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.
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.