Boston-educated Yaduveer Gopalraj Urs, the new Maharaja of Mysore, has not only inherited massive properties but also a barrage of litigation.
By Imran Qureshi
It has all the ingredients of a social drama that would make a good movie. After all, nothing sells like royalty in India. So, when a 23-year-old undergraduate from Boston went through an elaborate ceremony in May this year to be anointed head of the 600-year-old Wodeyar dynasty, everyone went gaga over it and Mysore hit international headlines.
But many did not like Yaduveer Gopalraj Urs to be given the exalted title of “Maharaja of Mysore’’ almost 41 years after the last maharaja, Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, passed away. Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar’s son, Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, who passed away in 2013, was the last recognized Prince of Mysore. Yaduveer is the grand nephew of Srikantadatta. So, why would a young man studying abroad want to be crowned the new Maharaja?
Sceptics have described the anointment in unfavorable terms. Some have called him a “King without a Kingdom’’. Others have described royalty as the “biggest landlord’’, given the large properties that will be inherited. Still others consider it the “best real estate deal’’ going for anyone born in the family. That’s natural considering the huge number of properties that the maharaja had declared in 1950, when the state joined the Indian union.
These properties include the majestic Mysore Palace, the Windsor Castle-like Ban-galore Palace, Lalit Mahal Palace, Jagan Mohan Palace, Rajendra Vilas Palace on Chamundi Hills and Fern Hill Palace in Ooty. There’s also land in various parts of the state. But large portions of the properties were lost because the last maharaja did not think of registering them. So, when Indira Gandhi abolished privy purses in 1971, the reality of democracy hit the royalty rather harshly.
The unregistered lands were either usur-ped or encroached upon and legalized on the basis of so-called agreements with the last official maharaja, say long-time observers. In many cases, it was simply because there were no caretakers for the property. The Urban Land Ceiling Act too hurt the family. Large portions of the remaining properties are under litigation, from the lowest court in Mysore to the Supreme Court.
So, why would Yaduveer agree to be adopted by Pramodadevi Wodeyar, wife of late Srikan-tadatta Wodeyar, to head a dynasty with so many problems? Or, for that matter, why would Chaduranga Kanthraj Urs (son of late Princess Gayatri Devi, sister of Srikantadatta Wodeyar) file a partition suit in the court of the City Civil Judge, Bengaluru, when the properties have shrunk dramatically over the years with not much hope of a solution soon?
Kanthraj Urs was chosen to conduct the funeral rites of Srikantadatta Wodeyar (who was issueless like several predecessors who sat on the Mysore throne, allegedly because of a curse). Urs’ submission before the court said: “The plaintiff eventually became close to him (Srikantadatta Wodeyar) and it was generally believed that he was being groomed as his successor in matters of state and privileges.’’
Urs’ angst is against Pramodadevi. “No, I wasn’t expecting to be named as successor.
I didn’t go begging for it. It was she who proposed that first on January 26, 2014. Within a few hours, she propped up my seven-year-old son’s name. When I and my wife felt traumatic about it, she suggested the name of Aditya Gurudev, son of Indrakshidevi (another sister of Srikantadatta). He declined. Yaduveer became the fourth choice,’’ Urs told India Legal.
His main grouse is that Pramodadevi “became abruptly hostile when the issue of just partition among all the co-heirs was raised by him. Urs’ point is that the 1984 family deed of settlement was “iniquitous, unfair and unconscionable and is also not binding on the plaintiff as he was a minor at the time’’. He also wanted a permanent injunction restraining Pramodadevi from alienating, encumbering or otherwise creating a third-party interest in the properties.
Pramodadevi declined to speak on any of the issues raised by Urs because she felt it was “subjudice’’. But her objections in the court point out that 1984 settlement cannot be assailed by a grandson “through a daughter of the Mysore Maharaja on the plea that the terms of the settlement are inequitable”. The estate of Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar is an “impartible estate governed by the rule of lineal primogeniture’’.
Her basic point is that Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar had created trusts with substantial properties in the names of his daughters. These were still being enjoyed by the children of the sisters. In addition, Srikantadatta Wodeyar had also given maintenance to all the sisters as per the 1984 settlement.
The tussle, therefore, boils down to control of the existing properties for possible exploitation of resources in future. “It is fundamentally a problem of real estate,’’ says Prof Nanjaraj Urs, a historian of the Wodeyar dynasty. He’s right, given the fact that even conservative estimates put the value of the properties of the Wodeyar family at “hundreds, if not thousands, of crores’’.
So, Yaduveer has inherited property disputes, whose settlement seems a long way off as the court is yet to frame the issues in this civil suit. To a commoner, this would appear like a game of Russian Roulette, where there’s no harm taking a chance since the stakes
are so high.