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The Rediff Special/Rajiv Shukla 'Maharaj was politically naive'

Rajiv Shukla, the Rajya Sabha MP and wellknown columnist, and Madhavrao Scindia were friends for 15 years. On Scindia's first death anniversary, September 30, Shukla shares some rare glimpses of the prince who died young.

I met Madhavrao Scindia for the first time in 1987.

Since he was the Maharaja of Gwalior, I was reluctant to seek an appointment.

But when I called his office he came on the line instantly. He was warm and friendly. Thereafter, we met regularly, almost every week. Thus, our relationship began.

He was very formal, but at the same time very informal. He was very disciplined and strict about his schedule. You could have forgotten that you had an appointment with him, but he would not. His office would call if I was late for an appointment.

He always kept a paper in his pocket and would jot down things to remember. His appointments were very organised, very formal. But when you met him, he was very informal.

He conveyed the impression that he trusted you implicitly. I always felt he had total confidence in me. He gave the feeling that he was not hiding anything from you.

But he was capable of being extremely frank.

Once I was sitting with him on the stairs of Parliament when suddenly a car halted in front of us. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh got down from the car. "Maharaj, how come you are sitting on the stone floor?" Digvijay Singh asked. "Just like that," Maharaj replied, "I am talking to Rajiv."

"I am going to Gwalior," Singh said. "I thought let me meet you and ask if you have any work to be done in Gwalior."

Both of them were not on good terms at that time.

"Digvijay," Maharaj told him curtly, "There are two people in my life whose humility is killing (Do log meri zindagi mein aise hain jinki vinmrata jaan le leti hain)."

"Who are they?" the chief minister asked.

"You are one, the other is my mother (Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia)," Maharaj responded.

***

He showed me how to get into cricket politics.

When he contested the Board of Control for Cricket in India president's election, my vote became most crucial, and he won by that one vote.

Jagmohan Dalmiya, who was contesting from the opposite camp, became the Board secretary. Later they became friends. So much so that the week before he died last year, Maharaj supported Dalmiya when the latter contested the BCCI president's election. He arranged two votes for Dalmiya. After winning the election, Dalmiya spoke to Maharaj for 20 minutes and thanked him.

When he was BCCI president Maharaj took a deep interest in cricket. He monitored every player's performance. He used to get irritated if players played carelessly. Once I was watching a match with him on television. India was playing Australia in Australia. We played badly. He called up the team's captain, Mohammad Azharuddin, and gave him elaborate advice on how to use bowlers, when to use spin and all that.

Normally Board presidents would not take such interest. Once I went with him to Sharjah. India had lost the Cup because of foul decisions -- 3 LBWs -- by the umpires. Pakistan won because of those three decisions. He was so irritated that he went to the dressing room and gave people a piece of his mind.

***

When I won the Rajya Sabha election he said, "Rajiv, I want to learn tactics from you. I never expected you to win."

As far as his politics was concerned, he was no manipulator. He didnít know how to maneuver, which is the essential qualification in Indian politics today. He was not clever or crafty. Nor was he cunning. Those were his drawbacks in politics. Had he been a little more crafty and a manipulator he would have become prime minister.

His biggest strength was his transparency. I used to tell him, "Maharaj you are politically naive. You are a bacha (child). Why donít you become a little chalu (shrewd)?" "I canít be that!" he said. "I canít change myself. I am like this only."

After Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in 1991, Maharaj had a good chance to become Congress president, but he just could not do so. In Madhya Pradesh, when Arjun Singh resigned because of the high court verdict against him Rajiv Gandhi had made up his mind to make Maharaj chief minister. Rajiv Gandhi himself told me, "I want Madhao to become CM." The Congress chartered an aircraft and Maharaj was sent to Bhopal. I accompanied him. It was almost decided that he would be sworn in the next day. But Arjun Singh put his foot down and said, "I am resigning, but I wonít let Scindia become CM."

The deliberations went on all night. Rajiv Gandhi was very upset. The next morning then Home Minister Buta Singh and Makhan Lal Fotedar, Rajiv Gandhi's political advisor, flew to Bhopal. A compromise was worked out and Motilal Vora became chief minister. If Maharaj had been clever, he would have managed his selection. He would have pataoed (won over) Arjun Singh. But he was a simpleton. He was no fool, but he never believed in incorrect ways to achieve anything. His means were above board.

But he had political wisdom. He reacted sharply to serious issues. As an orator he was superb in both English and Hindi. He was intelligent, secular, organised, efficient and competent. He had an aura, a charismatic personality and the background which helped him win nine general elections. Even in 1977, when Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi lost, he won.

***

I knew him for more than 15 years and called him Maharaj. Civil servants, friends and his staff all called him Maharaj. But five years before his death, he was uncomfortable with that form of address. He used to ask me to call him Bhaiya or Madhao. So I started calling him Bhaiya. But his lifestyle was as stylish as any royal could have. At home he was delivered an envelope or newspaper only on a tray. No one -- not staff, not guests -- wore shoes in his presence. There is an interesting anecdote about this.

Once Maharaj went abroad as minister-in-waiting to the President of India. In the hotel with him was his additional private secretary. When the President was about to leave the hotel, this secretary went to Maharaj's room to inform him of the Rashtrapati's imminent departure. Out of habit, this individual kept his shoes outside Maharaj's room. When he came out, he discovered to his horror that the hotel valet had taken away the shoes to be polished. The secretary had no time to collect his shoes. He flew to Delhi wearing a suit, but without shoes.

"If I want to be in public life," Maharaj believed, "I canít flaunt my royal tag." He maintained a cautious, low profile and did not flaunt his royal connections. When he went upstairs, to the first floor of his palace, he lived like a maharaja. But on the ground floor where he met the public, he changed his attitude.

In Gwalior he was given so much respect that it was difficult for him to forget his royal lineage. Log bhool ne nahin dete the (People would not let him forget it). But in public he tried to keep away from the label of Maharaja. He took care to behave like a commoner.

As told to Sheela Bhatt

Design: Dominic Xavier

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