An Aviator, Magician and Scientist
Maharaja Hanwant Singhji was a ruler with wide interests and varied personal qualities as a scientist, magician, aviator, secular politician, liberal democrat, patriot, patron of art & music, and a flamboyant & dynamic leader.
He was born on 9th June,1923. At the age of 13 he was sent off to Ajmer to attend Mayo College. Since childhood he was interested in the study & making of small firearms. In 1942, at the age of 19, (when currently most of the students in India are preparing for IIT- Joint Entrance Exams) he made a Tommygun which was considered one of the finest in the world in those times; as it was light in weight, user friendly, with multiple cartridge firing capability and emitted less sound than any other gun in the same category. He made a Novel .9 mm carbine in 1945 which was found useful by the then Presiding Officer at the arms factory of Govt. of India at Isapur. Besides this he suggested improvements in the existing .303 Rifle used by the Indian Army and his suggestions were welcomed and corrections were made to the existing rifle. He also invented a “Pen Pistol”, perhaps first among the category of personalised mini weapons.
He also invented the “Camera Gun”, which was specially designed to assure steady aiming. Designed to take various telescopic lenses, the rifle butted camera brought distant subjects up close, permitting exact aiming of the subjects as far as half a mile.
Aviation was another subject which interested him. He initiated expansion and upgradation of the Jodhpur Flying Club and the Indian Airforce Training Centre in Jodhpur. He was conferred with the rank of Honorary Group Captain for his interest, efforts and patronage to the Air Force Training Academy. Little did he know that his ability as a skilled pilot could save someone’s life but would be remembered as a service to the nation. On 30th March 1949 he along with Iron Man of India – Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel took a flight from Delhi for Jaipur to inaugurate the newly created state of Greater Rajasthan. En-route there was some technical error in the aircraft’s engine and emergency landing was the only option. The pilot got nervous as he could only see the Aravali mountain ranges and no suitable and safe space for landing. In this situation the Maharaja of Jodhpur-Hanwant Singh himself took over the cockpit and safely landed the plane in a river bed at Shahpura which is 60 kms from Jaipur. Indeed a service to the nation of highest order, as it saved the life of Sardar Patel – The Iron Man Of India who led India’s freedom struggle and played an important role in the integration of United India.
The Maharaja was a skilled magician too and performed tricks created by himself. In 1948 he gave a magical performance at the Piccadilly Theater in London and the performance was such that he was admitted to the prestigious “Magic Circle” in England to which only a select few expert magicians were members.
His interest in Science & Technology and the zest of imparting technical knowledge to the people of Jodhpur led to the establishment of an Engineering College in Jodhpur. Very few people are aware it was him, who gave the then Deoli House and its adjoining land to establish the first engineering college of Western Rajasthan. Later Seth Magni Ram Bangur a Marwari businessman from Deedwana generously funded this college and hence it is known as Mugniram Bangur Memorial or MBM Engineering College now MBM University. Besides this he started scholarships for meritorious students who wanted to pursue technical education at premiere institutes in India and abroad.
The Agnipath scheme for the youth of India to join the Armed Forces & serving the Nation recently has been introduced in India. Hanwant Singhji had envisioned this about 8 decades ago and took the pioneering step of introducing compulsory military training to students from class 8th onwards in Marwar.
Establishing perhaps one of the initial radio stations in Princely India at Jodhpur was also a modern technical advancement that Jodhpur witnessed in his times.
He invited and engaged Pandit Balkishan Kaul (Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru’s brother-in-law) to make a programme for Desertification Control, Water Conservation and Plantation based on modern techniques. He also appointed leading Botanist of India Dr. Mohan Lal Gattani as Chief Agriculture Advisor.
The pre-independent India mainly consisted of British India and the Princely India. The people in British India were aware of the freedom movement and were witness to responsible self-governments which were elected. They were aware of the electoral process which would be part of Indian democracy after independence. For the people of Princely India which was ruled by the Maharajas, it was an unknown phenomenon. Maharaja Hanwant Singhji who was educated and was aware of democracy as a vital process for any nation, with active participation of its citizens, especially voting in the elections. He was a liberal democrat and secular leader, who had faith in his people and was aware that people of Marwar shall vote and support him and his candidates. The first general elections of 1952 witnessed his democratic spirit and flamboyant leadership; when he gave the famous slogans to his people during electoral campaigns, “I Am Not Away From You” and “I Am No Maharaja; You Are The Maharaja”. The people responded to him when they voted in his favour and uprooted Congress and its popular leaders. He was the only Maharaja in India to have opposed Congress and defeated them badly in the first general elections, with a landslide victory for him and his party.
Once he was asked what he would do after the merger of Jodhpur to the Indian Dominion; when he would cease to be a Maharaja. He politely answered, “I can earn my livelihood through Aviation, or as a performing Magician or as a Firearms Manufacturer.
On 26th January 1952 he was killed in an aircrash at the age of 28 years, yes at 28 ! still at such a young age and in such a short span of time he achieved and accomplished so much. On the occasion of his 100th Birth Anniversary; I request all readers to join me in remembering and paying homage to His Late Highness Maharaja Hanwant Singh – an Aviator, Magician and Scientist, who loved his people and said, “I Am Not Away From You”. Surely he isn’t away from us and shall remain in our memories forever for his unparalleled contribution.
(Jagat Singh Rathore – Private Secretary to His Highness Maharaja Gajsingh II of Marwar-Jodhpur)