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September 14, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/Madhavrao Scindia

'My politics is more a matter of the heart than the head'

I t has been pouring in the Gwalior region over the last few days, during the run up to the election. Flourishing paddy fields are flooded with water and Gwalior town's innumerable potholes and khaddas have become small nasty swamps.

The heavy downpour is responsible for Madhavrao Scindia being more inaccessible than usual. His helicopter is parked at the Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior, idle, handicapped by the storm clouds. And the maharaja is forced to zip back and forth between Gwalior and Shivpuri in his white Cielo, often not making it back to the palace, as scheduled, for a night halt.

In a drab office, located in a wing of the sumptuous abode, bleary-eyed Surve and JP, his long term aides, mournfully peer at a file labelled 'Shrimant Maharaj's Tour Programme.' "The weather has upset his entire schedule. He has not done any of this," they whisper.

For four days it is impossible to determine where Scindia is. Surve and JP declare he is in Shivpuri. Scindia's Shivpuri aide, Ramesh Sharma, says he is in Gwalior. At Gwalior his personal assistant, Mahindra Pratap Singh, is clueless.

Vaihaysi Pande Daniel and Archana Masih finally caught up with Scindia, as he was headed out to Gwalior for a special felicitation programme organised by the enthusiastic Sharma.

On the morning of his departure the palace buzzed with excitement. Scindia had not yet emerged from his quarters. Palace hands, clad in Scindia livery, with the trademark cobra and glowing sun emblem, scurried in and out. A fleet of cars decked with flags and guards waited in the ornate gardens. The normally unhelpful aides had gone overboard arranging press coverage. Under every tree, near every rosebush was a hopeful journalist waiting for a few column inches

Scindia finally came into view, clad in a cream silk kurta and pajamas, an orange, white and green angavastra wrapped around his neck. He looks unusually fit and trim. A chunky diamond ring glitters on his fingers. There is a mad scramble for an 'audience.' Scindia graciously decides to accommodate all, promising a few bytes to each on his journey to Shivpuri. Women reporters first. The motorcade tears out of the palace grounds for Shivpuri. Ambassadors, Sumos... nine vehicles in all. The maharaja's car races ahead, a Congress flag fluttering merrily. Excerpts from the interview:

We have been in this area for four or five days, travelling to Shivpuri and to villages nearby. From what we have discovered it seems you are going to take Guna by storm. How does it feel to be back in Guna?

I was elected from here in 1971 and then again in 1977 and then again in 1980. The real test was in 1977. There was a wave against the Congress party. I was an Independent supported by the Congress. And the Janata Party won 236 seats out of 241 in the north.

Such a tremendous victory they had. But Guna still supported me. Therefore I have a very old relationship and contact with this constituency. And we have done a lot of work in this constituency. But progress brings forth a new set of problems and also new aspirations. There is also a new generation of voters, who were not there at that time. Therefore in many ways it becomes a new set of circumstances to work in. You have to move along with the times and be in step with those new aspirations.

To do that you have to first understand those aspirations. And then identify with a new generation of voters. So, that it is a process I will have to undertake. I have already made a general assessment, because I am in touch with all these regions. I fought from Gwalior but it does not mean that I abandoned Guna-Shivpuri. Similarly when I was a member of Parliament from Guna-Shivpuri I did not abandon Gwalior. Therefore, I am in touch with the entire region and I have to try and do the best I can.

But development in a democratic system is always a slow process. And everyone is scrambling for a larger piece of the cake for their respective areas. And the cake is very limited. So one has to be able to overcome this problem in Delhi so that you can get much more here.

We have managed the major demand of the area which has been the Guna-Shivpuri-Gwalior-Bhind-Etawah railway line. And also a very major gas-based fertiliser plant which was going elsewhere, we managed to establish that in Guna. This was last time. And a 100 per cent rural electrification in two-and-half years because of Indira Gandhi. In 1980 she sanctioned those projects. We were only 25 per cent electrified at that time.

Similarly the Guna Vidhan Sabha seat had an irrigation percentage of four or five per cent. By the time I left 50 per cent was irrigated and today it is 67 per cent, which makes it one of the leading areas in MP in this respect. But as I said progress itself brings new problems. And public memory is always very short and therefore you tackle those new problems. It also gives you job satisfaction if you tackle those new problems. It not just for the vote. It is because you have come here to do a job. You have not come here to get a vote and disappear.

You have nurtured Gwalior since 1984. Are you sentimental or emotional about moving from there to Guna?

I am sentimental and emotional really about the entire region. My politics is more a matter of the heart than the head. But then I have a great sentimental bond with Guna also, because they were the ones who, so to speak, nurtured me in my political childhood. And when I was taking my first tentative political steps and stretched my arm out, Guna reached to hold it. Therefore there is that sentiment. There is that sense of belonging.

You have been associated with a lot of urban projects in the Gwalior area. Rural development is much more difficult and slower. How will you tackle that? A lot of your success in Gwalior was because of the success of large urban projects, including the development of certain industrial areas.

Urban projects were there. The development of the industrial area of Malanpur, where today there has been an investment of about Rs 450 million has given employment to a lot of people from rural areas. And the villages around Malanpur, where you used to have bullock carts standing, you today have Marutis standing there. Any urban project that comes does not necessarily limit itself. It depends on the nature of the project. If it is industrialisation it certainly helps the rural areas. It also helps the rural economy.

For instance, bringing the air base to Gwalior way back in Air Marshal Dilbagh Singh's time, infused something like Rs 250 million into the Gwalior economy. That has its own wave -- if not ripple-effect.

Also, I just mentioned to you, that there had been a great stress on irrigation, drinking water and rural electrification.

During Indira Gandhi's time we had a special economic development plan for dacoity-infested areas, which had been sanctioned by the Union Cabinet on the specific request of our entire team from Gwalior. This included about 23 or 24 districts throughout India, of which 11 were in MP and the rest were in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Out of 11, our four districts were included which meant a larger network of roads and a larger communication setup in the rural areas so as to bring up the standard of living in the Gwalior area.

It has been a mix. It has not just been urban projects. But certainly urban projects have been established here. The effect of many projects will be seen only in the future. For instance the establishment of the Indian Institute of Information Technology just outside Gwalior, which will be the only institute of its kind in India and is on the level of the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management. The land has already been given and we are developing the campus and it will take three years to develop.

Information technology is the buzzword today. And Gwalior would then become a premier area for information technology on the map of India and connected with the entire world. But this is something which will only happen in the future. The electorate today is maybe not going to vote on this particular issue because they probably don't envisage the long-term effect this will have.

Similarly, the Travel and Trade Management Institute and many, many projects that will come. They would help in generally giving a higher profile to the area. I really think the problems of Gwalior are in the addition of public utilities.

The pressure of population is so heavy that the expansion of Gwalior has to be properly planned. That is why the Institute of Railway Technology, which was established when I was railway minister, was located in the direction of the airport so that it would become a centre of activity and people would not be reluctant to start living in that area. Now you will notice that from the airport onwards new colonies are developing around that institute.

The problem again in urban planning is that nobody is prepared to listen. There are all sorts of vested interests who get involved. There are sanctions that are given that should never have been given in the first place and which are environmentally unfriendly. New problems get created. It is very challenging.

Gwalior I think is going to develop on its own. I don't think you can stop it now. It has a communication network, a transport network, an industrial network, an agricultural base, an educational base. What is really required now is the proper planning of Gwalior.

We have been talking to people and we understand that there is a water problem as far as irrigation is concerned?

Gwalior is very well off as far as irrigation is concerned. There are certain areas where the topography will not allow it. But the Harsee Dam, which was built by my grandfather, 100 years ago is the largest earthen dam in Asia. That has developed the entire Harsee-Dabra region. And it is one of the most prosperous sugar cane producing areas.

Similarly the Chambal development, phase one and then the phase two, that we got sanctioned by Indira Gandh, has greatly irrigated Morena and Bhind. So irrigation-wise I think Gwalior has done very well.

Of course, what is happening everywhere is that there is a drinking problem because the water levels are falling: because of the degradation of forests, the tremendous pressure on water supply and the silting of rivers. All these are causing a great fall in water levels, which means even your hand pumps run dry after some time and this is an all-India problem.

To combat that we have started an experimental project, a watershed project in Murar in Gwalior district and we hope to achieve a lot of success there. I think watershed management is the only answer to this. The conservation of rain water is what we should aim at. These are all really long-term things. People always like to reap immediate gains.

There have been so many theories of why you have changed your constituencies from Gwalior to Guna. We would like to hear from you why you changed constituencies?

I fought elections from Guna in '71, '77 and '80. In '84 the late Rajiv Gandhi asked me to go to Gwalior to fight Mr Vajpayee. The people of Gwalior were very supportive and I will never forget the support they gave me and the vast margin of victory against Mr Vajpayee. In '89 when I contemplated going back to my original constituency my mother declared her candidature (laughs) from Guna.

Our (mine and mother's) political thinking is poles apart. But still I do draw the line somewhere and I don't think it is very healthy for two members of the same family to fight each other in the same constituency. I think it is a pointless and not a very dignified exercise. Therefore the Guna option closed for me in 1989.

Then she fought again in '91, '96, '98 and a month ago she declared her retirement from politics on health grounds. The Guna option opened up for me again and I decided to go back to my original constituency. So I think basically there is a bond with this area and I also have to tour many other parts of the country. This will give me a little more time to go around Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and now Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh and various other places.

It is also being said that eventually you would like to go back to Gwalior and that Gwalior is your future?

The thing is wherever I stand from, in my mind I still represent the entire region. Now Morena is a reserved seat, a schedule castes seat. I will never be able to fight from Morena. But we have worked very hard for Morena. We have worked as if it is our own area. Therefore, as I said, it is the politics of the heart more than the head. Therefore there is sentiment involved everywhere. Because I was an MP from Guna in '71 it does not mean I ignored Gwalior. When I was Gwalior MP I did not ignore Guna and Shivpuri, which I hope will hold me in good stead today.

Your detractors say it was because of a reduced margin last year that you have shifted constituencies?

My assessment is that Gwalior would give me a much bigger majority this time. What people must understand is that I am in charge of various states as far east as Orissa. And in the 1998 election, in places as far as Orissa people were talking of the Vajpayee factor. There was a bit of an impact/wave type of thing for Vajpayee -- why should he not be given a chance to be prime minister. Now if the impact is felt in Orissa, then Gwalior is the hometown of Vajpayee. And there was this feeling that our man is going to become prime minister.

People forget that from '71 to '77, Vajpayee was the MP from Gwalior. People forgot that in six years he did not visit Gwalior city once, let alone the outlying areas. But again that was '71 to '77. There's a new generation now. So people don't remember that. So people said that Gwalior would be transformed. Gwalior could have been transformed.

But again there has to be a matter of the heart here. It is unfortunate that the prime ministerial pen has not worked for Gwalior in the last 15 months. And today he stands exposed as far as Gwalior is concerned. Last time my opponent worked on this very major factor in Gwalior.

That was a major factor in Gwalior, number one. Number two, there is also an aspect of voter fatigue which sets in if you fight innumerable elections, one after the other. It is a natural thing which is bound to happen. So I would say it was greatly the Vajpayee factor and to a certain amount voter fatigue, but in this election the majority would have supported me. But the Guna-Shivpuri option has always been contemplated by me and with my mother's announcement I decided to go back.

Were you expecting that margin last time?

Well it was a tough fight last time because we had to fight this Vajpayee factor. People have to understand this. The second thing you have to understand is that Gwalior has always elected an opposition person. In '52 it was the Hindu Mahasabha which won. This went onto the Jan Sangh, then went onto the BJP. The Congress has won this seat six times in the last 13 elections.

Of the six times that the Congress won, five times I was the party's candidate. The other occasion was when my mother was the Congress candidate in 1962. Basically the mentality in Gwalior has always been a little ("Horn baja do, horn baja do") sympathetic for the Opposition. So that is also something that we are combating. Basically when there is a tilt for the Opposition in the country that tilt has been more pronounced in Gwalior

Would you say that the last time's results were worrying?

I don't say it was worrying because I understood the factors behind it. But it is something which would have to be analysed and tackled. It is not a problem that could have been just dismissed?

Since there has been so little time between this election and the last, have you had enough time to analyse last year's margins; there have been so many political developments at the Centre too and you are obviously extremely busy at the national level...

But I do visit Gwalior two to three times a month. It is my home after all. Where do I go? On an average I visit it 2, 3 times a month. Fortunately some railway minister way back in 1984 ( smiles) organised the Shatabdi Express. So I am fortunate enough to be able to use that. So I am in touch with my constituency.

But then you know the public's aspirations and expectations in India are so high that sometimes it becomes very difficult to meet them in a system which is generally a little slow, the democratic system. The whole essence of democracy is that there are checks and balances but checks and balances means that it slows up the process.

On the other hand if there are no checks and balances one can move quickly. But move quickly in which direction? That is where the danger is. Because if you move in the fascist direction then it is all over as far as democratic participation in electing one's choice of governance is concerned. Churchill said -- "This is the best of the worst systems."

When you go into the villages have you discovered now that the raja sentiment is being translated into a pure political sentiment?

It has changed a lot. Coming from an established family with a long association with the area certainly helps. But it is nowhere near enough. We have seen enough candidates, from such families all over the country, losing elections very badly. So it is not enough, nowhere near enough and that is how it should be.

It does help. But you have to ensure that you measure up to --- or at least try to measure up to --- the expectations of the people. I think if people understand that you are putting in a sincere effort -- the people of India are from that point of view very understanding -- if they feel intuitively that he is putting in his best then they are prepared to take the failure in achieving a certain project in their stride.

Conversely, if you bring everything to your constituency and yet do not manage to bond with the people and therefore transmit that sincerity of purpose, then the people won't be with you. The Indian people are generally very sentimental. So you have to build on maybe an advantage but that advantage is nowhere near enough.

There was a time, in the '60s, when you could get elected, disappear for five years and come and get elected again. It is not possible now. That is a very good thing because that means democracy has developed. More and more there will be a transition to modern expectations.

Are you grooming your son Jyotiraditya to enter politics. Is he interested in politics?

He is certainly interested in politics. I am not going to groom him. My job was to give him the best education possible. I am satisfied I have been able to do that. It is up to him now to plan out his own life. And if he wants my advice I am there. And if doesn't want it he is quite capable of taking his own decisions.

One thing we are very clear about is that as long as I am in active politics, that is electoral politics, he is not going to enter the electoral scene because I don't believe in this father-to-son business, what is called feudalism which so many people today are practising in the political world... the father wants the son to be an MLA or the Youth Congress president or whatever. I am certainly not going to promote him on this.

He has to stand on his own feet and he has to take his own decisions. He may not go into politics. It is up to him. At present he is doing an MBA at Stanford and he is not even in the country.

It is for him to make up his own mind and if he decides to enter politics then because of the association his family has had with an area he has a large number of options available. That is his advantage. But he has to make up his own mind whether he wants to go into the political world, whether he wants to go into public life or to the corporate world.

He is an economics graduate of Harvard and after that he worked for Morgan Stanley for three years for work experience and he may be pointed towards the corporate world. It is up to him to decide. I had that choice and I decided that the corporate world wasn't my life. He does come and campaign for me, canvas for me.

Apart from you -- Madhavrao Scindia and the mighty bastion of Gwalior -- there is no prominent leader in the area. In spite of having you, the Congress leaders around you have not been able to take advantage of learning from and proving themselves in this area? Why has no alternate leadership come up in this region?

One individual may achieve a higher profile on the national stage. That happens all over the country, in every region. Wouldn't you say that P Chidambaram has a higher profile in Tamil Nadu and Dr Manmohan Singh a higher profile in Delhi than the other leaders?

But it does not mean that the team does not exist. And therefore whatever has been achieved would be the efforts of a team as opposed to an individual. The individual probably symbolises the team. That's all.

I don't think you can decide who is going to take that higher profile. It is something that circumstances throw up and events lead to.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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