A former Bajrang Dal chief is desperately trying to revive his old firebrand image, while an erstwhile maharaja is equally desperate to shed his royal tag. The battle in this key constituency in Madhya Pradesh is partly about symbolism.
The BJP has fielded Jaibhain Singh Pavaiyya against Congress’s Jyotiraditya Scindia, mainly for his anti-Mahal (a reference to Jai Vilas Palace, Gwalior) politics. Jyotiraditya’s father Madhavrao had won by a narrow margin against Pavaiyya in 1998 on his home turf Gwalior, which the BJP candidate insists forced the senior Scindia to look for a safe seat.
In 1999, Madhavrao won Guna, where old timers are still nostalgic about the royalty, while Pavaiyya pocketed Gwalior only to lose in the next election.
While Pavaiyya, 57, accuses his rival of promoting feudalism, his much younger opponent, who is contesting his fourth election, refers to him only as a ‘migratory bird’ because he has little connection with Guna.
The union minister says he wants to talk about only development, and appeals to his voters to increase his victory margin of 2.5 lakh to the highest in the country.
And yet for the first time, the 43-year-old is feeling the heat, not because of his aggressive rival but the BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi, who addressed a rally last week in Shivpuri where he called Scindia “the most arrogant person I have ever met’’ and slammed him for his royal aloofness that keeps him away from the common man.
Scindia targets Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who has addressed several rallies in Guna, accusing him of repeatedly lying.
“I get bored in AC cabins. I never come here empty-handed,’’ Scindia tells a rally in Guna and reels off details of projects he got sanctioned.
In public rallies, the feudalism that Pavaiyya talks of is tangible. Most speakers refer to Scindia only as maharaja.
Scindia occasionally counters the feudal charge by referring to the association of his grandmother and aunts with the BJP. This is only while talking to reporters, but never in rallies.
His wife Priyardarshini visits villages and tries to form a rapport with the women, while his mother Madhviraje plays her role in fine-tuning the campaign.
Most of Scindia’s rivals are glad that their challenge made the royals hit the lanes and bylanes like “any other commoner.’’
“For the first time we think we are giving a tough fight and can even win. Earlier, the BJP never fielded any strong candidate,’’ says BJP worker Anand Agarwal. Another BJP leader says, “Pavaiyya is not in the fray, it’s Narendra Modi.’’
One of the key figures of the Ayodhya movement, Pavaiyya hopes to ride Modi’s popularity but he does his bit during the campaigns.
“Have you ever shaken hands with Scindia? Have you ever addressed him by name? Did you ever succeed in your attempts to talk to him on the phone?’’ he asks the crowds.
The effect of Pavaiyya’s campaign is visible in Scindia’s campaign material. Few hoardings and posters put up by loyalists at public places refer to him as ‘Shrimant’ or ‘Maharaj’, a far cry from the 2009 election.
Pavaiyya, an MLA from Gwalior, is himself at the receiving end of the Palace Factor. There’s an unwritten code that the Scindia family members don’t campaign against one another even when they are in different parties and share different ideologies. And when they do campaign, they don’t take names.
Scindia’s aunt Yashodhara, a minister in the Chouhan government, hasn’t campaigned in favour of Pavaiyya of her own. She was present at Modi’s rally but she and Pavaiyya were not comfortable in each other’s presence.