Who owns Dholpur Palace? How did Dushyant Singh get possession of the property? How did Lalit Modi become a stakeholder in the palace?
On Monday, the Congress claimed Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and her son’s partner Lalit Modi usurped Dholpur Palace from the government. The party quoted her estranged husband Hemant Singh to claim that Dholpur Palace was handed over to the government nearly four decades back.
“Today, we present you the documents where Lalit Modi and Vasundhara Raje changed government property into personal property. In 1954, the Dholpur Riyasat merged with the Union in Independent India and in 1977 the Dholpur Palace was made government property. Despite the Dholpur Palace being the property of the government, Raje and Lalit Modi proceeded to convert it into a high-end private luxury hotel,” Congress leader Jairam Ramesh alleged. He said Raje’s husband had admitted in 1980 that the Palace belongs to the government.
The story of the palace is complicated. For nearly 30 years, Raje’s husband Hemant Singh and his son Dushyant fought for it before striking a compromise.
In the summer of 2006, in the middle of this grim domestic dispute which often turned ugly, I met Hemant Singh, scion of the royal family of Dholpur, at a hotel in Connaught Palace.
I had sought an appointment with him to talk about a story I was researching for a national daily. Accompanied by his lawyer and a few assistants, including a feisty young girl who introduced herself as Rudrani Singh, the CM’s estranged husband insisted on checking my identification card and other details. Only after being satisfied, he decided to speak on the subject: the dispute over Dholpur Palace.
Hemant Singh is the last recognised titular king of Dholpur, a Jat kingdom just a few kilometers from Agra. His mother Raja Beti (Urmila Devi) was the daughter of Raja Udaibhan Singh. In 1954, when Udaibhan Singh died, the late king’s widow adopted her grandson as the heir to the throne.
In 1972, Hemant got married to Vasundhara Raje. But soon after the birth of their only child Dushyant, the marriage turned acrimonious and the two separated. A bitter battle for divorce followed. The marriage was annulled by a court, but the decree was challenged by Raje.
While the marital discord was being heard by a court, in 1978, Dushyant Singh’s maternal grandmother Vijayaraje Scindia filed a case for a share in the property owned by the Dholpur royals.
The disputed holdings included the City Palace of Dholpur, a house in Delhi’s Panchsheel Marg, a number of vintage cars, including a few Roll’s Royces, agricultural land, a lodge at Shimla. Together they were estimated to be worth around 250 crore.
The dispute went on for three decades. But in 2007, when Raje was the chief minister of Rajasthan, it was settled and legally approved by the Additional District Judge of Fast Track Court Number 2 in Bharatpur.
Hemant Singh got rights over the property in Delhi while Dushyant became the owner of the Shimla lodge and the properties in Dholpur including the City Palace, adjoing land and palaces, a lush-green garden, around two dozen vintage cars and the jewels kept in the treasury at Dholpur Palace.
The palace was soon rechristened Raj Niwas Palace and converted into a hotel by Dushyant Singh. A few days ago it was revealed that former IPL chief Lalit Modi had invested in Dushyant’s company Niyati Heritage, which claims to own Dholpur Palace. Modi bought shares in the company for an astronomical price of nearly Rs 96000 per share. Raje also claims to have purchased shares in Niyant Heritage but just at a price of Rs 10 per share. Since Niyant Heritage has not filed its balance sheets for the past five years, the whole business is sounded in secrecy.
So, why did Hemant and Dushyant fight over a property that didn’t belong to them? Why did Hemant Singh claim, as the Congress alleges, that the Palace was acquired by the government in 1997?
One theory is that several facts were hidden from the court and the government (under Raje) did not put up its case strongly. The other explanation is that Hemant Singh found it convenient to give up rights over a disputed Palace in return for a clean title of the Delhi property. And, the third explanation, of course, is that the Palace was never acquired and was always a property of the Dholpur royals.
The Raje-Modi-Dushyant story is still unfolding. Secrets from the dark corridors of the Dholpur Palace are likely to stumble out soon.