Gwalior / Guna: It doesn’t matter which political party they belong to. Sheer royal charisma is expected to see members of the princely family of Gwalior romp home in elections to the Lok Sabha on 30 April.
Testing times: BJP candidate Yashodhara Raje (right) with her party workers. Raje is facing a tough battle in Gwalior this time due to intra-party troubles and growing aspirations of young voters. Liz Mathew / Mint
Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, son of the late Congress stalwart Madhavrao Scindia, is a Congress party candidate from the Guna-Shivpuri Lok Sabha seat in Madhya Pradesh, and his aunt Yashodhara Raje is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominee from nearby Gwalior.
For the past five decades, with the exception of the fourth Lok Sabha in 1967-71, at least one member of Gwalior’s Jai Vilas Palace, the residence of the Scindia royal family founded in the 18th century, has represented either Guna or Gwalior in Parliament’s lower house.
The late BJP leader Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia—the mother of Madhavrao Scindia, Yashodhara Raje and former chief minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje—won from Guna for the first time in the 1957 general election. She won from Gwalior in 1962. Madhavrao Scindia, who died in a plane crash in 2001, was voted to the Lok Sabha from Gwalior in 1984, 1989 and 1991, 1996 and 1998.
Madhavrao Scindia, who began his political career as a Jan Sangh candidate, his mother’s party, won from Guna, now renamed Guna-Shivpuri, in 1971. He won the seat in 1999 and following his death, his son won it in a bypoll and later in the 2004 general election.
According to political analyst Bidyut Chakraborty, a professor in the department of political science at Delhi university, most people in the region have a feeling that their erstwhile royal rulers are better than others. “A plausible explanation could be the symbiotic relation between the people and the rulers. The Scindias have always been successful in projecting their humane face to the people.”
Yashodhara Raje and Vasundhara Raje are both with the BJP, the party their mother joined when it was formed out of the Jan Sangh in 1980.
This time, there are some signs of trouble for the family, though not enough to unseat them.
In the 2008 assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Scindia’s aides lost most of their seats in the state. “His close aides fought in 25 (assembly seats) but won only five thanks to the factionalism in the Congress,” said a Congress office bearer in the state, requesting anonymity.
Of the eight assembly seats that fall under the Guna-Shivpuri Lok Sabha constituency, the BJP won six last year.
Pradyumn Singh Tomar, a legislator close to Jyotiraditya Scindia, denied internal squabbles had anything to do with it. “These are baseless allegations. The Congress is united to defeat the BJP,” he said. Scindia, the Union minister of state for information technology and communications, who is contesting the Guna seat for a third time, is pitted against BJP’s Narottam Mishra.
But challenges for Yashodhara Raje appear to be tougher. She is locked in a fierce fight with the Congress candidate Ashok Singh, who is believed to be a consensus candidate of the leading Congress factions in the region, led by party general secretary Digvijay Singh and Scindia himself.
According to some associates of Raje, however, she faces more of a threat from a hostile BJP unit than the Congress in her constituency.
“More than anybody, some BJP leaders don’t want her to win the seat. The party leadership has made the atmosphere in Gwalior very hostile for her,” said a person close to Raje, declining to be identified.
Some people in Gwalior see her as an outsider. “She lives in Dholpur (in Rajasthan). She remembers us only when the elections come,” said R.S. Jain, who runs a hardware shop in the city. Jain said Singh has an edge over Raje because of voters’ unhappiness with her.
Vivek Sharma, a student, agreed, but was sceptical. “She will win at the end of the day. We, the youth want a change, but the illiterate here still worship the royal family members, What to do?”
Charges also fly against the royals for helping each other though they are in rival political camps. “Blood is thicker than water (Scindia and his supporters won’t let his aunt Raje lose),” said Afsal Khureshi, a taxi driver.
Raje, who starts her day with detailed discussions with her campaign managers, says that her “connection” with the people of Gwalior and her work as the Madhya Pradesh tourism and sports minister and as a member of Parliament will stand stand her in good stead. She was elected to the Lok Sabha in March 2007 in a by-election.
“I told my voters I have been with them and I will be with them even if I lose this election. I can sleep peacefully because I have done my work,” she said. “But they should not take a decision (to vote for somebody else) which they will regret later.”
While Raje, her son Akshay Bhansali Scindia, the US-based MTV journalist who takes care of her campaign, and the BJP workers start their day from one part of the Jai Vilas Palace, Jyotiraditya Scinda and his colleagues set out from another suite.
Akshay Bhansali Scindia was non-committal when asked about his entry into politics. He said: “Right now I am just campaigning for my mother... I should be lucky to be in politics.”