Dhrangadhra (Gujarat), Aug 2 (IANS) Meghrajsinh Jhala, the erstwhile ruler of the Dhrangadhra Halvad state of Gujarat, described as one of the most progressive figures of his time, died Sunday night of age-related complications. He was 87.
Jhala, who either ruled or held his title as the maharaja of the 13-gun salute state until 1970 when the Indian government fully abolished royalty, was said to be the last surviving knight of either of the orders of chivalry of the British Raj. In a series of measures that distinguished his tenure, Jhala enacted laws that required the removal of untouchability, compulsory free primary education, child marriage restraint, women's property rights, Hindu widows' remarriage, as well labour reform and village and municipal self-government.
He was 'crowned' the ruler in 1942 after his father, Sir Ghanshyamsinh Ajitsini Sahib Bahadur's death that year. Notwithstanding his short tenure as a ruler, he remained a highly regarded titular figure in the state, enjoying nearly the same reverence of his people right until the time of his death.
On Aug 9, 1947, he acceded to India even while reserving sovereignty. This week he would have celebrated the 63rd anniversary of that decision had he lived.
A man of varied academic interests he was also among the most educated, having studied first at St. Joseph's Academy, Dehra Dun and Shivaji Military School, Pune to be followed by Christ Church, Oxford where he obtained a B.Litt in 1958 and then studied at both the Ruskin School of Drawing as well as the Institute for Social Anthropology, Oxford.
He was received in private audience by King George VI and witnessed the final reading of the India Independence Bill in the House of Commons in 1947.
Meghraj recognized after India's independence the importance of transforming himself into a political leader when he went on to become a member of Gujarat's legislative assembly in 1967 from Surendranagar and later a member of parliament from Jhalavad from 1967 to 1971.
Among his many honours were King George VI Coronation Medal (1937), Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (KCIE 1947), Indian Independence Medal (1947) and Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953). The last honour followed after he attended the coronation of British queen who still remains Britain's crown.
In his later years, Meghraj remained active in a host of social, cultural and charitable causes, using his strong personal network to advance what he felt strongly about.
His remains were scheduled to be cremated after an elaborate funeral from his palace in the centre Dhrangadhra, about 100 km northwest of Ahmedabad.