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Bubbles & brothers in heir rift

Jaipur, Dec. 29: The Maharaja of Jaipur, the flamboyant owner of some of Rajasthan’s most spectacular palaces, has sparked a bitter feud over who should control his family’s £400-million assets by naming his five-year-old grandson as his heir.

Bhawani “Bubbles” Singh, 71, a polo-playing friend of the Prince of Wales, formally adopted his daughter’s son, Padmanabh, and named him his heir two weeks ago at a lavish ceremony in which he claimed to be exercising his legal right to leave his fortune to whoever he wishes.

His brothers Jai, 69, and Prithvi Raj, 67, responded by issuing a high court writ, claiming that the family’s wealth should be shared. They alleged that the maharaja had broken an ancient Rajput tradition by failing to name an heir from the male line of the family. Now the two sides will have to argue the royal family’s succession in the high court.

Narendra Singh, the maharaja’s son-in-law, said the feud is damaging the family. “There is no reason for this fight, and no reason for the constant accusations. The maharaja has chosen his successor and that should really be the end of the matter, but some people will not let it go. It could have terrible consequences.”

Family members acknowledge that both sides will lay claim to Jaipur’s spectacular palaces and forts, which have been transformed into lucrative five-star hotels.

The properties include the City Palace, which sprawls across 30 acres and includes pavilions, polo pitches and an elephant yard; the Rajmahal, a 100-room building that once housed British officials; and Jaigarh Fort, an 18th century stronghold offering views of the desert plains.

Bhawani Singh, who was given his nickname “Bubbles” by his British nanny because of the gallons of champagne consumed at his birth, counts Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger as his friends, and is among the richest of India’s 600 maharajas.

Speculation has been rife in recent years over who would be his successor. The present maharaja has no son and, as tradition dictates that his title can pass only to a male, he was expected to name one of his brothers — or one of their sons — as his heir.

However, at the ceremony last month, the maharaja stunned his family by declaring: “After much thought and deliberation, I have decided to adopt my grandson. I do not have a son, and the dynasty needs a male heir to inherit the family’s assets.”

The maharaja, who suffered a stroke more than a decade ago and now rarely speaks in public, declined to comment further. Narendra Singh, who frequently speaks on his behalf, said the legal action being taken by the brothers “will be fought all the way. It is now an irrelevance because the maharaja has chosen an heir”.

Gayatri Devi, the maharaja’s stepmother, refuses to recognise the adoption of her step-great-grandson as heir to the title. “It is not right, and I will not take it into account,” she said. Once named the most beautiful woman in the world by Life, she had been a close friend of the late Jackie Onassis.

The high court case will focus on the will of Sawai Man Singh, the previous maharaja. He had three wives who bore him four sons — the first wife was the present maharaja’s mother, the second was Jai and Prithvi Raj’s mother, and the third was Gayatri Devi, whose only son has since died.

The writ issued at the high court claims that Sawai Man Singh wanted each son to be given an equal share of the family’s fortune. It argues that when Bhawani Singh took over the estate, he did so on behalf of the whole family.

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