With a stroke of destiny and initiative, Jyotiraditya Scindia is back as a union minister with a portfolio that his illustrious father Madhavrao Scindia once had. As civil aviation minister, Madhavrao Scindia had steered several initiatives, making even Air India profitable.
In the social and political circles of Gwalior, Bhopal, Delhi, Mumbai and elsewhere, the buzz since Wednesday is whether the eleventh titular maharaja of Gwalior will be a bigger success story than grandmother Vijaya Raje Scindia or father Madhavrao? Some even view Jyotiraditya’s initial success as a step in fulfilling an unfinished agenda where his forefathers had failed.
As civil aviation minister under P.V. Narasimha Rao, Madhavrao, who had earlier been a popular and successful minister for railways under Rajiv Gandhi, opened the skies for private players. Jet Airways owner Naresh Goyal used to openly admit that had it not been Madhavrao, he would not have dreamt of launching a private airline. Madhavrao openly said that his priority was to ensure passengers get all travel benefits instead of protecting government-backed airlines. Under his tenure, Air India and Indian Airlines’ punctuality improved to 96 per cent. However, probity-conscious Madhavrao resigned when an aircraft, leased from Uzbekistan Airways during a domestic pilots’ strike, crash-landed—thankfully without loss of life—at Delhi airport.
Jyotiraditya now has a difficult task cut out for him. He not only has to live up to the high expectations of Prime Minister Narendra Modi but also respond to those who consider him a worthy descendant of his grandmother and father who had excelled in public life. If Vijaya Raje was given a title of Rajmata, Madhavrao was viewed as ‘people’s maharaja’ for vision, efficiency, charisma and leadership.
No ‘Preferential’ Treatment
Born on January 1, 1971, the arrival of a male heir after two sisters at Bombay (now Mumbai) led to celebrations and festivities that went on for months. Apparently, Madhavrao wanted his son to be called Vikramaditya but Vijaya Raje had overruled that and settled for Jyotiraditya, named after the family deity, Jyotiba. When the proud parents and grandmother returned to Gwalior, Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior was illuminated, thousands were fed and offerings were sent to all city temples.
Jyotiraditya’s initial years were spent in Nepal, where he was home schooled. When post-Emergency, Madhavrao returned to India, he made it a point not to send his son to the family-owned Scindia School in Gwalior. Madhavrao must have been conscious of the ‘preferential treatment’ he himself had received in Scindia School despite father Jiwajirao Scindia’s specific instructions not to treat his son differently.
As I have mentioned in my recently released book, ‘The House of Scindias–A Saga of Power, Politics and Intrigue’ [Roli Books], Madhavrao was an attentive father. He groomed Jyotiraditya for real-life challenges, even when he took the young son for fun trips and ‘shikar’. Once the father and son were passing through a jungle in Shivpuri and night was about to fall when Madhavrao pretended his jeep had stalled. Madhavrao, sensing that his young son was frightened that tigers might be approaching them, made him walk ahead in the wild while keeping the jeep headlights on. After a few moments, he started the jeep and asked Jyotiraditya to hop on. Madhavrao is said to have told Jyotiraditya that he didn’t want his son to be a cry baby.
The Scindias had a fleet of fancy cars but Madhavrao made sure that his son went to school in a 12-year-old Ambassador. Both Jyotiraditya and sister Chitrangada were made to memorize shlokas. In school, Jyotiraditya paid special attention to learning the Hindi language, making him a much better speaker in Hindi than any public school product in public life.
Jyotiraditya told Priya Sahgal, author of ‘Contenders – Who Would Lead India Tomorrow’ [Simon & Schuster 2018], that he was able to pick nuances of Hindi each time he accompanied his father on the election campaign. ‘UP mein aur is samay ke Uttarakhand [where Doon School is located] mein bahut klisht Hindi boli jaati thi. Hamare Hindi ke adhyapak badi klisht Hindi mein charcha karte the [in UP and in the present day Uttrakhand, chaste Hindi is spoken. My Hindi teacher used to converse in chaste Hindi].’
A Jinx Was Broken
Jyotiraditya got married in December 1994 but the wedding celebrations were low key. Family insiders of that era recall that Madhavrao, a senior minister in the P.V. Narasimha Rao cabinet, was conscious not to display wealth.
Incidentally, Jyotiraditya’s wife, 1975-born Priyadarshini Raje, daughter of a former Baroda royal, Kumar Sangramsinh Gaekwad, had met Jyotiraditya in December 1991 in Delhi. Jyotiraditya had later narrated in an interview, “Our first meeting was an arranged affair – a dinner at a social gathering. From then on, it was up to us. But I knew from day one that Priyadarshini was the one for me. We were finally married in December 1994.” The couple believe that theirs was a love marriage solemnized as an arranged marriage.
Along with son Mahanaryaman and daughter Ananya Raje, Priyadarshini Raje is a permanent fixture in high-society glossies. Known for her innate style, she regularly tops the list of India’s best dressed women and is widely viewed as a modern-day standard bearer of the Scindia family’s long-standing style legacy.
Madhavrao Scindia’s biographer Vir Sanghvi remembers Madhavrao turning emotional when Jyotiraditya was getting married. In the past 300 years, no Scindia had lived to see the wedding of his heir. Jiwajirao had died when Madhavrao was in school while Madho Maharaj had died when Jiwajirao was barely nine. A historical jinx had been broken.