The planners of the homage ceremony had rejected requests from the Maharajas of Hyderabad, Mysore, Baroda and Gwalior to be exempted from it because it required them to bow before the King Emperor. They wanted to meet the King Emperor as his allies and equals.The Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, had anticipated such sentiments and forewarned the private secretary of King George V in a letter where he wrote: “You must not forget that the new modern Chief, like Bikaner, Scindia & Co., is anxious to gain in position by the king’s visit and set up a new standard, which I have no hesitation in saying would be resented by all the old class of Ruling Chiefs like Jaipur and Nabha. “The subtle but deliberate assertion of superiority, and an underlying scheme of using the ceremonial arrangements to indicate favor to those chiefs considered important for the empire, is visible in the viceroy’s assertion to the king’s private secretary: “Do not believe for an instant that it is right that the Chiefs should have a chair alongside His Majesty. It is absolutely wrong, and the Chiefs should do not dare to set forward such a pretension even when I, the Viceroy, receive them officially. They sit on a lower level, and not alongside but at right angles to me. It is most desirable that there should be a difference between their reception by the Viceroy, receive them officially. They sit on a lower level, and not alongside but at right angles to me. It is most desirable that there should be a difference between their reception by the Viceroy and the King, and in my opinion it is only the 21-gun Chiefs that should be invited by the Government to sit down, always on a lower level, and not alongside but at right angles to me.It is most desirable that there should be a difference between their reception by the Viceroy and the King, and in my opinion it is only the 21-gun Chiefs that should be invited by the Government to sit down, always on a lower level, and not alongside. The other Chiefs Should all remain standing in the presence of the King, While His Majesty sits.”
Even as the viceroy and other top officials laid down the ground rules for the grand assemblage, there was consider princes below 11-gun salute. To save the king from the tedium of receiving all the Indian princes individually, British officials restricted the ceremonial only to royals entitled to a 15-gun salute or more; those with an 11-gun salute or more were to received in a semi-circle in front of the king.
The chiefs who were left out believed that it would lower their standing among other princes, and their people, as they would be seen as being not important enough to be granted a private audience by the king. Of course, it was irrelevant that the exchanges during the audience would amount to inane pleasantries, not significant matters of statecraft.
The Nawab of Loharu, who was entitled to a nine-gun salute, was the most vociferous among the unhappy royals in conveying his “distress and dismay” to the government no this “catastrophic decision”. When his initial submissions were not heeded, he had this to say in a letter to sir A.H. McMahon, Secretary, Foreign Department:
“Such Chiefs as will not be received by the King – Emperor in private interview would be degraded in the eyes of the other Ruling Chiefs, and the people of the East, who, unlike the British people, would never think that the king – Emperor could not receive them owing to the limited time at [sic] disposal. Further more, the existing relations between such Chiefs as would and would not be received by the King – Emperor would be affected.”
There was also a representation from the chief secretary to the Government of Punjab, who felt the salute criteria for deciding which chiefs were to be granted audience would put “more significant” chiefs belonging to Punjab at a disadvantage over “lesser important” chiefs from other regions who rated higher on the gun salute scale. The salutes, argued the chief secretary, had been “fixed on a scale quite incommensurate with the importance of the State and the services which have and do render to Government”.
The Official suggested that either the criterion be changed to account for revenues and number of Imperial Service Troops maintained by the respective chiefs. Alternatively, states such as Jind, Kapurthala and Nabha, the chief secretary demanded, should be raised to 15-gun salute status immediately to remove the disparity. The governor of Bombay also voiced the fear that there would be “bitter disappointment” and “great heart burning” among the 11- and 13-gun chiefs “at being received en bloc by His Majesty”.
This outpouring of anguish ultimately led to the decision being taking that the king would receive the 13-, 11- and nine-gun chiefs singly, not collectively.
In the light of the feverish efforts of the chiefs not to be denied their turn to kowtow to the king-emperor, the controversial action of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, who ruled Baroda from 1875 to 1939) stands out as an exception. SAYAJI RAO Gaekwad III was a liberal ruler who had taken major initiatives such as the introduction of compulsory education in his kingdom. He was also know for being independent and having had skirmishes with viceroys in the past, most notably Lord Curzon.
On the day of the Durbar, the Maharaja arrived at the amphi theatre without the ceremonial jeweled sword and the highest imperial order, the diamond Star of India. He had also taken off the necklace after he took his place in the amphi theatre, and made his youngest son, who was accompanying him, wear it.
This became a matter of concern among the top British officials, who had insisted that all the Maharajas and Rajas wear their expensive jewels, medals and carry royal paraphernalia for the event. For the homage ceremony, each ruling chief was expected to bow three times before the King and Queen, and walk in reverse back to his place.
The Gaekwad was the third most senior Maharaja after Hyderabad and Mysore. When his turn came, he bowed once partly, before turning around and walking away. Unlike the others before him, the Gaekwad’s homage smacked of arrogance in the eyes of the colonial masters.
All hell broke loose. Anglo-Indian newspapers like The Pioneer and British newspapers called for action against the Baroda ruler. Later, on the advice of the British Resident in his court, the Maharaja sent a written apology, but the viceroy would have nothing of it. There were calls for deposing him and to reduce the 21-gun salute that he was entitled to. Fortunately for him, he managed to escape any punitive action.
It was not only the press that went ballistic over the Maharaja’s insult. Motilal Nehru, who was a successful barrister and a member of the United Provinces Legislative Council, had a lot to write to his son Jawaharlal, about the Gaekwad’s behaviour.
Motilal Nehru traveled to Delhi with his wife Swarup Rani and two little daughters Vijaya Lakshmi and Krishna. Invited to stay at the Provincial Camp of U.P. by the Lieutenant Governor, Motilal Nehru recorded having enjoyed the stay and how living in open air helped him recover from a cough and the positive impact it had on his wife’s health.
Summing up his experience, Motilal Nehru wrote to Jawahar Lal on December 22, 1911: “At Delhi we were treated very well indeed. Every possible comfort was found for us in the camp. I was one of the twenty from the United Provinces selected to do a homage to Their Majesties and did not make an ass of myself as Baroda did.”
Describing what he saw, Motilal Nehru wrote: “I am sorry to say that the Gaekwad has fallen from the high pedestal he once occupied in public estimation. I was not quite prepared for something silly on his part. My seat at the Durbar was not far from is and we were chatting away before the arrival of the king. He asked me what I thought of the show and on my saying that it was the grandest tamasha I had seen, remarked that it would have been all right if we had not to act in it like animals in a circus.
“Perhaps you are not aware of what it was that he actually did as I have not seen it reported anywhere. He went straight up to the dais, made a slight bow and at once turned his back on the King and the Queen walking away (rather sauntering away) with one hand in his pocket and turning his stick round and round with the other.
“Where was the necessity of all this if it was all to end in the abject apology Which you might have seen….It has completely wrecked his reputation.”
Jawahar Lal Nehru wrote back on December 29, 1911: “The papers here have said a lot about it but none of them has given a complete account. I think it is silly of the Gaekwad to do as he did, and siller still to humbly apologize for it after he had done it. But silliest of it was his justification to The Times.”