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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before