The twilight of what was once referred to as “Indian India” (in contrast to “British India”) had already arrived when I was born in 1940 in Alwar.
A small but prosperous Princely State which came into existence in 1776, Alwar was situated in close proximity of Agra and Delhi, the capitals of the Mughal empire (1526-1858). Yet, it was not so near to Delhi; its large population of rebellious communities always foiled Mughal plans for extension of imperial control. The British “Company Sarkar” as well as post-1858 Crown Representatives also left Alwar well alone. Alwar (unlike, say, Udaipur Mewar, Jodhpur, Marwar, Kota, Haduoti and other Princely States of Rajputana Agency) was always open to change.
Maharaja Jey Singh (1892–1937), a descendent of the Kachhwaha dynasty which ruled Alwar (or Ulwar as it was also spelled). The Kachhwaha dynasty was not always cohesive and capable of throwing up strong and able rulers, one of whom was “wise” enough to issue an order for the murder of one of my ancestors, a key administrative officer in a manner which was dastardly as well as cowardly.
Historians have not yet chronicled this tale in adequate details, but it is certainly one of the prized heirlooms of my family which overcame this regal displeasure soon and provided more such high level functionaries to the Alwar darbar including my father who had to divert himself to Alwar after chocking –off his ICS ambitions, common enough in Delhi based St. Stephen’s College during twenties and thirties.
Once, the Alwar Maharaja peremptorily exiled my Grandfather, an administrative officer of Alwar state. Our family had barely overcome the Maharaja’s wrath when my grandfather was recalled shortly afterwards by a repentant ruler. My family soon overcame this regal displeasure and provided many such high level functionaries to the Alwar Durbar, including my father. My Grandma (who passed away in 1980) was the gainer since my Grandfather, a Dehradun-educated Forest Officer, had died early.
Thus started, my association with Alwar as an infant. I had just started going to school when my father was transferred as Collector, Bharatpur in 1948. My father was again transferred to Udaipur in 1952 and thereafter began a series of transfers to Jhalawar, Bikaner and Ajmer till we arrived and settled down in Jaipur in 1959.
I graduated from the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur in 1961 with an M.A in Economics and Public Administration, a newly created Department.
Field work during '67 and '77 Elections
In 1967 I did field–work in Alwar district during the Vidhan Sabha elections as well as in the Lok Sabha elections in 1977. I was a researcher running around urban slums and remote villages, working according to a random sample progrm spread over three Vidhan Sabha constituencies. Most people simply could not come to terms with the fact that the study attached equal weight to every person whose name was included in the electoral rolls.
I was able to develop close friendly relations with the political class of Alwar. One candidate during 1967 Vidhan Sabha elections was simply unable to hide his amazement when he ran into me at Rajour, an ancient imperial city now full of valuable ruins, which could be reached only after an arduous up-hill trek amidst tiger-infested territory.
My wife, Shashi, accompanied me to Alwar during the February-March 1977 poll study. As in 1967, I studied voting behaviour according to a similar research design.
The 1977 polls took place in troubled times and my profession could have really landed one in deep trouble as the quasi-constitutional noose of the Emergency was still tight as far as expression of political opinions was concerned.
I conducted my field work with seriousness, which in 1977 involved regular interaction with “opposition” political parties and political leaders who were trying to make the most of the electoral freedom and opportunity which Mrs. Indira Gandhi had granted, little knowing that it would prove to be her nemesis.
True to its political traditions, Alwar rejected en masse Mrs. Gandhi's draconian Emergency rule.
During my field work, I ran the great risk of being identified as a political activist, but being a “local” boy proved to be a great insurance. Being the eldest son of Alwar administrative elite was certainly a great help, especially when I ran into villagers who had seen me when I was an infant and could recognize me quite easily by my visible and audible physical disabilities.
My Alwar Recall
My own Alwar memories tell me that even though it was a major hot-spot during the Partition days with Muslims being victimized on a large scale. Yet I also recall that most of these Muslims were (also) Hindus. Many years later, Pratap Agarwal, an anthropologist from a U.S. University, undertook, with his family, a long spell of field-work amongst Meos. His writings testified that Alwar Meos remained bi-communal even after the horrors inflicted upon them. (Not a single mosque, amongst the many which were razed, has been re-built till date.) Many Meos have retraced their steps after they had started moving towards Pakistan, even though on return they found that their homes and farms had been occupied by incoming refugees from Pakistan.
Alwar is, obviously, a small dot on my mindscape but I do have a great affection for its traditions and institutions even though both are undergoing rapid changes. I lived in Alwar when Alwar was very small. Of course Alwar’s techno-economic profile has undergone change, its socio-cultural ethos does not seem to have undergone many profound changes as I have been keeping in touch with the Alwar crowd through my students who have come to my University after graduating from different colleges in Alwar district; its Raj Rishi College of yore has grown in strength and its large student population had to be hived-off to a new college while a separate Girls College has been established since long but while nearly two generations have passed since our family left Alwar.
Yet, Alwar is still neither industrial nor modern, notwithstanding all the efforts of the Rajasthan Government to establish Alwar as an ancillary to the industrial and commercial spill over of New Delhi and its extensions like NOIDA, Faridabad, Ghaziabad and Gurgoan.
Alwar’s fate, it seems, was decided when the Jaipur–Delhi highway via Alwar shifted to go through Kotputli instead. The new NH8 route has become popular and enables same day return from Delhi. The Jaipur–Alwar–Delhi road lies in neglect, even though it does service the tourists who flock to the Sariska sanctuary famous for its tigers.
(I would like to acknowledge hospitality and loquacity (after all, talking about politics is politics) of Shanti Swaroop Data and Mrs. Data, Shri Kashiram and family, Dharamvir and family, Ramjilal Yadav, Badri Prasad Gupta, Ramanand Agarwal, Bholanath, Shobha Ram, Jai Kishan Sharma, Uma Mathur (and family-on family account only) and, above all, Hari Shankar Goyal, my Research Assistant in the 1967 study who had graduated politically to become a socialist luminary in 1977.)