Prince-turned-politician Madhavrao Scindia died in an air crash in 2001 and left a promising career unfulfilled. In this new biography, journalists Vir Sanghvi and Namita Bhandare write of the man who lived a complex, full but short life. Extracts from the book.
Remembering what shikar had taught him about life, Madhavrao took his son with him to track animals — including big cat — at Shivpuri. “He tried to instill in me a sense of fearlessness,” says Jyotiraditya. “He didn’t want me to be scared of the unknown.”
Sometimes the lessons would be learnt the hard way. Jyotiraditya remebers an incident at the national park in Shivpuri. Madhavrao was driving and it was sunset and beginning to grow dark. As a joke, Madhavrao began pretending that his jeep had stalled. As he fiddled with the engine Jyotiraditya who, frightened by the possibility of being stranded in the wild with big cats lurking at night-time, promptly burst into tears.
“My father was simply furious,” remembers Jyotiraditya. “He told me to get out of the jeep, put on his headlights and made me start walking ahead alone in the wild.” After a few minutes, Madhavrao pulled up against his son, held out his hand and hauled him into the jeep.
“I don’t want my son to be a cry baby,” he said.
Though the news that Madhavrao and Vijayaraje were now on the verge of an irrevocable split sent shock waves through their family and their circle of friends, it was something that — in retrospect, at least — everyone should have seen coming.
By then, the Rajmata was completely under [Sambhajirao] Angre’s influence. A few months before, at an angry showdown in Jai Vilas, Madhavrao and his mother had fought over Angre’s dominance in her life.
An exasperated Madhavrao had finally played his last card.
“Amma,” he said, “this can’t go on. You simply have to choose. It’s either Angre or me.”
To his horror, the Rajmata had made the choice with no apparent difficulty.
“I cannot leave Angre,” she said. “He has stood by me through some of my worst times.”
A shocked Madhavrao persisted. “You will not leave Angre even if it means alienating your only son?”
The Rajmata shrugged her shoulders. And Madhavrao angrily stormed out of the room.
Once matters had reached this pass, it was inconceivable that their wealth could continue to be held jointly. Madhavrao strongly disapproved, for instance, of the liberal use that was made of Scindia funds for Sangh Parivar causes. He objected also to the Rajmata’s penchant for letting Angre handle such financial matters as the sale of properties. And Angre, in turn, probably had no desire to have his use of Scindia assets subjected to Madhavrao’s vets...
But once the matter had been left to D M Harish (the family lawyer), the word was out: two separate political parties; two separate palaces; two separate courts; and now two separate sets of assets.
After that, anything and everything could spark off a new clash. There was, for instance, the battle of the shivling.
The Scindia shivling is a flawless emerald, the size of an egg. Legend has it that Mahadji Scindia would wear it under his turban when the Gwalior army went off to battle because it always brought good luck and victory.
That was many decades ago but since then it has always been part of the puja ritual performed by every reigning maharaja and maharani. The monetary value of the emerald is, of course, incalculable, but to the Scindias the emerald has always been a symbol of the family’s good fortune...
[A]s relations between the Rajmata and her son plummeted, the emerald became the focus of a new battle. Suddenly, Vijayaraje decided that she wanted it back. After all, it had been part of her puja when her husband had been alive.
No, said Madhavi Raje. It was her duty as Maharani of Gwalior to worship the shivling to bring good fortune to the Scindias and for the protection of her husband. In any case, the puja was made auspicious only when it was done by a married woman.
The stand-off persisted till Vijayaraje demonstrated that she was not only a Rajmata, she was also a politician.
Fine, she said, if that was Madhavi Raje’s attitude, then she would embark on a fast unto death. She would break the fast only when the emerald was handed over.
A worried Madhavrao decided that a fast unto death by the Rajmata would evoke [sic] too much public attention and embarrass the Scindias.
“Just give her the shivling,” he pleaded with his wife. “Do it for my peace of mind.” Reluctantly, Madhavi Raje complied, perhaps in the hope that it would eventually be returned to her or to her son as an inherent part of the family’s legacy. But after the Rajmata’s death, the shivling was taken into posession by Usha Raje, Madhavrao’s elder sister. Madhavi Raje says Madhavrao did ask Usha Raje to return the emerald. “Maybe if she had returned it, my husband would have been alive today,” she rues.
MADHAVRAO SCINDIA: A LIFE
Author: Vir Sanghvi and Namita Bhandare
Pages: xviii + 354
Price: Rs 550