On July 8th, 2021, Himachal Pradesh and the rest of India awoke to a day of mourning. Their ever-reigning Raja Virbhadra Singhji of Rampur Bushahr was no more. At 87, the star statesman and political veteran of unparalleled stature had succumbed to a cardiac arrest post his second battle with the Corona virus. Startled by the tragic news, I was almost instantaneously thrown back to the various flashbacks of my childhood, when my family visited the man they most admired at his Simla-based Holly Lodge. The ever-green exemplar of chivalry, humility and selfless service, his poised image as he sat reclined on his living room chair adorning a Rampuri cap shall continue to remain entrenched in my memory. Grateful to have been blessed by him during my visit to Simla exactly two years ago, I shall forever regard the late Rajasab as a bastion of a bygone era, and this humble piece is my own tribute to the true exemplar and legend, who now rests in peace.
Born on June 23rd 1934, Himachal’s epithetical Raja Sahib stood out from within the Indian National Congress as its most significant Himachali leader. A noticeable presence at the Lok Sabha from 1962 to 1971, Raja Sahib made two more returns in 1980 and 2009. In 1983, he was elected for his first term as Himachal Pradesh’s Chief Minister and has served a sum total of six successful terms. Raja Virbhadra Singhji has departed as the state’s longest-serving Chief Minister with legendary triumphs at the poll booths of Jubbal, Kothkai, Rohroo and Simla (rural).
Alumni of Simla’s Bishop Cotton School and St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, Raja Sahib was a scholar of liberal arts and took a keen interest in literature and diplomatic relations. In his lifetime, he presided over the Sanskrit Sahitya Sammelan and Himachal’s branch of the Friends of the Soviet Union. In fact, his diplomatic skills earned him a membership in the Indian Delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in 1976. From the mid seventies onwards, he held prominent ministerial and deputy ministerial portfolios, namely those of civil aviation, industries, steel and MSME’s (micro, small and medium enterprises).
As is the case with any odyssey, Raja Sahib’s journey too met with its fair share of hurdles. The tumultuous years from 2009 to 2012 in specific spelled numerous cases of political vendetta for him and his family, but before the end of 2012, Raja Sahib and his wife, Rani Pratibha Kumariji had been acquitted by the court on the very eve of him being sworn in as Himachal Pradesh’s Chief Minister for the sixth and last time. The political mudslinging ensued even after 2012, but Raja Sahib valiantly treaded on.
His unmissable political legacy notwithstanding, Raja Sahib was also the patriarchal head of one of the oldest princely hill states of modern-day Himachal Pradesh. Believed to have been founded by Lord Krishna’s son Pradhumna, Rampur Bushahr was amongst Himachal’s wealthiest princely states, and bore immense geopolitical significance for sharing its borders with Tibet, Spiti and Punjab. Dynastically aligned to the Bhatis, the late Raja Sahib and his son, Yuvraj Vikramaditya Singh constitute the very few remaining Rajput families of uninterrupted, direct descent, which essentially points to an absence of adoptions or brotherly feuds having prevailed in the long history of the state.
Today, Raja Sahib’s 87 year-old legacy, and Rampur Bushahr’s centuries-old legacy lives on through its now Rajmata Sahiba and his many children, each of whom has gained prominence in their own field of expertise. One of his daughters, Abhilasha Kumari has made her mark as amongst the Indian judicial system’s pioneering female justices, and Vikramaditya Singh himself has emerged as a young and promising legislator in Himachal Pradesh’s State Legislative Assembly, where he represents the Simla (rural) constituency. Clearly, Vikramaditya has big shoes to fill, and his doted flanking of the late Raja Sahib during their various public appearances in the past only went on to highlight his sheer admiration and adoration for his father. May the entire Rampur Bushahr family find the strength and resilience to endure this tragic loss, while I and the rest of the country mourn the setting of our ever-shining, ever merciful, and largesse-drenched sun.