Hari Singh’s blackmailing and love in London

Hari Singh
Hari Singh

Eighty six years after an instant love affair blossomed at Tosamaidan in Kashmir between the Kishtawari royal beauty “Jani” and British Colonel Thorpe leading to the first British Kashmiri transnational marriage, a member of Kashmiri royalty falls in love with a British girl  but with entirely different consequences. The story is referred to briefly by Lord Birdwood and Youssef Saraf in the “Two Nation Theory and Kashmir” and “Kashmiris Fight for Freedom.” However, it is reproduced here with reference to an article by Anne de Courcy in the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, on January 10, 2002.

It was in the summer of 1919 that Raja Sir Hari Singh, the crown prince of a Kashmir Kingdom arrived in London with his secretary Mr. Mehboob [1] as the honoured guest of the British government. The Kashmiri Maharaja, to be, was kept in a house at Curzon Street, Mayfair, where he enjoyed all that London society had to offer. One Captain Charles Arthur was designated to the Prince as ADC. On 11 November 1919, Hari Singh and Mehboob went to a “grand Victory Ball at the Albert Hall to celebrate the anniversary of Armistice. [2]

During the First World War prince Hari Singh, according to Bamzai, was the commander-in-chief of the State forces and was responsible for training State army units which were sent to the Front. “He made a personal donation of Rs. 4.3 million to the War Fund. But all these services to the British, writes Bamzai, did not save him from becoming the victim of an unscrupulous attempt at blackmail in a big way, and for a few days in 1921 the case of Mar. A was to monopolize the headlines of various British newspapers.

Last Maharaja of Kashmir Sri Hari Singh (1895-1961)

Present in the party at Albert Hall were two beauties Maudie Robinson and Lilian Bevan. Maudie was a “petite, shapely blond divorcee who, at 18, had been briefly married to Charles Robinson, a bookmaker and gambler.” Lilian was a young widow and Maudie’s flatmate at Knightsbridge. The two single blonds made partying, dining, dancing and flirting their way of keeping up with the high life.

Their meeting with handsome Kashmiri men seemed like a Holly or Bollywood plot. In the Albert Hall Maudie and Lilian found they were seated with Hari Singh’s ADC Captain Arthur and secretary Mehboob. In Courcy’s words “Maudie was enchanted by Maboob’s stories of Kashmir and, as she listened raptly, Captain Arthur suggested a meeting with Sir Hari the following day.” When they met Sir Hari fell so much in love with Maudie that “when Maudie danced with another man, he wept.” The relationship went on and Maudie became a regular visitor at Hari Singh’s House on Curzon Street.

In the same street lived Mr. Noel Newton, a forger and conman well known to Scotland Yard and coincidently was an acquaintance of Maudie’s estranged husband Charlie Robinson. Not only that, he had once been Maudie’s lover.

Noticing Maudie’s frequent visits to Prince Hari Singh, Newton instantly spotted the potential for blackmail and thus was conceived one of the most audacious blackmail plots of the twentieth century. To work this out he needed Captain’s help who he found was readily willing to betray the trusting prince. The plan was to catch the Prince with Maudie in bed and then demand huge amounts of money to keep the secret. The blackmailers worked out that the prince would rather pay than face disinheritance by his strictly religious and conservative uncle Maharaja Paratab Singh for bringing family and kingdom into disrepute.

Unaware of what was cooking around him Prince Hari Singh, Mehboob, Captain Arthur, Maudie and Lilian went to Paris for Christmas. After having great fun for a couple of days, the drama reached its climax on the “morning after boxing day of 1919.”

While Hari Singh and Maudie were lying side by side in bed in their ground floor suite with its door “happened to be unlocked,” Maudie’s ex-husband Charlie Robinson burst in and shouted to his ex, “I have got you at last!” Then he turned to the handsome prince and said “as for you, sir, you will hear more about this!”

As Courcy writes, “To Maudie, this was a jealous ex-lover catching her out and threatening vengeance. But the prince assumed that this furious stranger must be Maudie’s husband and turned to the only man he could trust or so he thought, his ADC. Scaring the prince of consequences of any publicity Arthur suggested that they should buy the intruder off.  Subsequently, the prince wrote two cheques for £150, 000 each (equivalent to £3.3 million today).

Within days prince Hari Singh left for Kashmir with bitter memories of his love life but pleased that it all had a happy ending. But for the cons of the then London high society, the story took another nasty twist. While the cheques were made out to Maudie’s ex-husband Charles Robinson they were cashed by someone else using forged signatures. Robinson was convinced by a fake solicitor to accept £25,000 for his wife “having gone wrong with a black man in Paris.” But after four years when Captain Arthur wrote to Robinson revealing the plot, Robinson took his bank to court for paying out money from his account to someone else. It was here in open court that the blackmail plot was exposed. Did Neol Newton, the father of this complicated blackmail plot get any share? Who cashed Cheques? We do not know. In court Hari Singh was referred to as “Mr. A to protect his privacy” but according to Coercy “the secret of the Kashmiri Prince and the beautiful blonde quickly became the subject of salacious gossip throughout London society.”

Commenting on the implications of this scandal for the political developments in Kashmir, she claims that “an attempt was made to install a cousin on the throne. Implying that this cousin was the same “Mehboob who accompanied Sir Hari Singh to London.” She claims that had the cousin been installed “Kashmir might now belong to Pakistan, and there would be no threat of nuclear war today.” However, we know that the Crown Prince Hari Singh was coroneted to Kashmir Crown in 1924. It is also a well-established fact that Kashmir problem does not exist because Maharaja could not made up his mind on accession to India or Pakistan, but because of his inclination towards independence which was over ruled by the British and subsequently crushed by the Pakistani and Indian armies still under the British Command. But that is another story for another day.

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Shams Rehman is an independent writer, researcher, TV anchor, linguist with special interest in the politics of independent Kashmir and Kashmiri diaspora, Transnationalism and Pahari language and literature development in Britain. He studied Sociology at Karachi University. Later, he studied Development Studies and Sociological Research at Manchester University, UK (1997, 2003).

References

1.      Birdwood, L. “Two Nations and Kashmir (1956), Robert Hale Ltd. London

2.      Saraf, Y. “Kashmiris Fight for Freedom (1967), Ferozsons, Lahore

3.      Bamzai, P.N.K. “History of Kashmir (1962), Metropolitan Books, Delhi

4.      Courcy, A. d. “Sex Scandal, blackmail and the racy Maharaja who sealed the fate of Kashmir” in Daily Mail, Thursday, January 10, 2002

[1] That is all Courcy gives for his name and describes Mehboob as Hari Singh’s cousin that of course is highly unlikely as Maharja Hari Singh did not have any Muslim cousins.

[2] To remember the 11th November 1918, the day when fighting ended in the First World War. Since 1946 it is celebrated as Remembrance Sunday.

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