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'Horse' haunts Scindias

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RASHEED KIDWAI   |     |   Published 06.09.10, 12:00 AM

Bhopal, Sept. 5: Their ancestors’ support for the British during the 1857 revolt has returned to haunt the Scindias in pocket borough Gwalior.

The website of the BJP-ruled Gwalior Municipal Corporation accuses former ruler Jayajirao Scindia of having “betrayed” Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi by providing her with a “weak horse”.

Some historians, though, feel all this is much ado about nothing and question whether Lakshmi Bai herself can be counted as a great patriot. A historian said that till as late as January 1858, the Rani was pleading with the British to come and save her.

The issue clearly has political overtones, with the local BJP eager to target junior Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia. Narrating Gwalior’s history, the corporation website says: “Rani (Queen) of Jhansi, Lakshmi Bai came to Gwalior when general Huroz of British army defeated Lakshmi Bai in Kalpi. Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior betrayed Lakshmi Bai. He gave her a weak horse. Sensing something fishy Lakshmi Bai decided to leave Gwalior. She laid down her life, while fighting British, on 18th June 1858.”

Jyotiraditya’s supporters are up in arms. A team of local Congress leaders loyal to him met BJP mayor Sameeksha Gupta demanding removal of the “offensive lines”. Gupta said she would have to get the matter examined first.

Municipal commissioner N.B.S. Rajput said the website had been designed by a private party. “We will see whether the claims are true or false. Accordingly, action will be taken,” he said.

Gwalior’s BJP member of Parliament, Yashodhara Raje Scindia, declined comment but sources close to her said she was “deeply upset” at the municipality’s “indiscretion”.

Yashodhara represents a faction in the Gwalior BJP that does not get along too well with the supporters of Anoop Mishra, former state minister and nephew of former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.

Pramod Bhargava, a Shivpuri-based historian, also questioned the website’s claim, saying the Scindias never had any functional ties with Lakshmi Bai or the other leading lights of the 1857 revolt.

“I am a bit sceptical about Jayajirao giving a horse at all to Lakshmi Bai, weak or strong. Had the Scindias cooperated with the Rani or Tantya Tope, the history of India would have been different,” he said.

Bhargava added that neither of the accounts of the 1857 uprising written by V.D. Savarkar or Pandit Sunder Lal, who were among the first to describe the revolt as India’s first war of Independence, referred to Scindia loaning a horse to Lakshmi Bai.

However, the Scindias’ alleged role in the events leading to Lakshmi Bai’s death and their proximity to the British have haunted the family for decades. In August 2006, Yashodhara’s sister and then Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje had faced angry protests in Indore when she was invited to unveil the bust of Lakshmi Bai.

Vasundhara, however, dismissed the charge and claimed that “as a woman”, she had the highest regard for Lakshmi Bai and considered her a “role model”.

Even some state Congress functionaries feel the Scindias may be wise to apologise for their ancestors’ acts.

Ramasran Tiwari, aide to Ujjain’s Congress MP Prem Chand Guddu, said: “If the family has any remorse, it should apologise publicly for its forefathers’ deeds.”

The Scindias’ proximity to the British had earned them many rewards. In the Imperial Durbar in Delhi in 1877, Jayajirao had received the rank of a general and a 21-gun salute from a grateful empire.

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