She stops, smiles, asks people about their lives and caresses the cheeks of babies presented to her, playing the benevolent princess to the hilt.
Her appeal for votes is made as a “daughter of Jaipur”, and as a candidate of the upcoming “Modi government” in Rajasthan.
At a temple in a grubby BJP stronghold in the city, party MP Diya Kumari — scion of the erstwhile Jaipur royal family — reads out the names of local BJP and Sangh parivar activists to thank them for the meeting. She forgets the odd name or two but is ably prodded by party cadre.
“This princess walks on the streets, she works for the people, she is in the midst of the people,” Kumari tells the crowd gathered at a hall within the Jhoolelal Temple building.
Royalty was abolished in India in 1971, but members of many of the erstwhile ruling families continue to describe themselves as princes or princesses.
Kumari, MP for Rajsamand, has won both the elections she contested since being inducted into the BJP in 2013 by then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Rajnath Singh and leader of the Opposition Vasundhara Raje — now seen as her rival within the party.
Kumari and her mother Padmini Devi had a public spat with Raje during the latter’s term as chief minister in 2016. Raje was forced to back off from taking action against alleged encroachment by the Rajmahal Palace here, owned by Kumari’s family. The BJP hasn’t declared a candidate for chief minister this time.
Kumari’s personality evokes memories of her step-grandmother Gayatri Devi, former Jaipur MP and a style icon of her times. Her beginner’s luck draws parallels with both Devi and Raje.
Kumari enters the Jhoolelal Mandir — a temple and cultural centre of the Sindhi community -- to the incendiary singer Kanhiya Mittal’s “Jo Ram ko laaye, hum unko layenge (We will bring those who brought Ram)” — a campaign song for Adityanath, the BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
The lyrics say: “We are Hindus. Only speak about Ram.”
The version playing here has been tweaked for Rajasthan, with added lyrics that say the saffron will fly in Rajasthan.
Clause 3 under the head of “General Conduct” in the Model Code of Conduct for elections states: “There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. Mosques, churches, temples or other places of worship shall not be used as forum for election propaganda.”
Kumari says: “The Congress is set for a farewell forever from Rajasthan.”
Reminding the crowd about a recent rape case, she takes a dig at a Congress government scheme to give mobile phones to women.
“Do you want mobile phones or security?” she asks the women in the crowd. The obvious chorus comes in reply.
The party has fielded Kumari — seen as the Prime Minister’s pick to cut Raje to size — from Vidhyadhar Nagar. The seat has since its formation in 2008 been represented by the BJP’s Narpat Singh Rajvi, son-in-law of late Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Rajvi, who protested, has been fielded from Chittorgarh.
The BJP holds almost two-thirds of the municipal wards that fall within the seat. Yet Kumari isn’t leaving anything to chance. She repeatedly counters the strongest charge the Congress makes against her — that of being a non-resident politician, one more comfortable in Delhi than in Rajasthan.
“Once I win, I will have an office here. You will meet me directly. All work will be done directly,” she assures the crowd.
Veteran Rajasthan journalist and chronicler Sunny Sebastian told The Telegraph: “Her conduct is careful, and she remains in touch with people. She also has an efficient PR agency, and good advisers. She has achieved in politics what her father could not. Her father, Brigadier Bhawani Singh (a Congress Lok Sabha candidate in 1989), was defeated despite Rajiv Gandhi campaigning for him.”
Sebastian added: “Of the royals in politics, Diya Kumari has made the most use of Rightist comments like claiming the land of the Taj Mahal, and asserting that her family are descendants of Lord Ram. I don’t think she is communal, but she does take advantage of the criticism targeted at other religions.”
Retired Anganwadi worker Savitri Sharma said: “That she is a princess is secondary. The main thing you see here are the broken roads and open drains. The previous MLA was from the same party (BJP), as is our councillor. But we don’t believe that the Congress will do anything to improve this area. So it is best to vote for her. We are happy to have a woman candidate and she seems interested in solving our problems.”
Hawker Mohan Patwa said Diya Kumari had assured people that the BJP would not discontinue any of the welfare schemes started by the Ashok Gehlot government that are effective.
Tailor Raj Ahmed expects communal tensions to worsen after the polls.
“We have had minor incidents here, (such as) people being forced to shout ‘Jai Shri Ram’. The Congress has also kept silent on this, and they’re not very popular here, either, because we have received surprisingly high power bills even after the government granted 100 units of electricity free,” he said.
“But for the people here, it doesn’t matter who the MLA is as long as it is someone from the BJP or any party that blames us (Muslims) for all the problems here.”