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February 7, 2001

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The Rediff Special/ Ramesh Menon

'What can a coward do to me?'

Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia is no more. Her death, on January 25, signalled the end of an era for the Scindias, the high-profile royal family of Gwalior.

It was also the end of an era for the Bharatiya Janata Party, who lost a powerful matriarchal figure. Roving Editor
The late Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia
The late Rajmata
Vijaya Raje Scindia
Ramesh Menon, who was in Gwalior to
witness the sea of humanity that had come its respects to the Rajmata, says the calm surrounding the Raj Vilas Palace may soon be shattered by ugly controversies over property and wealth.

Madhavrao, the only son of Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia, may not have made peace with his mother when she was alive. There were bitter battles between them. They lived separately in the same palace and saw very little of each other. He was a Congress leader. She belonged to the BJP. Acrimony described their relationship for nearly two decades.

But, as he stood before mortal remains of his mother, wrapped in a rust-coloured saree with a gold border, minutes before she was cremated in Gwalior on January 27, memories of his childhood must have come rushing in. For a few minutes, he laid his head, shaven in mourning, on her body and closed his grieving eyes. As he lit her pyre, he could not stop the tears.

The red flames flickered and grew with the gentle breeze as the soft light of the setting sun changed the colour of the sky. Time and again, he wiped his tears with the single piece of white cloth that covered his shoulders.

"It was all high drama. Just a tamasha for the people. Everyone knows he never made peace with his mother when she was alive," thunders an angry Sardar Sambaji Rao Angre, who was the Rajmata's confidant and political mentor after her husband's death in the sixties. Angre looked after the palace and handled the Rajmata's financial matters. He helped chart her political career.

Home Minister L K Advani consoles a distraught Madhavrao Scindia
L K Advani consoles a
distraught Madhavrao Scindia
"How can he have tears now? He visited her just seven times in the last two years, when she was ailing," he says furiously. Angre says he finds it strange for a son who filed court cases against his mother on property issues to have tears in his eyes after she died.

But then, Angre and Madhavrao have always hated each other. Angre says he has not spoken to the Congress MP since the Emergency "when he (Madhavrao) ran away to Nepal, leaving his mother behind to be arrested."

One of the numerous cases deals with how, in the early eighties, Madhavrao's men allegedly raided Angre's home when he was away. The house is now sealed and in the court's custody.

Sources say Madhavrao suspects Angre of denying the family's wealth and property to the Rajmata's children by tying it up in various trusts. Angre is seen as a Rasputin of sorts in the palace.

Even as the embers glowed on the Rajmata's pyre, the palace brewed with rumours of a battle between Angre and Madhavrao.

Angre says the fight will be over wealth and property. He also says it will be pointless, as everything has been divided into trusts by the Rajmata. He does not rule out the prospect of the Rajmata's three daughters -- Usha Raje, Vasundhara Raje and Yashodhara Raje -- squabbling with their only brother about property matters.

"The Rajmata has put the Gwalior palace under a trust; now, it belongs to the people. Madhavrao cannot lay claim on it," says Angre. "The Rajmata also bought the Jai Vilas Palace, where Madhavrao stays, for a good sum of money many years ago. It was bought in a registered deal and the palace is now a public charitable trust. Madhavrao is just a tenant here, paying a measly rent of Rs 1,600 for an area of around one lakh square feet. The trustees now want him to leave and, if the court decides he should pay the standard rent, he will have to pay around Rs 5 million a year. Since he has been staying here for around 20 years, it will be a good sum of money. But he will have to pay it.

Angre, who is one of the trustees, has filed this case, demanding Madhavrao's eviction from the palace.

That, of course, is not the only case. Madhavrao's son, Jyotiraditya, had also appealed to the court against the Rajmata, saying she had no right to give away the property to trusts and that his father had the right to it.

The Rajmata reportedly wrote a will in 1985 and had it registered.

Sources say she had made a new will barely a couple of months ago. Angre says he does not know of any such will and suspects it may be a fraud, as she was very ill and not in her senses. The will, reportedly, gives a lot of property and wealth to Madhavrao and Jyotiraditya.

Madhavrao, who is busy with the post-funeral rituals, says he will not speak until they are over.

Does Angre feel threatened by Madhavrao? "What can a coward do to me? He cannot touch me. I am an independent person with a standing in the BJP, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal."

Prime Minister Vajpayee pays his respects
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
pays his respects
It is more than clear that peace is not at hand in the the imposing white palace of Gwalior.

In the last couple of years, Union Minister of State Vasundhara Raje and her brother have got along well, despite the palace intrigues. In fact, Vasundhara tried her best to reconcile the warring son and mother. As they get along well, both of them may want to keep Angre away.

Palace watchers say Angre was possibly the reason why the mother and son fell out in the first place. Angre laughs at the accusation, saying the Rajmata had such a strong mind that no one could influence her.

Part II: The Rajmata's death was the end of an era for the BJP

Photographs: Saab Press. Design: Dominic Xavier

You might also want to read...
'Madhavrao shall not light my pyre'
Rajmata amar rahe
'After I prayed before Rajmata, I felt a sense of peace'
Thousands pay homage to Rajmata
Kushabhau Thakre pays tribute
Dr J K Jain pays tribute
Rajmata was tender, yet tough: Vajpayee
Vijaya Raje Scindia dies

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