In Gwalior -- home of the Scindias -- Madhavrao Scindia was always known as Maharaj. Locals, his aide de camps and other palace staff, Congress workers, election banners -- most addressed him with that respectful royal term. His campaign itinerary would be titled: 'Shrimant Maharaj's Tour Programme,' and his palace staff would be liveried in the Gwalior dynasty's cobra and glowing sun emblem.
In his 30-year-old political career, Madhavrao always attempted to project himself as a people's leader. In an interview to rediff.com on the campaign trail, he said his politics was a "matter of the heart rather than the head" and Gwalior, the constituency that sent him to Parliament five times, was always close to his heart.
His election rallies drew in large crowds and he was perhaps one of the most charismatic leaders in a party increasingly devoid of charisma.
It was one such rally that took his life.
It was at another such rally in Guna -- the Lok Sabha constituency where he contested the first and final general election in his life -- that we caught up with Scindia in the campaign of September 1999. One that would be his last. But we did not know it then.
On the final day of a long and tiring campaign, the the sprawling Jai Vilas palace -- home of Madhavrao and his mother Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia -- was a flurry of activity. A local autorickshaw driver once told us on an earlier visit that while the Rajmata used the main entrance to the palace, her estranged son and heir used the other gate.
Bad weather had restricted him to travelling in his white Cielo, making the helicopter redundant for days. It was the fourth consecutive day we had come to the palace inquiring about his schedule. An interview with him was a must -- he was, after all, the last bastion of the Congress party in the northern tip of Madhya Pradesh (the Congress won only 11 of 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state).
A fleet of cars decked with flags and guards waited in the ornate gardens. Groups of journalists from different parts of the country eagerly awaited him. Scindia finally emerged, dressed in a crisp kurta- pyjama. He softly told the journalists that he would speak to each one of them in turn on the journey to Shivpuri in the Guna constituency. Shivpuri, represented by Madhavrao's youngest sister Yashodhara in the Madhya Pradesh assembly, is a part of the Guna Lok Sabha constituency.
It was at Shivpuri's Bombay Kothee that Madhavrao's wife Madhavi Raje and daughter Chitrangada had based themself for those few days as they rallied around for his campaign. During election time, his entire family -- including his Bombay-based son Jyotiraditya and wife -- would camp in Gwalior.
On the drive to Shivpuri Madhavrao spoke about his contribution to the region that was part of his ancestral kingdom and his continuing responsibility towards it. He steered clear of the famous feud with his then ailing mother, a veteran of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and referred to her only as a political opponent.
He spoke like a seasoned politician. One confident of his victory the ninth time. It was common
knowledge that his political interests lay at the national level, far away from Gwalior-Guna. His political opponents criticised him for not grooming any other Congress leader in the region. Of his inability to tackle the problems of farmers and rural folk. "We need a kisan (farmer), not a Maharaj," Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya, who stood against Scindia in the 1998 general election from Gwalior, told us.
That election saw Scindia's winning margin reduced to a hair-line 3.68 percent over Pawaiya. He had
already lost a chilling 27 per cent of the vote in his long-held constituency. Many said it was this that
drove Scindia to the safer Guna seat. But Scindia was suave, unruffled by such criticism. A few days later, he stormed Guna with a thumping majority.
We wished him luck as we got off his car, knowing far too well that he needed no luck to win an election in Madhya Pradesh or anywhere else in India. Little did we know, that two years hence, Madhavrao Scindia would lose out in the race for life.
Associate Editor Archana Masih covered the 1998 and 1999 general elections and the 1998 assembly election from Madhya Pradesh for rediff.com
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