World: Cutting Off the Princes' Pay

WHEN India achieved independence from the British in 1947, there were 554 princely states, each ruled by a maharajah (Hindi for great ruler) or a lower-ranking rajah. While the peasants lived in abject poverty, the princes had grown rich on land taxes and the sale of mineral rights. They indulged in lavish whims—concubines, opulent palaces, bejeweled elephants, retinues of servants, strings of polo ponies, sumptuous celebrations. The Nizam of Hyderabad, who was the richest of all with wealth estimated at $2 billion, collected mountains of pearls. To celebrate his 39th birthday, the Gaekwar of Baroda was saluted by solid-gold cannons. Another...

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