On Tuesday, Congress MP Pratap Singh Bajwa made a demand in the Rajya Sabha to exhume the remains of Maharaja Duleep Singh from his grave in England, and have them brought to Amritsar. Bajwa said the issue is close to the heart of Punjab and that “history should be corrected”.
Singh was the last ruler of the Sikh empire, born to Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1838 in Lahore.
This is not the first time that Bajwa has demanded that his remains be brought back. In March 2018, the Congress leader had requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention in this.
Singh was the youngest son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the last ruler of Punjab. He was declared Maharaja of Punjab in 1843 at the age of five. In 1849, after the second Anglo-Sikh war, Singh was forced to give up claims of sovereignty in exchange for a pension of £40,000 a year. He was 10 years old at that time.
In 1853, he converted to Christianity, and settled in the UK in 1854. According to the Royal Collection Trust, in July of 1854, Singh was received by Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. In her journal, the Queen described the Maharaja as, “16 & extremely handsome […he] has a pretty, graceful & dignified manner. He was beautifully dressed & covered with diamonds”.
Singh is believed to have become a close friend of the royal family and during the summer of 1854, visited them frequently at Osborne.
A BBC report from 1999 refers to Singh as the first Sikh settler of the UK. In the same year, the Prince of Wales unveiled a life-size bronze statue of Singh in Norfolk, near the Elveden Estate where he spent many years of his life.
Significantly, in 1849, after the British defeated the Sikhs in the war, Singh was forced to sign a legal document that amended the Treaty of Lahore, requiring him to not only give up claims of sovereignty over the region, but also the Koh-i-noor diamond. The diamond eventually made its way to England, where the British East India Company presented it to the Queen. The diamond is now a part of the British Crown Jewels kept in the Tower of London.
In 1864, Singh married Bamba Müller in Cairo and then moved to Elveden in England. Queen Victoria became the godmother of their eldest son, who was named Victor Duleep Singh after the Queen’s eldest grandson Prince Albert Victor.
In 1886, he is said to have tried to return to India. He also re-converted to Sikhism. The re-conversion was to be performed with the help of Singh’s cousin Sardar Thakar Singh Sandhawalia, but he was refused permission to visit India by the British Secretary of State, and the ceremony was performed in Aden, Yemen.
After this, Singh lived in Paris and is believed to have sought the help of Irish revolutionaries and Russians to launch a revolt against the British in Punjab. He planned to launch the revolt from Pondicherry, which was a French territory then. Ultimately, however, Singh was unsuccessful in doing so. While he died in Paris in 1893 at the age of 55, his body was brought to England, where he was buried.