The entry of Jyotiraditya Scindia into the BJP after 18 years in the Congress is a “coming together for the whole Scindia family”, which has “the ideology of the BJP in its blood”, according to Yashodhara Raje, Jyotiraditya’s aunt and the BJP MLA from Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh.
Members of the erstwhile royal family of Gwalior have been in politics for over six decades, and are among the most influential political dynasties of independent India. This is the first time in many years that all politically active Scindias are with the BJP.
The beginning: Vijaya Raje
The Hindu Mahasabha has traditionally been popular in the Gwalior-Guna area. In the 1950s, Jivajirao, Jyotiraditya’s grandfather, was believed to have a soft corner for the party — and this annoyed Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1956, when the Maharaja was in Bombay, the royal consort, Vijaya Raje Scindia, travelled to Delhi to meet with the Prime Minister and his daughter Indira. She assured them that Jivajirao had no interest in politics, and did not support or finance the Hindu Mahasabha.
Nehru asked Vijaya Raje to meet Govind Ballabh Pant and Lal Bahadur Shastri, who asked her to contest the Lok Sabha election on a Congress ticket. Vijaya Raje thus became the Congress MP from Guna in 1957, and from Gwalior in 1962. Meanwhile, the Maharaja passed away in 1961.
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The break with Congress
On March 25, 1966, at a time when Madhya Pradesh was reeling under drought, Pravir Chandra Bhanj Dev, the popular maharaja of Bastar, was shot dead along with 11 of his associates at the palace in Jagdalpur. In her autobiography, Rajpath se Lokpath par (1997), Vijaya Raje wrote about the Maharaja’s killing: “Perhaps the truth will never be known. But it is true that he was killed by people who managed to force their way into the palace. The killer was someone from the police, who had fired to disperse the crowd that had assembled outside.”
That September, police fired on and killed two protesting students in Gwalior. The Chief Minister at the time was Dwarka Prasad Mishra, a man with a reputation for arrogance and a dislike of royal families. As the increasingly upset Rajmata, who had by then come to be called “Naraj-mata”, decided to leave the Congress, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) saw its opportunity.
RSS pracharaks Kushabhau Thakre and Pyarelal Khandelwal, who were at the time deputed as sangathan mantris (Secretary, Organisation) of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), persuaded Vijaya Raje to join the party. During the state and national elections of 1967, she contested the Karera Assembly segment of Gwalior on a BJS ticket, and the Guna Lok Sabha seat as a candidate of the Swatantra Party.
After she won both elections, Vijaya Raje resigned her seat in Parliament to become Leader of Opposition in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly. Soon afterward, Congress MLAs led by Govind Narayan Singh rebelled against D P Mishra, and the BJS propped up the new government with Singh as Chief Minister. The Congress managed to woo Singh back, but not Vijaya Raje. She won the 1971 Lok Sabha election from Bhind on a BJS ticket, leaving Guna for her 26-year-old son, Madhavrao Scindia, who won as an Independent backed by the BJS. The Gwalior seat was won by another BJS stalwart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. When the BJS was re-born as the BJP in 1980, Vijaya Raje was one of its founder members.
Mother, son go separate ways
Vijaya Raje was put in jail during the Emergency. She was later released on parole, and Madhavrao Scindia returned to India from Nepal after the government assured him he would not be arrested. “Bhaiya (Madhavrao) told me that if he refused to join the Congress, I would be put back in jail,” Vijaya Raje wrote. When elections were announced after the Emergency in 1977, Madhavrao told her and her associate Bal Angre: “I will now take my own decisions. I don’t need your advice,” Vijaya Raje recorded.
Madhavrao contested as an Independent candidate from Gwalior, and was able to overcome the Janata wave sweeping the country after the Rajmata appealed to people to vote for him. In the years that followed, however, their relations worsened. Madhavrao had grown close to Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, and was particularly upset after Vijaya Raje decided to take on Indira at the Rae Bareli seat in the 1980 elections. She lost, while Madhavrao was elected from Guna on a Congress ticket.
Madhavrao served as minister in the governments of Rajiv Gandhi and P V Narasimha Rao, but resigned ahead of the 1996 elections after his name surfaced in the Jain hawala diaries. He quit the Congress after being denied a ticket, and formed the Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress. He backed the United Front governments led by H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral, but returned to the Congress in 1998, where he stayed until his death in an air crash in 2001.
The other Scindias in politics
Vijaya Raje, who passed away in 2001, also had four daughters, two of whom entered politics.
Vasundhara Raje, 67, was elected to the Rajasthan Assembly from Dholpur in 1985, and to Lok Sabha from Jhalawar in 1989. She remained an MP until 2003, when she returned to Rajasthan, and became Chief Minister. She has been an MLA ever since, and served another term as CM during 2013-18.
Yashodhara Raje, 65, returned from the United States in the early 1990, and started to look after her mother’s Lok Sabha constituency, Guna. She was elected to the Madhya Pradesh Assembly in 1998, 2003, 2013, and 2018, and served as a Minister in Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government.
Vasundhara Raje’s son Dushyant Singh is Lok Sabha member from Jhalawar-Baran.
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