Hindu zealots attack Indian minister

Click to follow
AS MINISTER of Civil Aviation, Madhavrao Scindia could have easily returned to New Delhi after a New Year's Eve party in Gwalior by plane. But Mr Scindia has an affection for trains.

His father - the late maharajah of Gwalior and one of the richest men in the world - had a silver train that chugged around the dining table with decanters for his guests. Whenever the guest would reach for the decanter, the mischievous maharajah would press a button and the train would move the drink further down the silver track.

Mr Scindia could have usefully employed just such a button to jump the Agra-New Delhi express into motion on Sunday night and escape a mob attack. The 42-year- old minister, his family and entourage were sitting on board the Shatabdi Express, which stopped in Agra to bring tourists back to New Delhi after viewing the Taj Mahal. Suddenly, 1,000 angry supporters of the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), armed with iron rods and sticks, overran the platform and headed straight to the Scindias' first-class carriage.

'Had they got into my compartment, these hoodlums would have lynched me,' Mr Scindia later told the press. The minister's 22- year-old son and a bodyguard were injured trying to protect him. Press reports said the BJP supporters were seeking revenge after several party leaders were beaten up earlier that day in Agra by youths belonging to the ruling Congress party, to which Mr Scindia belongs.

Mr Scindia claimed the Hindu militants had been tipped off. 'How else can you explain the sudden appearance of a mob . . . with full information about the last coach of the train in which we were travelling?' he asked. In his feudal seat of Gwalior there are throngs of BJP militants who detest him - including his own mother and sister.

Mr Scindia's feud with his mother, Vijaya Raje, began during the 1971 Emergency, when Indira Gandhi jailed many Indian royals. While his mother was locked inside a cell with prostitutes, her son fled to Nepal. On his return, he joined Mrs Gandhi's Congress party, and his widowed mother never forgave him for this. They inhabit different wings of the same huge palace but now are fierce enemies.

Both mother and son have large numbers of supporters in Gwalior, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, and throughout yesterday rival bands of BJP and Congress militants clashed.

In New Delhi, some politicians expressed concern that, on top of the religious fighting India has recently suffered, there may now be a wave of political violence.