M A I N   N E W S

Special to the tribune
With Rs 550-cr gold kitty, Jaipur royals smile as Re falls
Shyam Bhatia in London

At least one prominent Indian family has every reason not to despair because of the devaluation of the rupee and the resulting sky rocketing price of gold. In fact, the royal family of Jaipur has a reason to smile as their known gold holdings are worth a minimum of $80 million and probably a lot more with the price of gold hitting historic upwards of Rs 30,000 per 10 grams.

The Jaipurs’ gold assets first came to public attention when Indira Gandhi declared her infamous state of Emergency, suspending elections and civil liberties and imprisoning those of her political opponents who dared to question her authoritarian powers.

One of the earliest victims of her unjust crackdown was Rajmata of Jaipur Maharani Gayatri Devi, a member of the Lok Sabha and one of the leaders of the Swatantrata Party, who was imprisoned in the Tihar jail in Delhi.

Before she dispatched her political rival to prison, Gandhi tried to publicly humiliate Gayatri Devi by sending a posse of tax inspectors around to her royal palace in Jaipur.

The inspectors’ stated mission was to look for Gayatri Devi’s hidden, undeclared assets, especially gold, that could be confiscated by the exchequer.

After two weeks of intensive searching, including the use of metal detectors, the inspectors came across a tranche of gold biscuits - valued then at Rs 26 lakh - and gold “mohurs” (coins) dating back to the time of Shah Jehan and Jehangir, and valued at Rs 8 crore.

The story of how the gold was discovered, confiscated and ultimately returned to the family following a court case that lasted 30 years is told by Rani Bhavnesh Kumari of Patiala, a Yale law graduate and sister of Maharaja Yadvinder Singh of Patiala, who was legal adviser to the Jaipurs and other Indian royal families.

“I was the legal adviser to Gayatri Devi and (her stepson) Maharaja Bhawani Singh of Jaipur when in 1975 Gandhi ordered an income tax raid,” Rani Bhavnesh told The Tribune in an exclusive interview.

Now aged 80, Rani Bhavnesh explained: “I happened to be sitting on a huge metal trunk in the palace where the Raj Mata was living. There were these 200 revenue chaps looking around and nothing was found for nine days.

“The next morning, they suddenly moved a trunk and their metal detector said there’s something down there… there was a plastic sheet and out came the Jaipur collection of gold coins from when the Jaipur rulers were generals to the Mughals. There were Rs 8 crore worth of gold coins and Rs 26 lakh worth of gold biscuits bought in 1926. The gold ‘mohurs’ were valued in 1975 at Rs 8 crore.

The Indian and international value of gold has shot up 60 times since 1976, putting the known collection of gold coins at around Rs 480 crore ($76 million). Add the antique value of the gold coins plus the value of the gold biscuits that were also confiscated at that time and the true figure is likely to be closer to Rs 550 crore ($90 mn).

The glittering asset

  • The gold assets of Jaipur's royal family first came to public attention when Indira Gandhi declared Emergency in 1975 and sent tax inspectors to the royal palace
  • The gold biscuits discovered back then were valued at Rs 26 lakh and gold 'mohurs' (coins) at Rs 8 crore
  • Since the discovery, the international value of gold has shot up 60 times, putting the net value of gold coins at Rs 480 crore
  • The antique value of the gold coins plus the value of the gold biscuits takes the total value to Rs 550 crore





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