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February 27, 1998


Campaign Trail/ Archana Masih

'Is election ne Madhavrao ko mahal se sadak par utar diya hai'

Madhavrao Scindia hangs out of his flower bedecked Ambassador as it crawls through the cheering crowd. "Maharaj Madhavrao Scindia Zindabad!" Slogans rent the air, crackers burst layer after layer and garlands lie in a big heap on the roof of his car as it passes through the heart of Gwalior city.

"Elections come and elections go, but my relationship with the people of Gwalior will remain forever," says the visibly trimmer Madhavrao who has represented Gwalior in Parliament for 14 years.

While the crowd blocks all traffic on the narrow road, women peer out of their first floor homes -- "Maharaj ka gala baith gaya hai, (Maharaj has a soar throat)," points out one woman, who is hearing Scindia for the second time that day. "I heard his speech in Sindhi colony too, and wanted to hear him again -- but his throat was better then," she adds.

Indira Gandhi may have taken away his title 28 years ago, but to Gwalior's residents, Madhavrao Scindia is still Maharaj.

His party workers tear through the teeming crowds and make way for their leader so that he can reach his car. The Maharaj is not planning to disappoint his people -- he swings his door open and, almost Bollywood hero-like, stands up from the moving car. To complete the showmanship that afternoon, he picks a child from the crowd and lifts the lad high above his head.

"You, the people of Gwalior have always been a part of my family. You know how my son-in-law, the Yuvraj of Kashmir, introduced himself to you a few days back -- he said he was first the son-in-law of Gwalior..."

Madhavrao's entire family is rallying around him this election. His wife Madhavi Raje, elder son Jyotiraditya with his wife, and daughter Chitrangada and son-in law (Dr Karan Singh's elder son), have assembled at the Raj Vilas Palace. Jyotiraditya has been organising scooter rallies in his father's support. Madhavi Raje and Chitrangada have been meeting people to garner support for Scindia.

His opponents claim this hectic activity is indicative of Scindia's insecurity this election. "Is election ne Madhavrao ko mahal se sadak par utar diya hai, (This election has brought Madhavrao out of his palace on to the roads)," says former BJP MLA Anoop Mishra.

Madhavrao is known to have become far more accessible this time than he has been before. In this deeply feudal setting, 'Maharaj' took many by surprise by sitting on the floor with local traders during the campaign.

Though he has had a scintillating electoral record, the general sentiment in Gwalior is that Madhavrao faces a real challenge this time.

The man who gives credence to this argument is the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate, Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya. A former president of the Bajrang Dal, Pawaiya is being touted as the first 'serious' candidate fielded by the BJP against Madhavrao since Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the height of the sympathy wave in December 1984. In 1996, the party did not field any candidate against him after he left the Congress to form the Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress. The illusion that he would join his mother's party was soon broken; he returned to the Congress soon after P V Narasimha Rao was ousted as party president.

"Gwalior does not need a Maharaja -- it needs a kisan," says Pawaiya flamboyantly. " Whatever Scindia has done for Gwalior does not benefit the rural part of his constituency in any way. How will halogen bulbs in the stadium improve their quality of life?" asks the BJP candidate, clearly a streetfighter.

Pawaiya, who spends an hour in puja every morning, has been living with a friend in central Gwalior because his own house is too small to facilitate the campaign.

Though the front-runner has done much for Gwalior -- connected it nationwide through important trains, built an airport, set up a physical training institute, a sports stadium -- his opponents charge that Madhavrao has not done much for the rural population. "He has tended to make it glamorous, that's all," stresses Pawaiya.

With almost imperial disdain, 'Maharaj' waves away Pawaiya's presence. "In 1984, 1989, 1991, there was a BJP candidate. In 1984 it was none other than Vajpayee," he says. "In 1989, the BJP won 32 seats in Madhya Pradesh. There was an anti-Congress wave and we won only four or five seats, so it isn't a new thing. I am used to it."

Despite Scindia's confidence, observers expect both Pawaiya and the Bahujan Samaj Party's Phool Singh Baraiya to get a sizeable number of votes, especially in the rural segment of the constituency. Phool Singh got as much as 22.31% of the vote in 1996, giving the 'Maharaj' a rather rude surprise.

Gwalior has a considerable OBC and ST presence. The current election has 17 candidates -- the highest so far from the constituency, which is expected to distribute the votes further.

"You can be 100% sure that Scindia will see a marked reduction in his margin of victory this year," assesses a local trader.

His detractors also highlight the closure of three government-owned industries, which has left an estimated 50,000 people unemployed. "Some workers from the factories have committed suicide," claims a BJP activist.

In spite of the odds, no one truly believes that Madhavrao will lose Gwalior which his family has ruled for over two centuries now. Gwalior remains one of the Congress party's safest bets in MP. Although many perceive him as a likely prime ministerial candidate if the Congress heads a coalition at the Centre, he brushes away such questions. "These are," he says using his favourite word, "hypothetical questions. I can't predict the arithmetic at the Centre after the election."

Meanwhile, his convey continues to crawl. More flowers, crackers, slogans welcome him as he straightens his waistcoat, runs his hands through his hair and gets ready for the next 'Sabha'.

Campaign Trail

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