Battle Royal: How the Past Came Back to Haunt the Scindias in Madhya Pradesh Bypolls

 BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia.

BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia.

While a good showing in the 16 seats falling under the Gwalior-Chambal region would boost Scindia's prospects of becoming a union minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet, a dismal performance in his area of influence has a potential of reducing and undermining his pivotal role.


Rasheed Kidwai

The outcome on November 10 of bypolls in 28 assembly constituencies of Madhya Pradesh will have tremendous bearing on Jyotiraditya Scindia and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While a good showing in the 16 seats falling under the Gwalior-Chambal region would boost Scindia's prospects of becoming a union minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet, a dismal performance in his area of influence has a potential of reducing and undermining his pivotal role. The BJP has a large stable of ambitious leaders, such as Narendra Singh Tomar, Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya, Narottam Mishra, Prabhat Jha and others, who have been traditional opponents of the ‘Mahal’ politics.

At another level, an intense and highly personalised election campaign in the run-up to voting on November 3 for the assembly bypolls has already damaged the prestige of the house of Scindias in the Gwalior-Chambal and Ujjain-Indore regions of the erstwhile Gwalior empire.

For the first time in many decades, all the political players within the house of Scindias were on the same side of the political spectrum. On the face of it, everything should have been nice and smooth. But, on ground zero, it turned far more complex and ugly. For the first time, there was no one from within to tame those attempting to cross the 'Laxman Rekha’ of political discourse and decency.

The house of Scindias’ legacy dates back 300 years, having negotiated many rough passages of history such as the revolt of 1857 when the British deeply acknowledged their assistance in quelling what many consider as India’s first war of independence, the events following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the trial of Nathuram Godse (these allegations remain unsubstantiated) and the 1975 Emergency where allegations were of tax evasion and hiding famed Scindia riches and fortune.

In independent India, the Scindias were quick to become democratically elected representatives. From 1957 till date, there has not been a single day when a Scindia was not an MLA or MP. Then came 1977 when Madhavrao Scindia fell out with mother Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia and won the Lok Sabha polls with Congress support when the Indira Gandhi-led party was badly mauled.

However, in every subsequent assembly and parliamentary polls, when Scindia family members were contesting as Congress and BJP nominees, the royal legacy enforced a sense of self-discipline. They made a habit of asking the “Gwalior ki praja”, in areas that were part of the Gwalior empire, to vote for them regardless of which side of the political spectrum they were representing. Whenever a Scindia was asked to campaign against another, He or she would simply tell the crowds, “meri izzat rakh lena (keep my dignity)”, leaving them confused as to what exactly they meant.

But throughout October 2020, the Scindias, for the first time, saw the bullseye painted on them. Each of the thorny issues of the past was raked up in full. As if firefighters, Jyotiraditya and his aunt Yashodhara were left to defend themselves, as the state BJP unit and its key players remained mute spectators, and the likes of Tomar, Jha and Pawaiya took sporadic potshots.

The issue of the Scindias’ past, particularly their role during 1857, was raked up extensively throughout the bypolls campaign. Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya, a former minister and Gwalior- based politician, could not resist taking a dig. In a reference to Rani Lakshmibai’s sacrifice and the role of Jiwajirao Scindia, Pawaiya said, “The principles can’t be altered like garments and history can’t be changed for someone’s convenience.”. Prabhat Jha, former BJP national vice-president, too made amends after making some allegations against the Scindia family’s "land grabbing" and "illegal sale of some properties".

Jyotiraditya’s former party, the Congress, went ballistic, even reproducing some text of RSS ideologue VD Savarkar’s views on the Scindias. Writing in 1909, Savarkar, a revered figure among BJP leaders, had criticised Scindia dynasty ruler Jayajirao for joining hands with the British. Savarkar had quoted unnamed persons and described Jayajirao as a "traitor" and "coward" who betrayed Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. “If Scindia is not for the country, drag him down from his throne,” Savakar had written.

The Congress also leaned on noted Hindi poetess Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s work, who had made a scathing attack on the Scindia legacy for being in cahoots with the British.

“Angrezon ke mitra Scindia ne chhodi rajdhani thi

Bundele harbolon ke muhn humne suni kahani thi

Khub ladi mardani wah to Jhansiwali rani thi"

[Friends of the British, the Scindias, had abandoned their capital, we have heard the story from Bundelon Harbolon (religious singers from Bundelkhand), she fought with valour, she was the queen of Jhansi.]

There was more. The Congress also accused Jyotiraditya of selling some ancestral properties in Gwalior. State Congress vice-president Murari Lal Dubey and KK Mishra held a press conference and distributed some documents to claim that a tomb built in the memory of a dog was sold off. It was a memorial reportedly willed by late Madho Maharaj [the 5th Maharaja of Gwalior, 1876 –1925] in the memory of his favourite dog Hussu.

Hussu was supposedly his master’s favourite when Madho Maharaj had gone to Paris in 1925. During his illness, the maharaja of Gwalior is said to have asked Maharani Chinkoo Raje to take care of Hussu in his will. While Madho Maharaj died in Paris, Hussu kept visiting his bedroom for a record five years, seven months and 18 days. When Hussu’s end came in November 1930, Chinkoo Raje built a befitting memorial and buried the dog and a stone was erected by her. The Congress hurled allegations of illegal sale and illegal construction related to the property.

Jyotiraditya responded with a sense of hurt and asked if it was a mistake to be born in a particular family of royals and be wealthy and have properties that are 300 years old.

Disclaimer: Journalist-commentator Rasheed Kidwai is the author of the soon-to-be-published 'The House of Scindias' by Roli Books. The views expressed here are personal.

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