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THE ROYAL HUNT

There is an odd symbiosis between the hunter and the hunted. In early June, according to reports, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was hunting in a forest in Haryana. But very soon after he became the hunted as the police began to look for him for having shot a black buck. The hunt ended with Pataudi surrendering to the Punjab and Haryana high court. Pataudi's guilt or otherwise in the killing of an animal listed in Schedule 1 of the Indian Wild Life Protection Act will now be decided in a court of law. But there is one charge that the former nawab cannot avoid being levelled against him. For more than a fortnight, he deliberately refused to cooperate with the police in investigating an illegal act. He was asked to appear before the police and he failed to turn up. The former prince became a common absconder from the law. This charge is in no way as important as the shooting of a black buck but it is suggestive of a mindset. It suggests that Pataudi believes that even though he is a citizen of the republic of India, he is above the law of the land. This attitude harks back to the time when Indian princes, big and small, ruled their principalities according to their whims and fancies; and most of them ' and let this be said candidly ' squandered the resources of their estates and lived debauched lives. They made little or no contribution to national life. The attitude displayed by Pataudi and his ilk is completely out of tune with the foundations of the Indian republic.

This same mindset informs the passion for hunting which is what sends Pataudi to the forest very frequently. It is difficult to accept that a person of Pataudi's intelligence and educational background (he went to Winchester, the famous British public school, and to Balliol College, Oxford) is ignorant of the many prohibitions on hunting that exist in India. But he chose to flout the law. Shikar has a long tradition associated with the princes of India. In the past, when there were no restrictions on hunting, princes and rajas shot wild animals indiscriminately and thus decimated India's rich wild life heritage. Pataudi, it would appear, is committed to continuing this tradition. The only problem with this commitment is that it runs counter to the laws of the land. Times have changed. India is a democracy where former princes have become ordinary citizens subject to laws made by elected representatives of the people. Royals of yore, whatever be their illusions of grandeur, can no longer live their lives according to their fancies, and pretend that laws do not exist for them.

Pataudi's public image has always been larger than what was warranted by his status as the ruler of a tiny principality. This was because of his achievements on the cricket field. He was one of India's most successful and astute captains. This made him an example to the young of India and earned for him an enormous corpus of public goodwill. Whatever be the verdict of the courts, Pataudi has lost this goodwill. He will find it more difficult to accept this than he found the loss of his princely status.

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