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|November 24, 1998||
A walk with the princess
A Ganesh Nadar in Shivpuri
Mousaji was firm on the phone: "She cannot spare 30 minutes for you, we'll give you 10... No, no! You cannot go on the campaign trail with her, she is using a helicopter."
Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh, is from where the BJP candidate Yashodhara Raje Scindia is making her maiden entry into electoral politics. So far her only experience in this rough-and-tumble world has been canvassing for her mother -- widely known as the Rajmata.
In Shivpuri, we proceeded to a place called Chatri and then asked for 'Bombay Koti'. It turned up to be a mini-palace, with gardens, fountains, a huge pond and a helicopter in the backyard. Except the television set, everything else was antique.
There were a few ladies, men and children waiting outside the house, none of them looking like party workers. There was no party flag or banner. A jeep roared in with the BJP flag fluttering. On one side of the compound puris were being cooked on a mass scale.
A man received me graciously. Another brought tea. Then I was introduced to the superintendent of the house. Finally Mousaji alias D B Singh made an appearance. He promised me ten minutes.
The princess, Yashodhara Raje, meanwhile, breezed out of the house. As the people swarmed around her outside and she started walking away, I rushed out wondering what to do. Mousaji saw my look of despair and pulled me along.
We overtook the crowd and with a 'pincer' movement, which would have done the German wermacht proud, Mousaji and me landed right in front of the princess.
She looked at me calmly while I told her that two of my colleagues had accompanied her during her Lok Sabha campaign and how I had come all the way from Bombay just to interview her. "I know you have been waiting for over an hour, but time is so short. Can you wait till the evening?" My expression said no. Mousaji had told me that the previous night that she had returned at 2 am. She pondered loudly, "What can we do? OK, you can walk with me."
Watched by security guards with carbines and a curious crowd, which kept a respectful distance, Yashodhara Raje spoke to me rapidly, and came across as a very self-assured person.
Her campaign is hectic because she has taken on the responsibility of her mother's entire Lok Sabha constituency, which has eight Vidhan Sabha seats including hers and Karera which comes under her brother's parliamentary constituency.
When the rest of the family, that is, mother, brother and sister are MPs, you wonder what she is doing in an assembly election. "There must be some reason, that the party has thought of. I have not given it a thought as yet. The seats have been declared only 15 days back. I have not had the time to think. I want to fulfil my responsibility," she said firmly.
She has been in politics for 10 years now. "I know everybody by their face, I know all the villages, all the areas," she said. She says politics does not interfere with her family life even if her brother is in a different party. "You must not bring politics into your personal life."
One would think she was enjoying politics, helicopter and all. "No, I don't enjoy it. For the kind of politics that is played today cannot be enjoyed. I won't elaborate. You fill in the gaps" ( and laughs).
She has been abroad for many years so I ask if she was treated like royalty there also. "Well, I think that royal families have earned their brownie points. Nowadays you find royalty of a different hue, like royalty in the Congress for instance. The Congress always talks about feudalism and how they are against it, but they are preparing all this new feudalism. This kind of feudalism -- at least we worked for the people. They didn't even work for the people."
Does it weigh upon her when people approach her with their problem with love and reverence, expecting miracles -- because, after all, she is royalty? "Very heavily, like last night when I had gone canvassing... People were awake till quarter to one in the town, waiting with garlands, and there were hundreds and hundreds of people. I was just so scared. I looked at their faces and I realised they were waiting for somebody to come and do work in their area. Do I have the time? Will I be able to do it all? Do I have the capacity?"
"But I have a commitment like my mother, she has taught us all. In this family we have a commitment to the people which is so much within us, but people think it is power or politics."
She has asked her elder sister, Union Minister of State for External Affairs Vasundhara Raje to campaign for her but alas, the latter has nine constituencies as her responsibility in neighbouring Rajasthan. "There it is a tight position, so I don't think she will come." She agrees that it would have been lovely if the two sisters could campaign together.
The rotors of the helicopter, meanwhile, start rotating. She smiled and waved to the assembled people. The security guard signalled that I was in the way. The fans started rotating faster. The draught and sound were ear-shattering. The copter took off and returned. On the next try it took off properly and disappeared into the sky.
In Shivpuri, a young man told me that in the beginning it looked like the Congress would win but now the wave was turning Yashodhara's way. He related that she had her itinerary of villages to call on, and would invariably land in the wrong village even if it is inimical to her. She would ask the village Sarpanch directions and finally ask him to show her the way. She would take the Sarpanch with her in her copter. And at the next village, she would take that Sarpanch to show her the way to the next village. People were stunned. Royalty -- she is like one of us. She took one of our own in the helicopter, with her!
Another man told me that she talked to and hugged people with a lot of warmth. Another added, "Earlier the BJP MLAs did not do anything, but they didn't demand anything from us either, they weren't corrupt like the Congress."
Looks like it's smooth sailing for the Princess.
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