Family reunion spells trouble for India's PM

After 20 years' feuding, a mother and son are campaigning against Rao's government, writes Tim McGirk

New Delhi - At the height of the feud between the queen mother of Gwalior and her son, they lived walled off from each other in a colossal palace, which rises above the plains of central India, and never spoke. They inhabited rival political realms, too. She is a Hindu revivalist, while her son, Madhavrao, belonged to the secular Congress party. As the queen mother once remarked witheringly: "I should have let elephants trample on him when he was born."

The rift in the royal house of Gwalior has been one of the most captivating and longest-running sagas in Indian politics. Mother and son traded accusations of stealing family heirlooms. They padlocked doors in their 150-room Jail Vilas palace to keep each other away from the Persian rugs, the Belgian glass baubles and the Louis XVI furniture. Both are MPs; neither the son nor the mother lost a chance in parliament to sling insults at one other.

However, the Gwaliors' dynastic quarrel may finally have ended. The mother and son's reunion, however, is bad news for Narasimha Rao, the Prime Minister and Congress party leader, who inadvertently got the two back together again. The royal pair could harm Mr Rao's hopes of a Congress victory in Madhya Pradesh in the upcoming general elections.

The wily Prime Minister had gambled on revenge being a stronger trait among the Scindia warrior dynasty than forgiveness. He gambled wrong. In February, Mr Rao orchestrated a corruption scandal that tarred all of his leading challengers - both among the opposition leaders and inside Congress. Urbane, aristocratic and rich, Mr Scindia was seen by 74-year- old Mr Rao as a rising threat. Mr Scindia, along with several other cabinet ministers, was forced by the premier to resign for allegedly having accepted black money. He was also denied an election ticket.

Instead of glowering in his Gwalior citadel, Mr Scindia chose to fight against Mr Rao's manoeuvrings. He launched a new party, the Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress, on Monday and went on the campaign trail inside his ancestors' Gwalior kingdom, which at its peak encompassed 25,000 square miles. Although India's princes and nawabs were stripped of their titles, land and power after independence, Mr Scindia everywhere is given a maharajah's greeting: people bow and reverentially touch his feet.

The queen mother was gladdened by her son's revolt against Congress. "Mothers have traditionally forgiven errant sons," said the tiny but haughty Raj Mata. Besides, she said, "The Scindia name has been dishonoured [by the premier] and we must fight."

The family feud dated back to 1977 when the then premier, Indira Gandhi, assumed dictatorial powers and jailed the Raj Mata along with hundreds of other politicians and journalists. The queen mother's son fled to Nepal while his mother suffered in a cell. When she was released in 1980, the Raj Mata vowed to contest Mrs Gandhi's parliamentary seat. As one family friend explained: "Madhavrao knew that Mrs Gandhi was very vindictive. She could have made a lot of trouble for the Scindias, confiscating their wealth and land and putting them all back in jail."

To the queen mother's shame and dismay, her son joined the Congress party. He befriended Indira Gandhi even though she had tried to destroy his mother. It was around then that the Raj Mata said she wished her son had been trampled at birth by elephants.

Mr Scindia's mother is a leader in the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, and the BJP has now withdrawn its candidate for the Gwalior seat. Many of the state's Congress party leaders have snubbed the Prime Minister and are also pledging support for Mr Scindia. In Gwalior, the Congress party headquarters is virtually deserted, according to newspaper reports.

With general elections beginning on 27 April (2 and 7 May are also polling days), the Congress party's chances of winning a majority in parliament are looking dimmer. Not only is Mr Rao bound to lose the key state of Madhya Pradesh with the Gwalior royals fighting against him, but Congress strategists privately admit that the party is likely to suffer defeat in the Ganges plains of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as well as in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit