Monday, 30th October 2017

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Soft-spoken queen of hearts who believes in serving people

Navagarh’s Rajmata may nurture political ambitions but isn’t letting on

By Praduman Choubey in Dhanbad
  • Published 25.03.19, 9:15 PM
  • Updated 25.03.19, 9:15 PM
  • 2 mins read
Rajmata Sumedha Rajlakshmi takes a look at an old family album at her house near Dhanbad on Friday. Picture by Gautam Dey

She hails from the illustrious Rana family of Nepal, was educated in convents in Kathmandu and Nainital and married off at 15 to the scion of the royal family of Navagarh in Baghmara, 20km from the coal town. Now, at 56, as the mother of three grown-up children and widely respected in her estate, she believes she can make a difference in politics.

Meet Rajmata Sumedha Rajlakshmi, widow of Raja Satyendra Narayan Singh, who calls herself a “humble party worker of the BJP”.

Soft-spoken, gracious and with a pallu decorously covering her head, she told this reporter she remained in purdah for 32 years of her married life and stepped out in public only after her husband died in 2008. Asked why, the Rajmata said people of Baghmara wanted her to. “They loved my mother-in-law, Gyani Maharaniji, and my husband, and after they passed away in 2006 and 2008, the royal family had to be represented by someone. My son (the present Raja, Meghendra Narayan Singh) was too young then, a student. I had to step in,” she said.

She won the first election of her life as a zilla parishad member with a record margin of 9,009 votes in 2010 from Ajsu Party but shifted two years later to the BJP “for their ideology”. So, is she keen on a bigger role in politics in 2019?

She didn’t give a direct reply. “Having royal lineage, we don’t believe in politics for financial gain or fame. We want to be in politics to serve the people,” said the Rajmata who personally prepares the bhog of the royal Durga Puja every year and offers tilak to people.

She is of the generation who did not see much pomp of royalty. The Indian government abolished the privy purse in 1971. Her in-laws sold their huge palace to the BCCL and moved to a nearby farmhouse much before her marriage in 1978. For the first time, royals had to earn their living. The Rajmata’s husband was one of the modern royals, a trained aerospace engineer from California in the US, who returned to Navagarh in 1984. Of their three children, eldest daughter Baudha Raje is a homemaker but the present Raja, Meghendra Pratap, operates a stone crushing unit, and youngest daughter Yagyaswari Raje runs an event management company.

“As a family we believe in education, in keeping up with the times, but without losing our values and traditions,” she said.

She believes her royal background gave her deeper insight into public life. “My father, the late Damodar Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana, was Nepal’s ambassador to Russia. He used to tell me a lot about international politics. I also learnt a lot about political life here from my late mother-in-law, Gyani Maharaniji, who contested Assembly elections from Baghmara in 1982. She could not win, but her rapport with people stayed strong till the end.”

Her beautiful face lights up when she speaks about her mother-in-law. “I respected her deeply, we shared a wonderful rapport. Despite little formal education, she had a commanding personality and could speak English, German, French and Italian fluently. As a bride, I knew no Hindi, only English and Nepali, I was very shy. She groomed me, taught me how to address the staff, the people,” the Rajmata recalled.

Her in-laws were originally from Rewa in Madhya Pradesh, who came to Dhanbad in the 18th century to settle in three branches, Navagarh, Katras and Jharia royal families. The Rajmata spoke of the glories of yore — a tiger, Sundari, who used to pace on the palace grounds, a large godown of guns, hundreds of servants and royalty from 51 collieries. “All these I have heard from my elders, from old servants and others,” she said. Right now, her family’s circumstances are more straitened, she admitted.

“Obviously we can’t compete with present-day politicians in terms of money power,” she smiled.