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Monday, November 30, 2020

Captain Mohansingh Bayas, my grandfather

Was closely associated with the accession of Kolhapur to the Indian Union and received the gallantry award for his work as a police officer

Updated: November 2, 2020 1:17:10 pm
During the Second World War, Mohansingh was deputed to Landi Kotal on the Afghanistan border by the British to keep the peace in a region home to rebellious Pakhtoon tribes.

Written by Praveen Singh Pardeshi

Captain Mohansingh Bayas, an officer in the erstwhile Kolhapur royal army Rajaram Rifles and aide-de-camp to Shahaji Raje, the last Chhatrapati of the Kolhapur State, passed away last week. He was 99.

He is survived by son P M Bayas, a retired IAS official, daughter-in-law Sulabha, daughters Meena and Mangala, sons-in-law Group Captain Pardeshi and Komal Singh Pardeshi who are officers in the IAF.

During the Second World War, Mohansingh was deputed to Landi Kotal on the Afghanistan border by the British to keep the peace in a region home to rebellious Pakhtoon tribes.

He spent time walking the mountains and hunting Chukor. He missed his wife, Meera Deo, so much that he secretly called her over. This was in defiance of Army orders to maintain a strictly non-family residence. Landi Kotal was not a family station, and he was reprimanded by his superior. But he rented a house nearby for Meera.

Meera and Mohan were inseparable. They first met on their way to the cinema. He was 18 then, and was smitten when he saw her. He approached her father, Narayansingh Deo, an eminent lawyer of Kolhapur. Ramesh Deo, the famous film actor, was Meera’s brother. An early marriage followed.

Mohansingh was closely associated with the accession of Kolhapur to the Indian Union. It was the last of the states to accede. The Chhatrapati believed he was secure, that until Baroda had not acceded, he could hold out.

Mohansingh accompanied Chhatrapati Shahaji Raje to a meeting with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. V P Menon, Secretary in the Ministry of the States under Sardar Patel, showed Shahaji Raje the accession deed Baroda had signed six months ago. Sardar Patel convinced the Kolhapur Maharaja to sign on the dotted line — of the merger with the Union.

When Chhatrapati Shahaji emerged from the meeting, Nana recalled, he was heartbroken. He clasped his ADC and said, “Mohana apla Kolhapur gela (Mohansingh, we have lost our Kolhapur).”

My grandfather was a great naturalist, though in those days shikar was the norm. While learning jungle warfare, he went on a long walk with Jim Corbett. When they sat down to take a small break, Corbett quietly told him, “Mohansingh, you are sitting on a curled-up python.”

After the Second World War, the Kolhapur army was disbanded and Mohansingh was absorbed into the state police. He served in Dahanu, Dhule, Alibag and Solapur.

He was ACP of Nagpur for many years. He was famously known for having put down a violent protest launched by Jambuwant Dhote. He resorted to police firing in which a few people were shot. In the enquiry by the sitting High Court Judge, Justice Ghatne said, “By sacrificing a few lives, Mohansingh dispersed a mob of over 1 lakh people with just a platoon. If he had not dispersed the mob, Nagpur would have burnt and more lives would have been lost.” For this feat, he received the President’s police gallantry award.

As a young police officer, he was in charge of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s security arrangements. Once when the crowd surged too close to the Prime Minister, he used the lathi to maintain distance. Watching from a distance, Nehruji got annoyed and rushed towards Mohansingh, took the lathi away and scolded him not to treat people in such a way.

Mohansingh responded, saying “I am keeping my PM safe as per police protocol.” Nehruji only smiled. (Published in Reader’s Digest)

He remained the centre of a large joint family. His mother, Deepabai, lived with him from the age of 30 until her death at 90; his wife Meera kept a house open to all children, grandchildren and great grandchildren over three generations.

Our summer holidays from Shillong, Jorhat and Wellington, where we moved with my IAF father, Group Captain Pardeshi, used to be memorable. Every year, we spent dreamlike holidays at the large family home of my Nana in Nagpur, Daund and Pune. He would fulfil every childhood fantasy for us — from a film on a screen in the garden to bringing buckets of Dinshaw ice cream. Nana’s home during the holidays was the sweetest place on earth. All our growing up memories are linked to Nana’s home, Nani and Aji’s cooking of Maharashtrian delicacies.

After retiring as an IPS officer, Mohansingh used to counsel police personnel on how to overcome administrative difficulties. He even wrote a wonderful book, “Dandeli Chi Waghin”, which chronicles his encounters with leopards and elephants in Maharashtra and Karnataka.

In his late 70s, when he lost his closest partner, Meera, and his mother, Deepabai, he was inconsolable. However, his children and grandchildren made all-out efforts to give him a raison d’être and kept his spirits high. With me, he visited Mont Blanc and pretended to be Hannibal crossing the pass. With Prashant, his other grandson, he visited Indonesia where he climbed down an active volcano. Priya and Ajay took him driving in Denmark. His grandson Shatrughan went to Hong Kong. Shardul, Shilpa, Santosh and Sidharth always doted over him. We all wanted him to score a century. But God willed otherwise.

We, his eight grandchildren, and the next generation of great grandchildren will always treasure the memory of that young sprightly police officer who was a role model, who inspired me to join the civil services, a loving grandfather who made our childhood the most wonderful and happy period of our lives.

The writer is Global Programme Coordinator, The Defeat-NCD partnership, United Nations Institute for Training and Research

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