Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Here is a Book Review I did for The New Indian Express, Sunday, March 29, 2009

The many facets of a maharaja

A biography need not be a chronicle of the life of the subject. It is also not possible for a biographer to stay detached from the subject. I is, after all, also an expression of the passion with which the author looks at his subject. Vir Sanghvi makes clear, in the preface, his close association with and even his attachment to Madhavrao Scindia. One wonders whether Namita Bhandare too shares such feelings.

Sanghvi and Bhandare have provided a riveting account of the life and the times in which Madhavrao lived. The narrative contains not merely the political events in his life but a lot about his private life and his close friends. The many facets of Madhavrao — early childhood in the Gwalior palace, his life in Scindia School, his days in London and Bombay, spent looking after the family’s wealth and business, and Madhavrao the Congress leader — are all presented in such manner that the reader is led to believe Madhavrao was good at anything he laid his hands on.

Sanghvi even conveys that this goodness ran in the blood of the Scindias. There is an effort to make it seem that all the rulers of the Scindia clan were benevelonce personified; that Jayajirao Scindia, king of Gwalior during the 1857 revolt, directed the entire saga from behind the scene. History texts, however, tell us a different story.

Writing of the rift in the clan, Sardar Sambhajirao Angre is identified as the cause for all that went wrong. Angre, we are told, was behind turning Rajmata Vijayaraje to the Jan Sangh and also behind Madhavrao’s stint as Jan Sangh MP between 1971 and 1977. Sardar Angre, we are told, sent Madhavrao to Nepal the day after the Emergency was declared on June 25, 1975 and ensured that he stayed on even while his mother was in jail.

Madhavrao was just 26 in March 1971 when he accepted the Jan Sangh’s nomination to contest the Guna Lok Sabha constituency. Then, the biggest issue on the minds of the Maharajas was the abolition of the privy purses by Indira Gandhi. Like many others who lost the allowance, Madhavrao too joined the Jan Sangh. It is surprising that the authors ignore this even while eulogising the subject as someone committed to democracy in all its elements.

The bias is equally clear while dealing with Madhavrao’s stint as railway minister. The impression given is that the Indian Railways would have remained a mid-19th century relic if Madhavrao had not become minister of state for railways. The cushioned seats in second class coaches are said to be Scindia’s gift. Actually, it was Madhu Dandavate’s idea when he was railway minister between 1977 and 1979.

The writers mention that Scindia was emerging as the natural choice for the Prime Minister’s job and P V Narasimha Rao found his own position threatened. Hence, he was implicated in the Jain Hawala scandal. They seem to imply that the scandal was a figment of someone’s imagination and cite the dismissal of the CBI’s charges by the Delhi High Court as proof. It is true that the Delhi High Court dismissed the charge-sheet. But the grounds for dismissal were that the CBI, though it had evidence to show that the accused had taken money from B R Jain, could not establish the nexus between that and the favours they did for Jain. In other words, the problem was with the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Sanghvi and Bhandare have overlooked a lot of things in their attempt to present the life and times of Madhavrao Scindia. But Sanghvi does not conceal the fact that Scindia was his close friend and also that they have a lot of friends in common. The lucid narrative makes the biography a good read. The fact is that kings and emperors have court historians to chronicle their times. Madhavrao, after all, was the Maharaja of Gwalior apart from being a MP, minister and businessman. The biography does convey that much.

Madhavrao Scindia: A Life

By Vir Sanghvi & Namita Bhandare

Publisher: Penguin/Viking,

Price: Rs 550

Pages: 356


Blogger dipanjan said...

hahahhahahaha I love this one.the perfect answer to his pomp and pompous writing.

2:56 AM  

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