Madhavrao Scindia's tragic death on Sunday signals the end of an era for the Scindias, one of the most influential royal families in India.
"Madhavrao had no business to die. He was such a fine and refined person. I never felt that he was another politician as he had intellect and some fine qualities," said a shaken Javed Ansari, special correspondent for The Hindu newspaper who was to have traveled on the flight that ended Scindia's life.
Ansari had to take his family to Aligarh and so opted out of the Congress leader's whirlwind trip to Uttar Pradesh to commence the party's assembly election campaign in the state.
Ansari remembered how Madhavrao spoke on virtually every subject on earth; often their meetings went beyond discussing politics. Madhavrao was not exactly media savvy, but he nurtured relationships with journalists he trusted.
For the second time in eight months, the Raj Vilas palace in Gwalior where Madhavrao grew up is in mourning. On January 25, his mother, Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia died after a prolonged illness. She was by far the most powerful figure that the Bharatiya Janata Party lost since the mysterious death of Jan Sangh leader Deendayal Upadhyay in the late sixties. After Madhavrao's death, the palace will never be the same again.
The only son of Maharaja Jiwajirao Scindia, who died when he was 16, Madhavrao was seen as a forward-looking politician. He had a modern face and was one of the most promising leaders the Congress had. He had been an impressive railway minister and also held the human resource development, civil aviation and tourism ministries.
Senior Congressman Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was to have traveled with Scindia on the fateful flight on Sunday, said: "The Congress has lost one of its most promising leaders. Madhavrao cannot be replaced."
Though he was 56 years old, he was seen as a young leader in the 116-year-old Congress party and had the dynamism many leaders far younger than him did not have.
In the Lok Sabha, it was Madhavrao who spoke endlessly on various issues. He was easily the most visible face of the Congress party, one of its few leaders who gave the National Democratic Alliance government a tough time.
It was now that the Congress needed him more than ever before. The Uttar Pradesh assembly election campaign was a perfect challenge for him to handle. The party had planned numerous
election rallies for him to address, as it tries to stave off oblivion in India's most significant political state.
Three hundred years ago, the Scindias migrated from Satara to Gwalior to establish a kingdom. They became one of the most illustrious of India's royal families, only one of four (Baroda, Hyderabad and Mysore were the others) to merit a 19-gun salute in the British Raj. Madhavrao's mother Vijaya Raje was almost worshipped as a goddess in Gwalior; the Rajmata endeared herself to her people by her simplicity and concern for their welfare.
Madhavrao probably did not have that kind of hold on the people. Some considered him more imperial than his deeply religious mother, but he was still held in reverence. The election results told it all. In his last election from Guna in Madhya Pradesh, he got 443,965 votes, defeating Rao Deshraj Singh of the BJP who got 229,537 votes.
His biggest victory, of course, was the one against Atal Behari Vajpayee in December 1984. The BJP had decided to field its president from Gwalior, the Rajmata's pocket borough. But a few hours before nominations closed, Rajiv Gandhi's political advisers (Arun Nehru is usually credited for this gambit) asked Scindia to move from Guna, where he had contested the 1971, 1977 and 1980 general elections, to Gwalior. Vajpayee had no time to change his constituency; perhaps it would have been undignified for the veteran politician to have done so.
The post-Indira Gandhi assassination sympathy wave for the Congress and Madhavrao's presence meant Vajpayee had no chance. He won only 28.6 percent of the vote; Madhavrao won 66.9 percent. It was the worst defeat in Vajpayee's career.
Madhavrao ran into a bad patch after his name figured in the hawala scandal. Then prime minister and Congress president P V Narasimha Rao decided not to give him a ticket to contest the 1996 general election.
Angered at the manner in which Rao had treated him, Madhavrao floated the Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress. He defeated Phool Singh Bharia of the Bahujan Samaj Party from Gwalior by 224,000 votes. The BJP intriguingly did not field a candidate against Madhavrao. Sources in Gwalior say this was because the Rajmata wanted her son to win, though she was not on talking terms with him. Madhavrao always angrily denied that he had struck a deal with his mother to win the election.
Madhavrao shared an uneasy relationship with his mother for about 20 years. Her autobiography, Rajpath se Lokpath, refers to their feud, but Madhavrao maintained a dignified silence.
Some say their feud began during the Emergency when 'Bhaiya,' as she called Madhavrao, and the Rajmata chose different responses to Indira Gandhi's dictatorship. Madhavrao left India for Nepal, where his sister Usha Raje lived, and asked his mother to come along. But the Rajmata would hear nothing of that kind and was imprisoned in Delhi's Tihar jail for most of the Emergency.
The Rajmata's close associate Sardar Angre told rediff.com earlier this year that Vijaya Raje told Madhavrao that the Scindia tradition was to face the enemy, and not run away. She wanted Madhavrao to return, but he did not. Angre and she were jailed on September 3, 1975 and the palace was raided. Palace observers alleged, however, that it was Angre who created a divide between the mother and son. Soon after the Emergency was lifted, Madhavrao joined the Congress.
The last few months were not kind to Madhavrao. His mother passed into the ages. At her funeral, Madhavrao, his head tonsured in Hindu tradition, wept like a child. A few months later, his niece Devyani Rana, his elder sister Usha Raje's daughter, was at the heart of the international controversy that followed the massacre in Nepal's royal family. In recent months, it was felt, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi did not give Madhavrao the authority he deserved. In his death, Sonia Gandhi may see what her party has lost.
Madhavrao Scindia's plane crashes
Scindia, 7 others die in crash
Arun Jaitley to bring Scindia's body back to Delhi
Widow refuses to acknowledge Madhavrao's death
Massive crowds gather in Gwalior to mourn Scindia
Cessna lost contact with ATC at 1330
Scindia was never defeated in 9 general elections
Scindia improved work ethics in Railways: Nitish Kumar
Dikshit, Aiyar have providential escape
Media loses four stars
'My relationship with the people of Gwalior will remain forever'
Those who challenge Mrs Gandhi should first make it clear whether they are democrats or not'
'We did not expect Pawar to raise the issue'
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