The differences between the aunts and the nephew weren’t just political. At stake is the vast family inheritance that includes the Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior and others such as Kuleth Kothi, Sakhya Vilas, Takenpore retreat. There are properties scattered all over India.
This is a family saga that has it all—glamour and power; betrayal and intrigue. There was a dowager Queen who disinherited her son, a palace Rasputin who broke up the family, a brother who differed with his sisters, to his son who carried on the family feud. They took the battle from the palace to the courts and to the electoral battleground. Until now. With Jyotiraditya Scindia joining the BJP, the family which was split between the two national parties will finally be united under the saffron banner. And in a way this is only befitting for it was the Jan Sangh from where it all began.
It was Jyotiraditya’s grandmother Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia who took the family from Rajpath to the Lokpath. Ironically, it was to counter the spread of the Hindu Mahasabha that Jawaharlal Nehru asked Vijaya Raje to contest from Guna on a Congress ticket in 1957. She won that election. But differences with the then Chief Minister, D.P. Mishra soon steered her away from the Congress, eventually to the Jan Sangh. Another factor was her then private secretary Sardar Sambhajirao Angre who had strong affiliations with the Jan Sangh. After her husband Jivajirao Scindia’s death, Vijaya Raje Scindia’s politics were largely influenced by Sardar Angre. Unfortunately, so was her personal life, because it is a commonly held belief that it was Angre who caused the rift between mother and son.
Sambhaji Angre’s father, Chandraoji Angre, was the hazoor secretary to Madhavrao’s father, Jivajirao Scindia. Like most of his ancestors, Jeevaji had also been orphaned at an early age and for a while his secretary ran the show. On his 18th birthday, Jivaji banished both father and son from his court. For almost 20 years, the Angres were exiled from Gwalior. But the day Jivaji died—then Madhavrao was only 16 years old—Sambhaji Angre returned. And he never left. Madhavrao went to Oxford, while Angre, an RSS volunteer, persuaded the Rajmata to join the Jana Sangh.
Once in the Jana Sangh, Vijaya Raje and Angre were harassed by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. Madhavrao, who was in Nepal with his in-laws, asked his mother to join him. “My son’s concern for my protection made me very happy,” wrote Rajmata in her memoirs. But Angre, who was not as touched, accused Madhavrao of being a coward. At that time Madhavrao had won his first election from Guna on a Jana Sangh ticket in 1971.
Angre’s influence over the Rajmata strengthened as Scindia went on to join the Congress, the very party that had thrown his mother in jail. And the rift between mother and son grew, so much so that in a handwritten will dated September 1985 that surfaced after her death in January 2001, she forbade her son to do her last rites. It was an edict her son disobeyed because towards the end of her life, in the 90s, the mother and son had reconciled; with the Rajmata attending both of Madhavrao’s children’s weddings. (Though she did return from her grand-daughter’s wedding to issue a statement against the “lavish expenditure”). However, by then Madhavrao’s sisters Vasundhara Raje and Yashodhara Raje (the third Usha Raje is married and settled in Nepal) had also become wary of their Uncle Angre.
Politically, the Scindias are influential in the Gwalior-Morena-Shivpuri-Bhind belt (that sends 34 MLAs to the state Assembly). Earlier Vijaya Raje and Madhavrao presided over the Guna and Gwalior seats, in more recent times, both Yashodhara Raje and Jyotiraditya have been MPs from the two constituencies, albeit from different parties. However, family tradition doesn’t allow them to publicly attack or even campaign against each other. Folklore has it that once Madhavrao was asked by the Congress to campaign against his mother. He simply told the crowds, “meri izzat rakh lena (keep my dignity)”, leaving them confused as to what exactly he meant. Later, when Madhavrao Scindia rebelled against Narasimha Rao and formed his own party, his mother supported his win in the 1996 elections.
While his aunts have been active at the state level, Jyotiraditya—as was Madhavrao before him—is seen more as a Central leader than a state leader. It would be interesting to see where the BJP places him, for they already have a CM face in Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Welcoming her nephew’s entry into the BJP as a “ghar wapsi” Yashodhara Raje told the media, “Rajmata’s blood took the decision in national interest. Now every distance has been ended.”
Has the distance really been breached? For the relations between the nephew and his aunts are just about cordial. It wasn’t one of his aunts but a family friend who brokered Jyotiraditya’s entry into the BJP. Though this was something the late Arun Jaitley had also been pushing for, it took Scindia a while to finally take this step as the decision to leave the party his father had been associated with was an emotional one.
The differences between the aunts and the nephew weren’t just political. At stake is the vast family inheritance that includes the Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior and others such as Kuleth Kothi, Sakhya Vilas, Takenpore retreat. There are properties scattered all over India—from neighbouring Shivpuri to Maharashtra, Ujjain and Pune. Not to mention more than 200 acres of prime real estate in Delhi. According to sources, both the wills that surfaced after the Rajmata’s death (a handwritten one dated 20 September 1985 and a typewritten one dated 26 February 1999) cut out Madhavrao from her inheritance. Gwalior based sources claim that this is because there was a division of the Scindia properties in 1980 between the mother and son. However, before his death in September 2001, Madhavrao had challenged all the wills on the principle of primogeniture, where the eldest son of a royal family inherits everything. And after him, Jyotiraditya has staked his claim. However, we are told a settlement is in the process of being worked out between the aunts and nephew.
Currently there are four Scindias in the BJP—Vasundhara Raje, the ex CM of Rajasthan; Yashodhara Raje, who is currently an MLA in Madhya Pradesh; Dushyant Singh (Vasundhara’s son and a BJP MP from Rajasthan); and now Jyotiraditya, who is clearly the most sought after Scindia since he is the trophy catch. His aunts call him “Bhaiyya” (an affectionate term for Yuvraj in Gwalior). Even Madhavrao was Bhaiyya, both within the family and to his friends in Delhi.
The House of Scindias still gets a 21-gun salute in the 21st century, though the Scindias are originally Shindes from a small village in the Satara district of Maharashtra, called Kanherkhed. “We started out as the sarpanches of the village so it’s a very grassroots, son of the soil driven origin from which we have risen,” Scindia told me once when I interviewed him for my book The Contenders.
The Scindias may have started out as Shindes of the grassroots but now it is the Maharaja tag that sticks firmly to them. It would be interesting to see how Jyotiraditya plays this down in a party where Chaiwala is a more sought after status symbol than a Maharaja. So should Jyotiraditya take Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s tweet “Welcome Maharaja, from Shivraj” at its poetic face-value? Or is this the beginning of another turf war, on the lines of the one he has just extricated himself out of, with Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh in the Congress? After all, in politics, nothing is what it seems. A fact that the Scindias know all too well. For, displayed in the public section of the Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior are a set of green dining plates that turn red if served with poisoned food.