By Utpal Borpujari
“Yahan to Mahal ka Tommy bhi jeet jaata hai” (here even a ‘Tommy’ from the palace would win).
Very crudely put by roadside tea vendor Rakesh Katare of Mohna, a popular traveller stoppage on the Agra-Mumbai highway, but what he says carries a lot of meaning in the politics of the region that constituted the erstwhile Gwalior kingdom.
In refined language, it means that the “Mahal” (palace) is where politics in the region, now comprising the Parliamentary constituencies of Gwalior and Guna, is controlled from, and people – voters – are a willing partner in the game.
No wonder, in every election since 1957, no member of the royal family has lost from Gwalior or Guna, and the only time any one from the family has lost a poll in the larger Gwalior region was when Vasundhara Raje lost from Bhind in 1984.
Since then, she has shifted her political base to neighbouring Rajasthan, but others have continued with the game of being “Maharajas” and “Maharanis” to people here, while being part of the democratic and electoral set up.
Deshraj Ahuja, who has been living in Gwalior since 1959 and has been a witness to it all, puts it succinctly, “Here, when people vote, their first consideration is who in the race is from the royal family. Party affiliations come later.”
In Shivpuri, Ranjeet Gupta, a young entrepreneur, echoes this, “The same people who would vote for Congress in one election would vote for BJP in the next if a ‘mahal’ representative is contesting from that party.”
And if in an election there is no candidate from the palace, as it is the case in quite a few Assembly constituencies within the region, then the voters look for which candidates have its backing, and vote accordingly.
“So, one is not surprised if the same voters who might have voted for BJP in the Assembly elections now vote for the Congress, or vice versa,” admits a local Congress leader in Shivpuri.
The “mahal” itself seems to be playing along these lines all the time, and though none of its denizens would admit it, they are at ease being addressed as “maharaja” and “rajmata”. They have not historically even campaigned against one another, not to talk of contesting against one another.
And now, if pressures of ever-present electronic media and more aware voters force them to campaign in each other’s constituency, Jyotiraditya Scindia of Congress and Yashodhara Raje Scindia of BJP refrain from taking each other’s names.
However, the fight for claim to the legacy is quite apparent, with Jyotiraditya saying time and again in election meetings that “Iss Pariwar Ka Mukhiya Main Hoon ( I am the head of this family)” and invoking his father’s name, while Raje harks back to her mother Vijayaraje, who was the first person from the family to become a political stalwart.
This time, Scindia has held a few campaign meetings in Gwalior in favour of party candidate Ashok Singh Yadav, but he has refrained from making any reference to his aunt Raje, who on the other hand is stressing the point that she is the true heir of “Rajmata” Vijayaraje.
The modus operandi has clearly worked, with a Scindia family representative being in Parliament all the time since 1957, when Vijayaraje first won from Guna. Since then, apart from herself, her three children – the late Madhavrao, Vasundhara and Yashodhara – and two grandchildren, Jyotiraditya and Dushyant – have been MPs.
The royal family saga seems destined to continue in this region for a long time to come, even though now people have started talking about “Mill, Mahal Aur Satta” – reference to the defunct clothe mills, the palace and the power politics within it – as the reason behind Gwalior’s apparent lack of development as compared to places like Indore, Bhopal and Jabalpur.