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‘Maharaja’ first, marriage can wait

Pohri (Madhya Pradesh), May 3: Jyotiraditya Scindia is campaigning in Govardhan village. A passing Madhya Pradesh Roadways bus screeches to a halt. All 74 passengers pour out to hear the “Maharaja of Gwalior”. Fifteen minutes later, he is through. The passengers troop back to the bus to resume their journey to Shivpuri. Jyotiraditya gets into his black Scorpio and leaves for another village, another election meeting.

Twenty kilometres later, another convoy stops. This time it is a marriage party, with the groom, which chooses to hear out Jyotiraditya rather than catch the mahurat (auspicious time) of the lagan (marriage ceremony).

The 33-year-old may be the favourite in Guna but the St Stephen’s-Oxford-Harvard graduate in politics, economics and philosophy is leaving nothing to chance. He travels from one hamlet to another from 8 am to 1 am in 40 degree-plus heat.

His speeches are mostly “interactive”, devoid of allegations and tall promises. The young Scindia emphasises that he should not be addressed as a “politician” but as a “public servant”. The public servant description, he said, was coined by his father, the late Madhavrao Scindia.

In street corner meetings, Jyotiraditya does not refer to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sonia Gandhi, India Shining or secularism. His opening lines recall the “historical link” between the Scindias and Guna-Shivpuri. Then he spells out how he got projects worth Rs 600 crore in 22 months as MP.

Jyotiraditya randomly picks a member of the audience and seeks views on their surroundings, the quality of roads, the water problem and how he intends to solve them. He pays special attention to women, lamenting their tendency to sit at the back.

On the face of it, the “Maharaja of Gwalior” appears to be sitting pretty but some supporters say they have reason to worry. In the December Assembly polls, the BJP bagged the bulk of the seats in his constituency.

Jyotiraditya’s opponent, the BJP’s Hari Ballabh Shukla, is no pushover, having won the Assembly poll from a rather obscure party, the Samanta Dal. Shukla joined the BJP to take on the “maharaja”, unleashing the bogey of “palace versus the people”.

Shukla is also known to flex muscles. In each meeting in Pohri, Jyotiraditya makes it a point to urge voters not to be intimidated. “If you are harassed, please come straight to me,” he says.

Old-timers acknowledge this is the first time a Scindia is fearing foul play. “These are changing times,” says Ashutosh Sharma, son of the late President Shankar Dayal Sharma.

Jyotiraditya is countering Shukla through “interactive sessions”. In each meeting, the floor is offered to Ashutosh Sharma and Bhopal mayor Vibha Patel, an outspoken OBC leader. They lambast “casteist forces”, asking voters to stay with Jyotiraditya.

Scindia is a fixture in almost all local marriages, attending as many as 13 a day. “Yes, I go to these marriages but most of them are mass samaj (community) marriages,” he says.

In between addressing small gatherings, Jyotiraditya shares his views with The Telegraph. He says the buzz on youth empowerment needs to be addressed carefully. “Yes, it is good that more and more youngsters are joining politics but we must give due place to those with grey hair.”

Asked if he is comfortable as a politician, he says: “I would have been doing the same as an officer, NGO activist. It is just that I now believe that destiny had this for me,” he said.

Supporters say the firm believer in destiny wants a record margin. “The new maharaja does not only want to win but win emphatically so that the constituency can be kept warm for future generations,” Ashok Sharma of Shivpuri says, adding he has no qualms about accepting a “maharaja”. “After all, in a democracy, if he wins, he becomes the people’s maharaja.”

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