to leaving 3 to 4 feet (about 1 metre) space for future widening of roads. The designs of new buildings were well integrated and in harmony with the surroundings.

Paying special attention to agriculture, Maharaja Vijaysinhji regularised the land revenue system, and carried out massive relief efforts during droughts and floods. He improved the quality of cotton, grains and fruits grown in his territory. Even though taxes were reduced in terms of percentage, the revenue of the State increased from Rupees 1,300,000 to Rupees 2,700,000 per annum in the period 1915-1930, and peaked at Rupees 3,600,000 in 1948 when the State merged with the Indian Union.

A keen horseman, Maharaja Vijaysinhji maintained one of the finest stables of race horses in India and England, marked by quality and not quantity. His thoroughbreds won several prestigious races, including the first Indian Derby in 1919 (Tipster), the Irish Derby in 1926 and Belgian Grand Prix in 1927 (Embargo), and the blue riband of the turf, the Epsom Derby of England in 1934 (Windsor Lad). Maharaja Vijaysinhji is still the only Indian owner to have bagged the English Derby, considered the greatest horse race in the world, cheered on by an estimated quarter to half a million people which included King George V and Queen Mary of Britain and other members of the royal family. Maharaja Vijaysinhji thereby completed a brilliant hat-trick of Derby wins: the first-ever Indian Derby, the Irish Derby and the coveted Epsom Derby of England, making him arguably the greatest-ever Indian racehorse owner.

Sports like cricket, football and hockey were made compulsory for students by Maharaja Vijaysinhji, who equipped Rajpipla with a polo ground and gymkhana club. A unique feature of the Rajpipla royal family was its polo team comprising Maharaja Vijaysinhji and his three sons Yuvraj Rajendra Singhji, Maharajkumar Pramod Singhji and Maharajkumar Indrajeet Singhji. Having a passion for cars like his father, Maharaja Vijaysinhji owned, among other top makes, twelve Rolls-Royce cars, from the Silver Ghost 1913 to the Phantom III 1937.

Maharaja Vijaysinhji laid out an airstrip in Rajpipla where aircraft landed in the 1930s and 1940s. During World War II, he donated three Spitfire fighter planes, named ‘Rajpipla’, ‘Windsor Lad’ and ‘Embargo’, and a Hawker Hurricane aircraft ‘Rajpipla II’. He also had plans to build a dam across River Narmada to facilitate irrigation and generate electricity, precursor to the present-day gigantic Sardar Sarovar project, and was in the process of raising investment for it when merger of Rajpipla State with the Union of India took place in 1948.

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