An Indian royal was shot dead by police in broad daylight. Now, 35 years later, his killers have been jailed

New Delhi, India (CNN)On a winter's day in 1985, a one-time Indian prince was killed by police in a bustling Rajasthan market.

For decades, the police officers on duty and the former royal's relatives couldn't agree on what had happened that day to a man known for his fiery nature and political ambition.
Raja Man Singh's family -- part of a centuries-old royal lineage -- claimed he had been killed in a premeditated murder plot ordered by the highest politician in the state.
But police said they opened fire in self-defense, killing a hot-tempered man who thought himself above the law.
    For 35 years, no one was held accountable for Man Singh's death. Then, last month, after a protracted legal battle, 11 policemen were convicted of his murder and sentenced to life in prison.
    Dushyant Singh pictured next to a statue of his grandfather, Raja Man Singh.
    His family say it took them 1,700 court dates over 35 years to get justice. Because the trial took so long, all of the policemen convicted are now in their 60s or older, and four policemen who had been accused died before the verdict.
    But the fact there is any result at all is significant in India, where it is rare for police to be convicted over the killing of a member of the public -- a situation known in India as an "encounter killing."
    And, as Man Singh's family points out, there might not have been any justice at all if it weren't for their royal lineage.

    The last of the royals

    When Man Singh was born in 1921, the Indian subcontinent was still under British control.
    But only about two thirds of the population was directly ruled by the British Raj -- the other third was governed by about 600 local rulers who swore allegiance to the British crown.
    The "princely states" benefited the British Raj -- they reduced the administrative load as they ruled their own affairs and, by splintering the population, made it less likely that the Indian subjects would unify against them.
    After India gained independence in 1947, these princely states were dismantled and the country became the world's biggest democracy. That included the princely state of Bharatpur, then under the rule of Man Singh's brother, Maharaja Brijendra.
    Royal families were allowed to keep their palaces, which many former rulers converted into magnificent hotels, according to Adnan Naseemullah, who teaches South Asian politics at King's College London. And up until 1971, the former royal families were paid a privy purse -- compensation from the central government for their loss of status.
    After independence, some former royals -- such as the Bharatpur royal family -- moved into politics. Sometimes, they did this to prevent their property from being transferred to peasants, or to the state, according to Naseemullah. By becoming involved in politics, they were able to turn their traditional authority into a modern, legal authority, said political scientist Vasundhara Sirnate.
    "There's a sense of entitlement with which former royals went into the political process. They knew that if they lose an election... it hurts their traditional authority," she said.
    In the decades after independence, Man Singh proved himself an adept political force.
    By 1985, he had already won six consecutive legislative assembly elections in Rajasthan. He didn't promote a particular issue -- instead, he won every election by leveraging the maharaja's immense popularity, campaigning under the slogan "Long Live Giriraj Maharaj," a reference to the royal family's deity of valor.
    In 1985, he was campaigning for his seventh term against a rival from the then-ruling Indian National Congress Party, which had pushed for independence from the British.
    The seventh campaign would be Man Singh's last.
    On February 19, Congress party members went to Man Singh's summer palace in Deeg, a town in Bharatpur, according to Vijay Singh, Man Singh's son-in-law. There, they pulled down a flag -- it's unclear what kind of flag it was -- and burned it.
    The following day, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Shiv Charan Mathur, the highest elected official in the state, held a rally in support of Man Singh's opponent.
    Furious, Man Singh showed up at the rally, according to a 158-page judgment by a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court handed down last month.
    He drove his military vehicle into the stage, then rammed into the helicopter that the chief minister had used to fly to the rally. The helicopter's windows were smashed and the chief minister had to return to Rajasthan's capital, Jaipur, by road.
    According to Vijay Singh, police made no attempt to arrest Man Singh after the incident, although a police report filed that day accused him of attempted murder. Man Singh continued with his electioneering, and even held a political address near a police station later that evening.
    At around midday the next day -- February 21 -- Man Singh, his son-in-law and other party members were on their way to a campaign meeting, according to the judgment.
    They were stopped by around 50 police officers in a crowded market. When Man Singh attempted to reverse his car, police opened fire, killing him, according to Vijay Singh's account to police.

    Self defence or murder?

    As police told it, they killed Man Singh in self-defense.
    When they got to the market to arrest him over the incident the previous day, his party members opened fire using improvised guns constructed from scrap material, known in India as "country-made guns," police said.
    When one officer told them to surrender, police reports allege that Man Singh yelled back: "Kill the scumbags," according to a translation from the Hindi judgment.
    Police claimed they were forced to fire, leaving Man Singh and two of his party members injured. After the chaos subsided, they took all three for treatment, according to the original police report.
    Left: An image of the late Raja Man Singh, who was born into a royal family in Bharatpur. Right: A young Raja Man Singh.
    Lawyers for police pointed to Man Singh's quick temper -- during the 1971 elections he rammed his car into his opponent's vehicle, and in 1973 he did the same to a police vehicle, snatching a weapon from an officer and brawling with police, according to police reports.
    But Vijay Singh, who was almost hit by a bullet himself in the fatal shooting, said it wasn't self-defense -- it was murder.
    He claims that the chief minister of Rajasthan was furious that Man Singh damaged his helicopter and disrupted his rally. So he came up with a plan for revenge -- he ordered police to kill Man Singh.
    According to Vijay Singh, the first bullet was fired by the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Kan Singh Bhati, who is now over 82 years old. Contrary to the police report, Vijay Singh says his father-in-law and his supporters died on the spot and weren't carrying weapons -- instead police planted evidence to make it look as if there had been a shoot-out.
    "This was an open daylight murder in the middle of a busy market but they scared people into not speaking up," Vijay Singh told CNN last month. "Why would a family with tens of licensed guns travel with a country gun, instead?"
    In its court ruling last month, the CBI did not deal with Vijay Singh's claim that the chief minister -- who died in 2009 -- had ordered the killing.
    But it did side with Vijay Singh's version of events. The court found that the firing began on Bhati's orders. It ruled that Man Singh and his party members did not have any weapons on them -- and that they had died on the spot.
    "The family and the public are both happy for this verdict and we welcome it," said Krishnendra Kaur, Man Singh's daughter.
    She added that she was glad that she and her two sisters were alive to see the result -- Man Singh's wife didn't live to see the outcome.
    CNN has sought comment from the CBI and Bharatpur police.

    Why the case took so long

    After Man Singh died, many people in Bharatpur were distraught.
    India's hundreds of princely states were governed differently -- and in many, there was no love lost between the commoners and their formal rulers, Naseemullah said. They were seen as "stooges of the British Empire" who were on the "wrong side of history," he added.
    But in Bharatpur, many people loved the royal family. According to Vijay Singh, Man Singh worked his farms himself and was called a "farmer among kings and a king among farmers," by his people. There was public goodwill towards the royal family, who had been kind to their people, Vijay Singh added.