The coronation of Maharaja Vijaysinhji as the 37th Gohil Rajput ruler of the 4,000 square kilometres Rajpipla State took place on 10th December 1915. He had come to the gadi on the demise of his father Maharana Chhatrasinhji earlier that year on 26th September.
On 9th December, a day before his official coronation, foundation was laid of a large civil hospital with contemporary facilities, named after Maharana Chhatrasinhji. It was inaugurated on 21st February 1919 by the great ruler of Baroda Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwar. Only now, more than a century later, is a new civil hospital being built in the upcoming suburb of Jeetnagar. Maharaja Vijaysinhji also set up five regional dispensaries and a veterinary hospital.
Immediately on accession, the young Maharaja set about expanding the Rajpipla State Railway, which had been laid out by his father between Ankleshwar and Rajpipla in 1899. Maharaja Vijaysinhji built a bridge over River Karjan, which brought the terminus right to the edge of Rajpipla town. The bridge and new station were inaugurated by Lord Willingdon, Governor of Bombay Presidency, in February 1917.
The far-sighted ruler set up a 30-kilometres branch railway line from Jhagadia, near the border of the State close to the Narmada bank, to Netrang which opened up the forest areas and coal fields. This increased the Rajpipla State Railway network to 94 kilometres. He also set up 30 kilometres of steam railroads from towns along the Narmada to villages in the interior. He oversaw the construction of an extensive network of good motorable roads.
Maharaja Vijaysinhji built a huge, stately high school on a hillock overlooking the main bazaar. It stands tall to this day, imparting education to hundreds of children each year. Besides, he built several other schools in different parts of the State. He Introduced free primary education, affordable secondary education and scholarships of Rs.6,000 per annum for technical and collegiate education.
Agriculture and animal husbandry improved substantially through the implementation of drought and flood relief programmes. In the scarcity year 1918-19, Maharaja Vijaysinhji 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 better quality control. He improved the quality of cotton, grains and fruits. Short-stapled Ghoghari cotton was eliminated, and long-stapled 1027 A.L.F. (farm cotton) was introduced. As a consequence, the reputation of Rajpipla Cotton was built in Bombay and other cotton markets. He also regularised the land revenue system.
The Maharaja constructed a power house supplying electricity and water to the town. He was planning to build dams across the Narmada and the Karjan where both banks of the rivers fell in Rajpipla territory. This was to generate more electricity, augment supply of drinking water and for irrigation. The State was merged before this 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 south Rajasthan.
The State administration was streamlined. A salaried civil service was introduced, together with a system of retirement pensions, in order to eradicate corruption. The civil and criminal justice systems were reformed. Salaries of the army and police were increased.
A widow fund was set up. Arts were promoted through the Rajpipla Chitrashala. Sports were made compulsory for students in Rajpipla State. The dhaba ground hosted several games like cricket, football and hockey. Every effort was made to improve the quality of life for the people.
Town planning methods were introduced. A modern bazaar with a wide central avenue was laid out along with public garden, wadis for different communities, and even an aerodrome. Today, after the coming up of the Statue of Unity in the vicinity of Rajpipla, this aerodrome is being revived.
Evidence of Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s foresight was the constitution of a Legislative Assembly in the State. It was inaugurated on the 17th anniversary of his coronation, 10th December 1932. His objective was to take the people into greater confidence and associate them with himself in the administrative affairs of the State.
Despite reduction in the level of taxation, State revenues had reached nearly Rupees 51,00,000 (Rupees 51 lakhs) when the State was merged, as against Rupees 13,00,000 at the time of his accession in 1915.
When it came to the merger of Gujarat States, V.P. Menon, Secretary of States under Sardar Patel, decided that meetings would not be held at the Bombay Secretariat. He requested Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla to preside over and convene them at his own residence ‘Palm Beach’ on Nepeansea Road, Bombay. Maharaja Vijaysinhji played a major role in the merger of Gujarat States into the Union of India. The merger agreements were signed on 19th March 1948, after which Maharaja Vijaysinhji read out the following statement:
“We have the pleasure to inform you that, as rulers of Gujarat States, we believe that our Mother Country and particularly Gujarat looks up to us to make all sacrifices in the wider interests of India as a whole. We, therefore, have cheerfully responded to the call of duty and decided to take the first step in forming the province of Maha Gujarat by integrating our States with the province of Bombay. We invoke God’s blessings on our decision.”
Thereafter he handed over the administration of the State to the Praja Mandal until takeover by the Government of Bombay on 10th June. He then left for his summer abode at Old Windsor, England.
Today, on the 105th anniversary of his coronation, we pay obeisance to Maharaja Vijaysinhji for his sagacious, benevolent rule of nearly 33 years. His mark is still visible all over Rajpipla and is he revered to this day.