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Reexamining Royal Families in the 21st Century

Entitlement isn’t a natural trait. It takes real time and reinforcement for it to fester in people’s minds. It’s entitelment that often sets apart “royal” leaders of the world from their followers. Dictatorships and Monarchies are two systems often built around entilted leaders. These leaders base their leadership on the idea that the public owe them, even worship them. While dictatorships are now labelled as oppressive systems that gives the power and riches of the state to just one person, lingering monarchies are still left largely unexamined. Monarchies often work in similarly oppresive ways, still holding varying degrees of power across the globe, even in the 21st century.

Royal families from the British Windsors, to Saudi Arabia’s House of Saud, or India’s Kachwaha dynasty, all survive through either financial support from the government, total control over resources and the public through taxation, huge royalties through tourism, or some/all of these means combined.

The British royal family is probably the most popular monarchy in the world. Their brand is world reknown and back home in Great Britain, Queen Elizabeth still poses as a constitutional monarch. Meaning, she’s exempt from paying almost all major taxes which creates a huge economic stir in times like these when the looming question of stability after Brexit threatens the nation. Writer Catharine Bennett, and many other media personalities, have time and again made the case that the British royal family costs the taxpayer more money than they bring into the country. Even in times of recession, the royal families of Britain and Saudi Arabia effectively function as a burden to the taxpayer and the state.

Saudi Arabia is a totalitarian monarchy where the royalty poses as the head of the state and yet fails to actually manage the state. The Saudi royal family, or the House of Saud, consists of more than a thousand members, all of whom enjoy a very lavish lifestyle while the rest of the state is facing trillion-dollar budget cuts with the plummet of oil prices in the last few years. Since the king has total control over oil, the country’s major resource, nobody outside the royal family has actually been affected by the profits. The family doesn’t hold itself accountable in any manner and enjoys their fortune without facing any opposition. 

Even though Indian royal families aren’t afforded the same level of control over taxpayer dollars and resources, it is often the same sense of entitlement that keeps many monarchs rich. The properties and tourism around the royal brand still generates enough income for the royal family that the king can travel the world and study at the world’s most expensive school without ever having worked a day in his life. Case in point, look at how the Jaipur Royal Family has Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh of the Kachwaha dynasty, a 21-year-old, posing as a titular king for the kingdom of Jaipur which is now part of Rajasthan state within India. Singh holds at least 400 million dollars of his family’s fortune and is a poster boy for many luxury and lifestyle magazines across the world. Jaipur’s royal family is known for their parties and ties with several influential celebrities and leaders but as in the case of most royal families, any revenue generated from such relations doesn’t benefit the state or even the nation’s economy.

A picture of Padmanabh Singh, as seen on his Instagram.

Sometimes, a royal conviction, even without the actual royal lineage, is enough to gain the system. A New York Times article on a family in India that claimed to be royalty emphasized this very sense of entitlement that royals hold dear. Wilayat, a woman who claimed to be the rightful queen of Oudh, a kingdom that doesn’t exist anymore, camped out on a railway station with her young son and daughter for almost a decade. Her sheer stubbornness forced the government to give into her whims. They offered her 10,000 Rupees and a 4 bedroom apartment, both of which she refused. They finally offered her a hunting palace as a home and she chose to live there while fighting till her last breath to pressurize the government into giving her children what was theirs- the palaces, riches and properties of the kingdom of Oudh as well as other riches. Ellen Barry, the writer of the article found out after the death of the last living member, that the family was not royal. In reality, Wilayat not only suffered from mental conditions but was given electroshock therapy that only worsened her condition. The royal lineage she claimed to have was made up, her own way of coping through the years. The story is almost unreal and cinematic but a very undermined aspect of all this is the fact that the government didn’t even bother to check Wilayat’s credibility. Just the mention of a possible royal lineage was enough for them to overlook inconsistencies, offer lavish property and money.

Regardless of the power they hold in state matters and governance, royal families continue to enjoy their fortunes even in extremely unequal societies. What’s worse is that many of today’s governments only reinforce the unfair power a royal lineage holds. The sense of royal entitlement exists in varying degrees in all these countries and affects the citizens of the nation directly or indirectly, depending on the ways that the royals make or maintain their money. It is this entitlement that burdens the citizens financially while promoting pure financial and social elitism, the immediate solution being that the governments and citizens stop entertaining such requests. Obviously, this will take time. No centuries old system is overhthrown in a day, but it’s important that we resist, at least wherever we can.

Ananya is a student at Eugene Lang College at The New School. She spends her time recounting the horrors of that one time she spilled bubble tea on the subway, observing the duality of Gordon Ramsay's nature with kids and adults, as well as inhaling halal food like it's the end of the world. She criticizes Capitalism in her free time and truly believes in the #NewSchoolSpirit.
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