‘Raaj’ Or No ‘Raaj’, Royalty Rules
Come poll season and all political parties start eyeing royal faces. The advent of democracy in India 66 years back might have deprived the erstwhile royals of their titles and privy purses but not of their charm. They may not be the unchallenged rulers of their opulent palaces now, but the word “royal” is still a great hit.
Royal food, royal weddings, royal parties, royal attire…the contagion is not limited to lifestyle alone. The fascinating world of royalties is a potential driving force in the poll arena as
well. The political parties and the electorate seem to be equally attracted towards royal faces rising on the poll horizon. As far as the royal faces are concerned, it allows them an opportunity to find a recognisable place in the democratic process.
Rajasthan politics has been a witness to royal families taking a plunge into politics. Right from the first election to the present era, royal fervour or glamour has been part of Assembly and Lok Sabha polls in the state. Initially, the Congress party was not so inclined to obliging royal faces but it succumbed to the royal charm after seeing lots of royals sweeping the polls.
The royals in Rajasthan lost their kingdom and fiefdom following the merger of princely states into Indian Union following the Independence. The principal rulers of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Kota, Bikaner, Alwar, Bharatpur, Kishangarh and Karauli decided to contest the elections for both Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha in the first general election in the state in 1952. The rulers were very much against the Congress as it was Congress who snatched their kingdom and the princes floated their own Ram Rajya Parishad party and in the first elections to the Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha a large number of the princes were elected. Even the commoner Rajputs joined the Ram Rajya Parishad with the exception of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who opted to be with Bharatiya Jan Sangh,a party that was founded by Syama Prasad Mookerjee.
In the first Lok Sabha, the ruler of Jodhpur Hanwant Singh contested from Jodhpur and won but as fate would have it he died in an air crash even before he was declared winner from Jodhpur to Lok Sabha. Girraj Saran Singh of Bharatpur and Dr Karni Singh of Bikaner went to the Lok Sabha. Thakurs and jagirdars won in big numbers in the Vidhan Sabha election, yet the Congress, which fielded a large number of freedom fighters, outnumbered the feudal lords and successfully formed the government. Some of the Rajputs that included Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who contested on the Jan Sangh ticket, won. All the eight Jan Sangh winners were Rajputs. The princes and the jagirdars, who suffered heavily for the second time losing their large chunk of land because of the introduction of the Land Ceiling Act, joined hands together when Maharani Gayatri Devi founded Swatantra Party in the state.
Gayatri Devi with her glamorous figure and charm made the Swatantra Party, a force to reckon with, and the princes and the Rajput feudal lords joined her. The Swatantra Party was supported by the rich industrialists and businessmen, who were given nominations for the Lok Sabha election. Between 1962 and 1967, the Swatantra Party became the leading opposition party. But it was the Jan Sangh which because of the better organisational set-up increased its base and the Swatantra Party knowing the strength of the Jan Sangh became its ally in the 1967 Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha elections and the combo of the Jan Sangh and the Swatantra Party collectively won 89 seats in a House of 184. It was a serious setback to the Congress, yet it was able to form the government with the support of Independents and smaller parties. Then there was no anti-defection law.
The former princely state of Dhaulpur has given a Chief Minister as its Maharani Vasundhara Raje was Chief Minister between 2003 and 2008 and is at present. She was also a member of the Lok Sabha, but was elected from a different former principality Jhalawar. Her son Dushyant Singh is now the member from Jhalawar in the Lok Sabha. The latest to take the plunge in party politics is 42-year-old princess Diya Kumari of Jaipur, who joined the BJP at the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s rally in the state capital on September 10, 2013. Diya inherits the legacy of her glamorous grandmother queen Gayatri Devi, one of the founders of the Swatantra Party that tried to challenge the political monopoly of the Congress during the 60s and early 70s.
Royals political history would be incomplete without a mention of Madhya Pradesh’s ex-royal leaders. To begin with, the erstwhile royal family of Gwalior — the Scindias — has been dominating the political landscape of the region for generations. They have won as candidates of national parties, as Independents, and even when they floated a regional outfit. So strong is the hold of the Scindias that while Yashodhara Raje Scindia is a BJP MP from Gwalior Lok Sabha seat, her nephew Jyotiraditya Scindia is a Congress MP from Guna.
Another parliamentary constituency where the heirs to former principalities continue to hold their grip is the Raghogarh Lok Sabha seat. The former royals from Raghogarh princely state are Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh and his younger brother Laxman Singh. Jaivardhan Singh, the son of Digvijaya, has also joined the Congress. Priyavrat Singh, a Congress MLA, belongs to a royal family of Khilchipur, while Kunwar Vikram Nati Raja, Maharaja of Chhattarpur, is an MLA from Rajnagar seat. Dhruv Narayan Singh, a BJP MLA representing Bhopal Central seat, is a member of Rampur Baghelan family.
In Odisha sitting Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has fielded Hemendra Singh from Kandhamal and Arka Keshari Deo from Kalahandi to reap a rich electoral harvest. The scion of Nayagarh royal family, Hemendra is the richest candidate from the tribal dominated constituency with assets worth over `48.72 crore. Kalikesh Sighdeo is incumbent M.P. from Bolangir, belongs to its royal familyin 2009 had declared assets worth over 4 crore. Arka Keshri Deo is a member of the Kalahandi royal clan. He will face sitting Congress MP Bhakt Charan Das for the Lok Sabha seat spread across seven Assembly constituencies.
In Mandi Lok Sabha constituency of Himachal Pradesh, the Congress sits comfortable due to the clout of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, whose wife Pratibha Singh, a sitting MP, is pitted against BJP candidate Ram Swaroop Sharma. In Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, the former chief minister and son of former Maharaja of Patiala Yadavindra Singh, is battling against BJP candidate Arun Jaitley.
Political Analysts say that whichever party wins Uttar Pradesh rules Delhi and the Congress party is already battling BJP’s poll mascot Narendra Modi’s popularity in the Hindi heartland. The party has fielded four candidates with royal lineage. Amita Singh—wife of Congress Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Sanjay Singh is contesting from Sultanpur, Ratna Singh of the Oudh royal family contesting from Pratapgarh, R P N Singh from Kushinagar and Kazim Ali Khan, son of Begum Noor Bano, is contesting from Rampur.
The temptation of being in the limelight of politics is too great to resist for most people. For royalty, the opportunity comes on the platter without having to sweat it out in the ticket seeking queue. It is a mutually satisfying venture. Political parties want winnable horses and royals—return of lost glory.
The electorate doesn’t mind return of the Raj either. Critics of feudal regime may not appreciate it but why should the voters reject a candidate only due to his/her royal credentials? It is true that the royal families long patronised the prople, ruled over them and also nurtured strong literary and cultural traditions. But equally true is the fact that it was somewhat a distant relationship. The commoners may not have got a chance to have an entry into the glorious forts and palaces when royalty reigned supreme, yet there was no lack of reverence for their patrons. so, let’ see what results for this election have in store for the royalties.
By Nilabh Krishna