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February 28, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/Yashodhara Raje Scindia

Yashodhara Raje, the youngest of the Scindia siblings, has been active in her mother Vijaya Raje’s constituency for the last nine years. Travelling extensively, on behalf of her mother’s election campaign, she is being seen as the next Scindia from Guna – a longheld family bastion.

Travelling through the bumpy Pohri area near Shivpuri, she spoke to Archana Masih about her mother’s contribution to politics, her own campaign experiences and being as good as the candidate herself in this election.

It is said that politics is the great equaliser…what have been your experiences in this election campaign?

It is quite amazing. My mother’s whole career has been a role model for us children. Take my example, I was brought into the first election in 1989, when I went personally to ask for votes on behalf of my mother. While I was doing that I always thought I had to come back and that was how it first started.

Don’t call me ma’am, call me Yasho — that becomes an equaliser.

From 1989 onwards one has always come back and done work. There is a very invisible line between politics and my work. It is not easy getting any work done for the people if you are zero in administration and do not know anybody. You have to end up working with the local administration – the collector, then going to the higher level which is the Madhya Pradesh government and then the central government. So either way you are getting into politics somehow. The situation gets more and more deeper rooted. Once you start working, you start getting into politics in a way.

So since ’89 onwards, I have fought my mother’s election while she has been elsewhere. It has been a long innings and the only difference is that I have never had an MP behind my name and I have never been in Parliament!

This particular election has been different because my mother hasn’t been well and I have had to look after the whole area by myself. Even in the last election, she had a heart attack. Though she’s kept very good health up till now, all the political strain has finally taken its toll. She is in the care of doctors right now and I am sure she will be fine to take the oath and sit in Parliament once again. Which is exactly what we want her to do.

What issues have you been highlighting in this campaign on your mother's behalf?

One issue has been the fiasco with the Kalyan Singh government. It is not hypocritical to say that give this party a chance because we have seen what the other parties have done! And having been in politics and been associated with politics since I was a child, I have really, really honestly come to the conclusion that the Congress party can never stay out of power. They lust for power. They cannot do without it, apart from a few like my brother or the Madhya Pradesh chief minister who have integrity – there are literally a handful you can name.

Otherwise, I don’t think there is anyone in there who doesn’t want to be a minister. They don’t want to do anything for the people, they only want to do things for themselves.

You take the BSP in UP, who have been a great example of what power means. Power has corrupted them. Mayawati, Kanshi Ram have virtually taken democratic norms and torn them aside. Then you take Mulayam Singh Yadav, he literally runs the SP and see what it has done to UP. Uttar Pradesh used to be such a progressive state, now I took my children there a few months back to Mussoorie. It was pathetic! I could not believe the change that had come over UP. It has become dirty, unprotected. It is just goondaraj nothing else. It is done either by the gun or the stick. It means we are not progressing, but regressing. So it is right there for everyone to see which party does work.

I think there are really great leaders in the BJP — Vajpayee, who has not had a single stain on his copy book. Rajmata, who has not had a single stain on her copy book. Advaniji, who even when put under the shadow of hawala, came out of it. Nothing was put against him. It was all a ploy to destroy the BJP.

Then at the second rung, we have another group of great leaders – Sushma Swaraj, Jaswant Singh, Pramod Mahajan, Sikandar Bakht – these are second liners, who also have never had a problem as far as their personalities are concerned. They have done a lot for putting the face of the BJP in Parliament and internationally.

So when you start toloing (weighing), who is good and who is better, I think we are streets ahead of everybody. That’s what I have back to the people with that I as a person honestly believe in what I am saying. I have had a chance of living so close to all these people, believe me in what I am trying to get back to you – the condition of your entire country and not just your own area will improve.

But what are the greatest needs of the people in this area?

The greatest thing that has happened to my mother’s constituents is the possibility of taking her MP fund and using it for the people. It is not much according to what needs to be done. But unless you have your own government, you will not be able to do anything. The Congress government never believed in helping anybody in this operation even if he were an MP or a vidhayak. You had to be either a Congress MP or a Congress MLA. Now at least we have begun work in our area with the parliamentary fund that is given.

So we go from village to village. We have a sansad pratinidhi – my mother’s parliamentary representative. Every second or third month he takes a complete daura (tour) of every area, then we get the representative of the zilla to come and talk to us. We give them money according to how much money there is left and how much money has come into the fund and disperse it.

What are the weak areas of the BJP in this constituency?

Unfortunately, in this constituency and the whole of India caste plays a very big role. Whether you have a kameez (shirt) or not, it really doesn’t matter because in the end you can do a whole bunch of work but if you are not a Yadav... For instance, the Raghuvanshis, today Devendra Singh (the Congress candidate in Guna) is a Raghuvanshi, so everyone is worried about which way the Raghuvanshis will go. Another time there is a Yadav and you wonder where the Yadav votes are going to go. So caste becomes more important than the work you have done. It overshadows everything.

I am lucky in that way because my mother supersedes all caste factors. What usually happens is the candidate who stands against her goes for this caste card. For this is the only way he is going to get votes. So I don’t think there is any kami (weakness) at all. The only kami is when a Kanshi Ram comes along and says the Harijans stand by the BSP. Then the adivasis usually go en masse towards the Congress.

Has there been any change in the loyalty shown by the adivasis towards the Congress? Will their vote still go to the Congress?

I’ve found in this particular election that the people are more responsive. I don’t know whether this goes for the adivasis or not. Let’s take the instance of the Pohri Vidhan Sabha area in my mother’s constituency. It is very far flung. There is too much mileage between each village. It is completely backward and a lot of it is the Kerar or the adivasi vote. We have been trying to show them and tell them that for so many years the Congress hasn’t really done anything for them. It has been in power in MP for five years, what has happened? What are the big programmes that have been implemented?

If anything that has been done, over and over again, in little measures it has been done by the parliamentary fund.

What has your schedule been like during this campaign?

Anything between 15 and 25 meetings a day. I work more in the rural areas because I find they are the people who need the awakening. It is more a moral responsibility than an electoral one. We have to make them empathise with you to be able to vote accordingly. They have to know what is good for them and what is not, otherwise there is no hope for this area. I take villages in Shivpuri or Guna.

After having stayed away from India for 18 long years, what made you come back to Guna?

Even when I was in America, I got calls about what was happening here. And every third or fourth month, I was back to work in this area. It is nothing new. I have been doing it for a very long time, just that I have never bothered to highlight it to anybody. The only reason why it’s getting noticed now is because my mother is not here, and I have been looking after her area for eight-nine years.

If people want anything done, they liaise with me. I write letters directly on my mother’s behalf. People are amazing. They stay awake till one or two in the morning. I have addressed meetings at 1:30 in the morning.

You are believed to be immensely popular in the area, even Congress workers say…

I am? Oh that’s grrreat! I am already feeling better, I was feeling absolutely lousy this morning. I didn’t know that. It suddenly makes me feel good after such a bad bout of cold and fever.

What has been the people’s response to you so far?

Tell you what, I used to keep a very close contact with people, but the last few months I have goofed off. I had become very exhausted. Then there was a lot of indecision at the Centre. The government falling. It was a state of utalputhal (turmoil), one didn’t know what was happening.

I am also very, very involved with my equestrian activities. The polo season was starting. I have introduced this new thing – Arena polo in India. We do a nine day tournament once a year and you need funds for that. We had to raise funds, organise the whole show.

People think she’s the Rajmata’s daughter so she has everything at her finger tips but it’s not that. I take a very active interest in putting it together. Arena polo takes me one month before and two weeks after to clear my desk. That was in October-November. Then I did Polo Royal, which was another big tournament.

So by the time December-January came, already four months were gone. I had my team playing in the Delhi polo season which just finished recently. I have been involved with show jumping, so you never know whether you are coming or going.

So you keep shunting between…

I have permanently moved to Delhi now and travel back and forth between Delhi-Gwalior-Shivpuri. To keep in touch with these people you have to be here, so in these four months as far as I am concerned, I have regressed.

In this election, my mother has come full cycle. She started her political career shortly after my father died. It had just been a few months. You know in the Hindu custom, you are not supposed to go put for a year after your husband’s death. When Nehru approached her to run for Parliament, she told him her restrictions. He told her to stay at home, that he would win the votes for her and that’s what exactly happened. And towards the end of her political career, she’s in and out of her home and is still winning it without having to come to the area.

How do your children react to this role of yours?

I think they have grown used to it. Just like I got used to with my mother. I was six when my father died and my mother entered politics. If we had to see her when we were in boarding school, we had to go on tour with her. I use this as an anecdote in my meetings that as much as we were upset with my mother for giving up on her role as a mother for a bigger role – I tell people that when we used to get back to school from holidays, other children would say they went to Simla, Mussoorie – we would say we went to Durg or Bhilai.

I had always wanted to return to India. First we thought we would be back in two years, then it just kept getting extended. I was always a dummy candidate, in the last election also I did her work.

There was much talk that you would be the candidate from Guna this time.

What really happened was that there is always more hot air than reality. There is always more gossip about the likelihood of who the candidate is. And I have always been around taking on a bigger role, so the BJP may see it as something that is going to evolve whether it happens now or later. My mother was keeping indifferent health, so there was a question of me standing as a dummy candidate in case my mother couldn’t. But there was no question of her not standing.

Do you see yourself as a candidate from Guna in subsequent elections?

That is a hypothetical question. I am already representing the constituency. I just don’t have an MP behind my name. It really doesn’t matter whether you are a candidate or not, at least I have a one to one contact with the people and party workers. I am happy about that. If my mother is there as a parliamentarian, there is really no need for me to be standing.

I remember the first time I came people said "Yashodhara Raje ki jai," as if I were a messiah come down to earth, then I realised that as much as you wanted it to be done, it could be done.

How are things placed in this election?

There is 37 to 40 per cent voting. If you go to Pichore which is Amma’s vidhan sabha constituency. There is such intimidation there that people come and whisper in your ear that don’t worry we’ll vote for you, but we can’t show it. Can you imagine that people still live like this? They hang them upside them from a tree. The Congress candidate from there does that. He’s an MLA. All the police people are his. They’ll lock them up and put dhara so and so. There’s nothing you can do. Illegal mining is happening like anything because he has the blessing of the Congress.

We had held dharnas, I met Saifudin Soz thrice but nothing happened.

When you go into the villages in your mother’s constituency, what do you think people see you as – a princess or a regular candidate?

I don’t know. A lot of them are very illiterate and think I am the Rajmata. A woman to them means the Rajmata. My aunt and my sister have also helped in this campaign. Many of them know me as the daughter because in many areas I have been in constant contact. It is mostly with the older people – this idea of rani or rajkumari. It is amazing how still that threads runs through the older lot.

Sometimes you catch a tear in their eye because they think you are the Rajmata’s daughter, who has come to see them. It is then that I think ‘Oh God, we’ve really failed.’ You will find this blind faith and respect for my mother anywhere in this area.

Moreover, the Scindia royalty has been a part and parcel of this area. The roads, canals, ponds were all built during my father’s and grandfather’s time. No new ones have come up, so why shouldn’t they have a sense of loyalty? I don’t tell people to give me votes because of the Scindia association, but by virtue of what my grandfather, father, mother, brother have done. That should be enough.

What about the newer generation?

I try to emote with them on a different level. They have not seen what the older generation has seen, so they cannot connect. Like when I tell my children about my childhood, they listen to it as if I have opened a box of Aesop’s Fables. They don’t have any connection with that at all because it got wiped out so quickly. I ask people to name one other parliamentarian like the Rajmata who is known in the length and breath of this country.

We have done nothing compared to what this lady has done. People might say what has she done for her children, but you have to be able to sacrifice something for other things. To achieve something for the country, she had to sacrifice.

What was she like as a mother?

She was always around. We lived in a large joint family with lots of uncles and aunts, it’s really been a very large family set up. So you can’t take her role as a separate role all together. Our was an extraordinary growing up.

It is said you are very close to your brother Madhavrao, has his political ideology ever come in the way of your personal relationship?

I have learnt to keep my family and my friends in compartments. I never demand anything from them where they will need to compromise. My relationship with my brother also works like that.

There's a new Scindia in town

The Rediff Election Interviews

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