Trekking the Scindias, Rasheed Kidwai new book captures their incredible journey

By S A H RIZVI

Like many rulers of the erstwhile princely states whose history are now limited to coffee table books or on their culinary delights, Scindias of Gwalior were different and could parachutes its members from palaces to the ministers

As widely believed Scindias could retain their power and position as they did in earlier times, their sagacity worked.

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It was left to the genius of Rasheed Kidwai, a brilliant fellow political journalist and author to trek their long historical journey into a wonderful thread of words. The book examines how Scindia’s unlike many other rulers were able to change and retain their position as if nothing happened.

The book examine how, unlike other dynasties, the Scindias of Gwalior, survived 1857 and 1947 and were able to retain their glory.

The inspiration to write this book as Rasheed told me stemmed from the fact that the 18th century was a defining period of Indian history, after which events took a trajectory that even academic historians regard as a distinct specialisation.
India got colonised during this phase.

A substantive explanation for the subjugation is the over-dependence of Indian kingdoms on merchant bankers. The latter foresaw better prospects in aligning with the British East India Company. Helping it become a powerful political force was more profitable than investing in local rivalries and annexations.

Nonetheless, some principalities managed to survive till 1857, and some endured till 1947. In this respect, the Gwalior Scindias stand apart, for they not only survived 1857 and 1947 but continued as not insignificant “rulers” even in republican-democratic India.

ItI s this distinct trait Rasheed chose to examine the history of the Scindias and profile some of its dynasts in the book

My own proximity to late Congress leader Madhavrao Scindia began with my stint as Political editor and then as Editor of Delhi Mid Day. Over the years we would talk on phone or meet very often

Madhavrao Scindia was an avid reader of Mid Day and perhaps this brought me close to him as well. For me, he was the best source of information on Congress inner politics and he trusted me to the core.

Media friendly although, Madhavrao drew compartments and this refelected his style of functioning . Rasheed was also among the few who had his ears.

A brilliant political writer Rasheed first book on Sonia Gandhi was a runaway bestseller and even Hollywood planned a movie but technical issues came in between.

Rasheed Kidwai

Excerpts from the book

Having seen late Madhavraio so closely I totally agree with Rasheed observation that” Madhavrao Scindia, like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Pranab Mukherjee, was probably one of the best prime ministers India never had. His rise was cruelly cut short by fate – at the same time as when the Congress was on the trail of a comeback.trail

An indication emerged in that direction when Sonia Gandhi made Madhavroa Scindia as Deputy Leader of Lok Sabha, a year before his death

Writes Rasheed in this book, “Scindia died in a tragic plane crash on 30 September 2001 just eight months after the death of his mother, Vijaya Raje Scindia. But while the ailing Rajmata was in her eighties and had the satisfaction of seeing her party, the BJP, firmly on the seat of power, Madhavrao was just fifty-six, in the prime of his political life.

Less than three years later, in 2004, a Congress-led coalition would come to power at the Centre and remain at the helm for the next ten years.

While that will always remain in the realm of conjecture, there is little doubt that within the Congress Madhavrao was much more popular as a leader than Manmohan Singh, who is by nature a reticent man. A measure of Madhavrao’s popularity can be estimated from the fact that he would win every Congress Working Committee election he contested by a huge margin, without even being part of the ‘informal panel’ that would be formed as a quid pro quo to garner votes from delegates.

He also shared a unique understanding with Sonia Gandhi. In private conversations, Madhavrao was perhaps alone in a league of Congress leaders addressing politician Sonia on a first name basis. He would however, address her as ‘Sonia ji’ in the presence of others and at formal party forums.

Sonia used to address him as Madhav and often invited him for a cup of tea or coffee at a rather short notice too. They had known each other from the time of her arrival in India and her marriage to Rajiv Gandhi in 1968.

Madhavrao was aware of the Italian-born party president’s inner conflict on opting for the ‘big chair’ of the country’s prime ministership whenever such a situation may come to pass. It was not that Sonia had discussed this hypothetical scenario with him, but political events in 1999 had given Madhavrao an insight into the matter.

Rasheed present book is a beautiful historical journey of the Scindias, their growth, the palace intrigues and essentially what made Scindias so different that many of the princely states, though larger in size could not enjoy. A must read it gives a vivid description of transformation of India from once a princely states to the present democratic fiber.

The flame of Scindia family is now in the hands of his able son Jyotiraditya Scindia who is presently carving a new legacy with the BJP.

(The book by Rasheed Kidwai “The House of Scindias. A saga of Power, Politics and Intrigue” is published by Roli Books and is available online)

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