On an accidental flight with passion for politics
Estranged then, united now
From humble origin, royal dynasty rises
Man Friday till the very end
‘What is happening to Congress?’
Receding line in second rung
Priyanka at the door, Advani on the mobile
‘If I cut my vein, blood will be red’
A sporting hero lost
Gwalior’s second loss in 9 months

New Delhi, Sept. 30: 

Maharaja who loved Lagaan

The death of the “people’s maharaja” has left the Congress poorer on many counts. The young, charismatic and efficient leader, who was the party’s link to the great Indian middle class, is no more.

Madhavrao Scindia wore several hats — a cricketer, a golfer, a connoisseur of art, culture and films and a prized celebrity in Delhi’s glitterati. Yet, he found time to pursue politics for at least 12 hours a day.

It was Scindia’s passion for politics that got him on the ill-fated aircraft that crashed near Mainpuri. As Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, it was not Scindia’s duty to shore up the party’s prospects in Uttar Pradesh. But, as a “loyal Congress worker”, the Maharaja of Gwalior had taken it upon himself to chip in. He used to say: “I do not wish to speculate on Congress prospects in UP but as loyal soldier, I want to contribute as much as I can.”

Scindia felt duty-bound to tour Uttar Pradesh. State party chief Sriprakash Jaiswal, considered a surprise appointment, was his nominee. Jaiswal was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kanpur. “Democracy is all about people’s representation,” Scindia used to say.

Within the party, Scindia evoked a mixed response. Some were in awe of his royal lineage and dashing personality, while some felt insecure and saw him as a threat.

As railway minister, Scindia became a household name for introducing the computerised reservation system and the Shatabdi trains. His reputation as an efficient administrator grew further till he resigned as civil aviation minister, owning moral responsibility for an air crash.

Among today’s Congressmen, he was one leader who could speak extempore on issues ranging from caste politics and the nuclear missile defence system to the finer points of Lagaan, a film he adored. He would go on talking about the bowling action of Kachra, a character in the film, and how Aamir Khan’s team humbled the British.

To a large number of Congress leaders, the Maharaja was warm and friendly, who was always smiling and had no airs. “It was impossible for anyone not be charmed by him. There was something about him that drew people closer to him,” said Salman Khurshid, former Uttar Pradesh Congress chief.

Scindia would often narrate anecdotes. Once, late at night, he was stopped by a policeman in London who asked for his identity. When Scindia said he was the Maharaja of Gwalior, the policeman retorted: “Well, if you are Maharaja of Gwalior, I am Pasha of Iran.”

Fifty-six-year-old Scindia favoured probity in public life. He was agitated when his name figured in Jain hawala case and resigned from the Congress. “It was a battle against my honour,” Scindia had said after returning to the party in 1997. He, however, refrained from commenting on Narasimha Rao, seen as his bete noire.

Scindia was elected to Parliament in 1971 as an Independent candidate and joined the Congress during the Emergency. This sparked a confrontation with his mother Vijayaraje Scindia. Scindia, however, seldom reacted to his mother’s occasional outbursts against him.

“Yes, it used to pain a lot,” Scindia had said. However, the mother-son relationship had improved before the Rajmata’s death. When Vijayaraje slipped into coma at Delhi’s Apollo Hospital, Scindia would spend hours sitting next to his ailing mother.

Born on March 10, 1945, in Mumbai, Scindia lost his father at an early age. He did his schooling in Gwalior and got his Master of Arts degree from Oxford University before taking the plunge into electoral politics in 1971, winning the Guna Lok Sabha seat.


New Delhi, Sept. 30: 
It was perhaps a stroke of irony that Madhavrao Scindia was fated to die just eight months after his mother. Vijayaraje Scindia was in her eighties when she died after a long illness but she had the satisfaction of seeing the BJP — a party she had nurtured since its inception as Jan Sangh — entrenched in the seat of power. Madhavrao’s sudden and gruesome death came in the midst of the Congress’ attempts to find its feet in Uttar Pradesh through its parivartan yatras, which he was scheduled to address but never did.

The dividing line between the political and personal identities of the mother-son duo was almost indistinguishable. To the extent that the ensuing tensions often spilled out in the open and eventually led to their estrangement. Personally, however, both the Rajmata of Gwalior and her only son, Madhavrao, maintained their dignity and poise and never ever confronted each other publicly. It was “vested interests” which seemed to take a vicarious delight in playing up differences.

After the Rajmata’s death last February, her close confidant, Sardar Angre — who was named as the executor of her will along with RSS ideologue, S. Gurumurthy — released the document in a press conference in the capital to embarrass the Scindia family. While Madhavrao and his mother may have drifted apart, the late Congressman was close to his three sisters, especially Vasundhara, who called him “Dada”.

The 11-page will, purportedly handwritten by Vijayaraje, described Madhavrao as “mean and selfish” and not only disinherited him but also barred him from performing her last rites which he had done earlier. But the Scindia siblings did not react to Angre’s publicity shenanigans.

The mother-son antagonism apparently dated back to Emergency, when Madhavrao was tilted towards the Jan Sangh. According to Vijayaraje’s autobiography, Rajpath Se Lokpath Par — released in October 1977 by Atal Bihari Vajpayee — Madhavrao fled to Nepal when Emergency was clamped. He wanted his mother to follow suit and was quoted as saying if they stayed back they would meet the fate of the Russian chieftains after the Bolshevik Revolution.

The Rajmata was arrested on September 3, 1975, and, according to her book, she was pained to know that her son had conveyed to Indira Gandhi that he was ready to join the Congress if “pardoned”.

Her anguish notwithstanding, Vijayaraje supported him when he contested from Gwalior as an Independent in 1977, backed by the Congress. But relations took a turn for the worse when Vijayaraje was pitted against Indira Gandhi in Rae Bareli in 1980 and Madhavrao supported the latter.

With all the problems, however, it was a tacit arrangement that the mother would never let the son down in Gwalior, a seat he always won until he moved to Guna, the family’s original home, in 1999. The move was made only after Vijayaraje declared she was retiring from politics because of failing health. The unstated pact in the end testified eloquently the core of understanding between mother and son than all the muck-raking by those around them.


It is a common and mistaken assumption in India that all the famous princely families have old and distinguished lineages. The history of the Scindia family is one that shows that some of them had very humble origins.

The founder of the Scindia family, Ranoji, was a Maratha sardar, born in an ordinary Maratha family, which served as the hereditary slipper bearers of the raja of Satara, who served two Peshwas, (Baji Rao I and Balaji Baji Rao) in the 18th century. The term sardar in 18th century Maratha history denoted a chieftain or a warlord who helped in the collection of sardeshmukhi and chauth, two notorious taxes the Marathas collected over a very large territory spread over parts of the Deccan, Orissa, parts of Rajasthan and Central India. The population of these areas paid these taxes to protect themselves from raids of the Marathas.

When Baji Rao became the Peshwa in 1720, he conceived of the grand scheme of taking the Maratha power beyond the Narmada, to Delhi and even to Attock.

In other words, the Marathas would supplant the declining Mughal power. His two principal supporters were Ranoji Scindia and Malharrao Holkar, young sardars, straining at the leash and known as the fire-eaters in the Maratha court. Ranoji served his master with courage and when the Marathas annexed the Mughal province of Malwa, a part of it was given to Ranoji and he established his headquarters in Gwalior which had a fort built around 525 AD.

The leadership of the Scindias after Ranoji passed to his illegitimate son Mahadaji Scindia who escaped from the Third Battle of Panipat (1761) with a foot injury that lamed him for life. Subsequently in the 1770s, he played kingmaker in Delhi, re-establishing Shah Alam II as the Mughal Emperor.

During the first Anglo-Maratha War (1775-82), he mediated between the two sides and secured the treaty of Salbai. This raised him in the estimate of the British. This esteem the Scindias later came to cherish.

Gwalior and the vast possessions of the Scindias became a British protectorate under Daulat Rao Scindia, Mahadaji’s great nephew and heir, but not before Daulat Rao had engaged the British in military encounters and had lost. Refusing to accept the growing British supremacy in north India, young Daulat Rao pitted himself against Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington of the Battle of Waterloo fame) in the Deccan and Lord Lake in north India and was defeated within a short time at the battles of Delhi, Assaye, Laswari and Argaon (1803) and was obliged to come under the umbrella of British supremacy. He was allowed to retain his possessions and his capital Gwalior but was forced to accept the status of a protected prince.

From that time to 1947, when Gwalior and the Scindia possessions became part of the Indian republic, loyalty to the British was the watchword of the princes of the Scindia dynasty. During the revolt of 1857, even though the entire Gwalior contingent joined the rebels but the Maharajah, Jaiaji Rao Scindia, remained steadfastly loyal to the British, providing the British forces with vital help and succour. He actually fought the rebels and was defeated and had to flee to Agra. But the British never forgot the crucial support the Scindias had provided at a time when allies were hard to come by in India. The family was rewarded with various baubles of empire and enjoyed the rituals of the Raj, like gun salutes that proclaimed their status. They were happy to be subservient to the Raj and cut off from the mainstream of national life in the first half of the 20th century.


New Delhi, Sept. 30: 
When the end came, Madhavrao Scindia was accompanied by people he liked. With him was Rupinder Singh, the young Sardarji who had built a reputation of being Scindia’s Man Friday.

Rupinder, a former Youth Congress general secretary and spokesman, was his master’s shadow, both inside and outside Parliament. If Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh wanted to call on Scindia or UPCC chief Sriprakash Jaiswal wanted to have a word with Maharaja, “Rippy”, as Scindia called him, was the link.

The otherwise suave but reserved Scindia was suddenly available round the clock to both the print and the electronic media. Rippy would take care of all that. In Parliament, Scindia would articulate the party’s point of view on almost all important issues. At one’ o clock, Rippy would be waiting for Scindia with a dozen scribes in tow. Majaraja would go on clinically, first giving soundbites to TV channels in Hindi and English and then discuss parliamentary issues over coffee. In a generous mood, Scindia would order grilled chicken for everyone.

Rupinder knew everyone by their first name. In difficult situations, too, he would serve as a buffer. “Maharaja would get in touch with you the moment he is free,” Rippy would say distributing his cell number.

For the Kanpur rally, Rippy had picked three journalists, Anju Sharma of Hindustan Times, Sanjeev Sinha of Indian Express and Ranjan Jha of Aaj Tak. When Mani Shankar Aiyar and Sheila Dixit showed interest in accompanying Scindia for the rally, Rippy put his foot down.

Anju was to visit Russia but she could not go as she discovered that her passport had expired.


Bhopal, Sept. 30: 

Home turf limelight on satrap twins

With the sudden demise of Madhavrao Scindia, the Congress in Madhya Pradesh has its eyes fixed on two leaders, Kamal Nath and chief minister Digvijay Singh. Both young, charismatic and dynamic, and rivals.

As the news of ‘maharaja’s’ plane crash spread, the party saw a new surge of power struggle between Digvijay and Kamal Nath. The latter’s supporters are hopeful that since Nath is in Delhi and Digvijay stuck in Bhopal, their leader might finally get a much-awaited boost which could move him closer to the party high command.

But the struggle is confined to national politics. Not much is expected to change in the state Congress as Madhavrao’s influence in Madhya Pradesh politics was confined to three to four districts in the Chambal region, Gwalior, Shivpuri, parts of Bhind and parts of Guna.

In 1984, Scindia shifted his constituency from Guna to Gwalior. Here the young maharaja, then 39 years old, defeated Atal Bihari Vajpayee by a margin of over 1,75,000 votes.

The hawala scam found him without a Congress ticket in 1996. Days before the nominations, Scindia broke off from the Congress to form the Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress without much fan following. No prominent state leader followed him, none joined him. Only his loyal subjects of Gwalior saw him through. He contested and won Gwalior for the fourth consecutive time, beating his own previous records with a margin of over 2.23 lakh votes.

But Scindia’s leaving the Congress and rejoining after a few months gave a massive blow to his image. In 1998, Gwalior showed its annoyance and Scindia scraped through.

He was shattered by the 1998 result and in the following 1999 parliamentary elections shifted back to Shivpuri-Guna, where he secured victory by over 2.14 lakh votes.

Till 1993, Scindia was regarded a force in the state Congress. That year saw the rise of a raja in state politics as the maharaja withdrew.

With Digvijay Singh, fondly known as Diggy Raja, becoming the chief minister, centuries of old rivalry came to the fore. The rajas of Raghavgarh never accepted subordination by the Maharaja of Gwalior.

Digvijay belongs to the royal family of Raghavgarh and as the new chief minister surged ahead to conquer the state for a second election in 1998, the maharaja’s influence came down to only nine out of the 34 seats in the Congress from the Chambal region.

Madhavrao was circumscribed to Delhi. And Kamal Nath, regarded as the Congress’ prince from Chhindwara, became the second force in Madhya Pradesh. With Ajit Jogi, in Chattisgarh, and Digvijay Singh tied up in their chief minister’s chair, Chhindwara MLAs are thinking of a conquest of the AICC in Delhi.


New Delhi, Sept. 30: 
Is the Congress cursed?

Already short of leaders, Madhavrao Scindia’s demise adds to the growing list of untimely deaths of potential number twos in the party.

First it was Rajesh Pilot, killed in a freak road accident months before the Congress organisational polls, in which the former squadron leader was planning to take on the leadership. Jitendra Prasada was next. He tried to regroup the old guard but, at the last moment, faced large-scale desertions. Contesting against Sonia Gandhi for AICC presidentship, he managed just above one per cent of the votes. Not very long after, Prasada died of brain haemorrhage. Then it was veteran Sitaram Kesri. Soon, G.K. Moopanar and Vijayabhaskar Reddy followed. Moopanar was not in the Congress but belonged to the larger parivar.

Scindia was not a challenger to Sonia Gandhi. He never tried to be. His name was floated for prime ministership after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination but Scindia never made a bid for leadership during the chequered years of Kesri and Sonia. Till death, Scindia remained a close confidant of Sonia who valued his opinion and judgement. It was on Scindia’s recommendation that J.B. Patnaik was removed as Orissa chief minister after the killing of Father Graham Steins. He had his say in the removal of Salman Khurshid as UPCC chief but Scindia recommended Khurshid to head the party’s policy research department.

Yet, to many, Scindia was a hope if Sonia failed to deliver. Congress leaders viewed him as the public face of the party, known throughout the country. He was seen as the true successor to the Rajiv Gandhi brand of politics — liberal, youthful, tech-friendly with a concern for the poor. He was seen as a man who could mix the benefits of economic reforms with social security.

It was not that Scindia was not propped up against Sonia but the maharaja of Gwalior proved to be much smarter for those who wanted to pit him against her. Each time there was a crisis, Scindia would call on Sonia to scotch rumours of rift.

Scindia’s death has left a huge vacuum in the Congress — there is no one visible to fill the slot. Manmohan, Ambika Soni, Motilal Vora, Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Natwar Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, R.K. Dhawan and others lack mass support and have passed their prime. Leaders like Kamal Nath, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Mukul Wasnik are considered too junior and confined to their respective regions. Among the chief ministers, Digvijay and S.M. Krishna have the potential, but are viewed as regional satraps.

On Scindia’s home turf of Madhya Pradesh, there will be a renewed tussle to inherit the Madharao legacy. Kamal Nath is keen to spread his wings beyond Mahakaushal but chief minister Digvijay would try to take control. Congress leaders feel that unless Diggy Raja emerges as the undisputed leader of Madhya Pradesh, he would not be able to make a mark in Delhi.

There is also speculation that Scindia’s son Jyotiraditya Raje would enter politics.


New Delhi, Sept 30: 
Inside the Lutyens’ Delhi bungalow at 27 Safdarjung Road, Priyanka Gandhi is asking visitors streaming in to offer condolences to keep their footwear in the corridor before going in or just asking journalists not to go in and disturb the family.

In the lawns, Sanjay Tripathi, correspondent with Hindi daily Rashtriya Sahara is mustering up the gumption to get a quote out of her even in this hour of shocked murmur. Tripathi, a regular on the Congress ‘beat’, was to be on the 10-seater Cessna carrying Scindia with the journalists accompanying him for a rally in Kanpur.

“Rupinder (Scindia’s pointman with the Press who was also in the flight) had fixed the tour just day before yesterday. I was supposed to go, too, but I told him yesterday that I will not be able to make it because I had to sit for a departmental exam (in my office) today,” says Tripathi. The other journalist who was to be on the flight but could not make it is Nirmal Pathak of Dainik Jagran.

Mani Shankar Aiyar was to have been on the flight, too. But was requested to take another flight to make room for the journalists.

Rupinder had picked the journalists for the trip carefully. The Congress is preparing for the elections in Uttar Pradesh and the journalists chosen to accompany Scindia were working with the media that have a large audience in the state.

Tripathi learnt of the accident shortly after his exam. Immediately, he was despatched to Scindia’s house to carry on with his duties.

The crowd has begun to the swell around 4 pm after television news channels broke the news. Union home minister Lal Krishna Advani is personally supervising arrangements and keeping Congress leaders informed. He is constantly on the mobile. With him are Arun Jaitley and Narendra Modi. There is also Ajatshatru Singh, Scindia’s son-in-law (married to Chitrangada).

The crowds mill about in the lawn and in the driveway. Somebody has had the presence of mind to phone the decorators and a lorry with chairs has just arrived.

The innards of the bungalow were inaccessible a couple of hours after the news had broken. In a drawing room, there are politicians and celebrities. Huddles of women, some relatives, many from New Delhi’s charmed circles.Amjad Ali Khan and Amar Singh. Maneka Gandhi has come with son Varun. Sonia Gandhi is in an inner room.

After another call on the mobile, Advani goes into a huddle with Jaitley. Jaitley later leaves, presumably, he has been asked to take an air force flight that will take the bodies from Kanpur to Agra.

Word is out that the victims’ families have been contacted and requested to send someone to identify the bodies. They are said to be charred beyond recognition. The bodies are to be taken to an IAF base at Agra. By road, Agra is four hours from Mota railway station, the nearest major landmark to the site of the mishap.

Somebody has just told Advani that the plane with the bodies could reach Agra not before 9 in the evening. Advani relays word to Ajatshatru, Maj Ved Prakash and other Congress leaders. He is also told that Scindia’s son Jyotiraditya is on his way from Mumbai.

CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury stubs out a cigarette at the gates and walks in. He is stunned. He had spoken to Scindia earlier today, just minutes before the Cessna took off from Delhi airport at 12.40 this afternoon.

“What is happening to the Congress! What is happening to the Congress!” lawyer Kapil Sibal shakes his head in an indiscreet moment and vanishes into the crowd. Manmohan Singh is just standing there with three others, sometimes bending down to hear out a colleague who whispers into his ear. Sontosh Mohan Dev, hands folded at the back, strolls up and down. A Contessa comes up the driveway — former president R. Venkataraman accompanied by his daughter. Sushma Swaraj is just leaving. Mamata Banerjee, twice Madhavrao’s junior in the Union ministry, is there..

There is no breast beating, sobbing and wailing. No slogan-shouting, no Scindiaji amar rahe. The news has still not sunk in. There is not even a thick silence. Everyone is murmuring. The mourning will begin after the bodies — Advani tells a Congress leader that they are in a waterlogged field and not easy to extricate — arrive.

Tripathi of Rashtriya Sahara is still looking for the Priyanka quote. He has not even found time to count himself among the Blessed. New faces will soon take the place of four of his old colleagues on the Congress’ beat. Maybe he will mourn then.


The Shatabdi was racing back to Delhi from Gwalior at its usual whirlwind speed. Among the passengers was the person responsible for the train connection. At that point of time it was perceived as a railway minister’s attempt at nurturing his constituency but, with the benefit of hindsight, it was obvious that it was a farsighted move to link satellite towns to the capital. Given his background, it would be easy for him to slide back into yesterday rather than tomorrow, but it was his preoccupation with today that kept him ahead.

Madhavrao Scindia sat in a corner of the compartment, his natty reading glasses perched precariously on his nose, going through a small mound of files. The train was passing through the Gwalior region. The grandeur of the palace and the awe-inspiring fort still fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder how a person who was once master of it all, felt about the new equations.

“Ever since childhood, I was aware of the fact that my father, grandfather, who were tillers from Kanerkhed village, close to Satara, always maintained a close identification with the people. We don’t come from a traditional princely family and don’t claim descent from the sun or the moon! If I cut my veins, the blood that will spout forth will be red, in case my pen is not leaking!” he laughed. He hastened to add: “But, at the same time, I am proud of my origins. My ancestors responded to Chattrapati Shivaji’s call, with a vision of ‘Maharashtra’, not in the pradeshik sense of the term, but as an umbrella to fight against foreign aggression.”

Did his feudal origins stand in the way of his chosen vocation: politics?

“A certain amount of blurring does take place when you live amid opulence. But I did not have to adjust to become part of modern India. I was born in the forties. When I chose a vocation in public life, the idea was to maintain identity of thought and comprehend the aspirations of the people and yet maintain accessibility.”

In a larger sense of the term, isn’t political career an extension of the feudal system? I wondered aloud. “Initially perhaps. But subsequently India has changed. One does try to ensure that it does not happen, but awe and respect are there. Sometimes I am worried about being too candid! The support inspires you to put in more effort. In my case, it is not based on political ambition,” he said thoughtfully.

Culture was an issue Scindia had definite views about. “Things are done here only when they come via the West — like an Agmark! We are aping the West, we are being bombarded by their media, but deep down it does not banish our desire for our own culture. I think popular cinema has made a positive contribution to hanging on to our culture and values.”

Did Scindia believe the value of our culture could be restored? “I think the electronic media has a tremendous role to play in creating and wearing an ethos that is modern and yet Indian. Culture doesn’t mean negation of movement to modernity, but without it the country loses it moorings and anchor,” he said, flicking his straight, bouncy hair away from his forehead in his trademark way.

Could culture be administered? I asked. “No. You can coax and nudge, but you can’t dictate culture. In any case, I think there has to be a greater public involvement at all levels. There is too much administration. Steps have to be taken to preserve heritage and attract controlled and regulated commercialism keeping in mind the carrying capacity of a region.

Culture must go hand in hand with heritage of a particular area. This in turn must be related to tourism to make destinations self-sufficient. Development and urbanisation must be done in a planned manner. Attention has to be paid to transportation in the peripheral areas of metros. Once you establish a magnet of activity away from the core area, the pressure can ease,” he said enthusiastically. It was evidently something he had given a great deal of thought to.


Chennai, Sept. 30: 
Eleven years after unseating the then Bengal strongman B.N. Dutt as BCCI president, Madhavrao Scindia helped Jagmohan Dalmiya get the same post by stopping A.C. Muthiah’s bid for a third year.

Scindia didn’t make a show of backing Dalmiya: He did it with the finesse that an overwhelming majority of sports administrators only hope to possess.

Tragically, less than 24 hours after Dalmiya’s win, Scindia is no more. The loss isn’t just to the world of politics. As BCCI chief from 1990-1993, Scindia interacted with a much wider section of cricket fraternity than he normally would have, and the loss for each acquaintance has to be personal.

And, yes, Gwalior won’t ever have a more generous host.

Indeed, winning friends and swelling the circle of those who respected him, came easy to Scindia. This wasn’t so only during the Lok Sabha Vs Rajya Sabha matches or during guest appearances at venues like the CC&FC. The class act that Scindia was, no body else could be the top draw.

It’s to Scindia’s credit, for example, that though he and Dalmiya initially belonged to opposite camps – Dalmiya relinquished the BCCI secretaryship after working with Scindia for one year – he still got Dalmiya on board in the lead-up to the successful bid for the 1996 world cup.

More important, Scindia left it to Dalmiya to engage in the strictly cricket-networking while he himself tackled matters, which required the government’s clearance. It certainly helped that the Congress was then in power.

Of course, Scindia wasn’t the BCCI president when the event took place, but was very much part of the organising committee (Pilcom). As it turned out, that bid remained the highpoint of his tenure as the BCCI chief.

In more recent years, Scindia didn’t speak much on cricket but when he did, instantly made headline. Last year, he called for stringent action against even those remotely connected with match-fixing. Less than a fortnight ago, Scindia pleaded for the BCCI to be run professionally.

Owing to preoccupation with his principal vocation, Scindia could not devote as much time as he would have liked to the BCCI. Yet, he wasn’t one who merely chaired the AGM. Within the BCCI, quite a few basked in his reflected glory. Even now, it did count to have the “Maharaj’s” blessing.

The customary tributes apart, the BCCI would do well to institute an award in Scindia’s memory. Not hastily, but after careful deliberation.


Bhopal, Sept. 30: 
Nine months ago, Gwalior had coped with the loss of its Rajmata. Today, it failed to believe that the maharaja is no more.

It was around 3 pm when reports of Madhavrao Scindia’s plane crash was first heard in Gwalior.

As a first reaction, the town was dazed, not knowing what had struck them. Within minutes, the entire city shut itself down in grief. Markets downed their shutters and offices closed down. People started gathering in front of Jai Vilas Palace, the official residence of the Scindia royal family.

As word spread through the neighbouring areas of north Madhya Pradesh, three districts including Gwalior, Shivpuri and Guna joined in the grief and declared a “bandh”. Scindia was representing the Shivpuri-Guna constituency of Madhya Pradesh in Parliament since 1999.

A pall of gloom descended as political leaders and activists of all parties, including the BJP, BSP, CPI and the CPM, gathered in front of the palace. “We are not here as members of our respective parties. We are all together at this hour, feeling like orphans. Our maharaja is no more,” wept Ramesh Agarwal, the Congress MLA from Gwalior.

As people gathered to pay their respects from different parts of the district as well as from adjoining districts, police stopped traffic from one kilometre outside the city’s boundaries. The police later explained that Gwalior was not used to handling so much traffic from outside.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh too, was overcome by grief. Digvijay is currently on an official tour to London. “I am deeply saddened by the shocking news,” he said.

“He was an able administrator; he was affable and soft-spoken. We all had great expectations from him since he gave a new direction to politics. His loss is irreparable. My heart goes out to his family, friends and relatives. This is a personal loss for me,” he added.

The PCC headquarters here was also shocked into silence by the sudden demise of the veteran leader.


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