Suave, educated and secular with a reputation for honesty, former minister and veteran Congressman Madhavrao Scindia, who died in an aircrash in 2001, did not conform to the conventional image of the Indian politician, a new book on his says.
The scion of the royal family of Gwalior, the Scindia clan, Madhavrao was a Maharaja with a difference, says the biography, "A Life- Madhavrao Scindia", jointly authored by journalist-commentaor Vir Sanghvi and columnist Namita Bhandare.
Scindia, observes the book, did not forget his heritage - but ensured that neither his ancestry nor his political status clouded his persona.
He was at heart a liberal, funloving and a simple family man, the book says.
The book, published by Penguin India, was released by Congress president and ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi at the sprawling Durbar Hall of the Taj Palace Hotel in the capital at a star-studded ceremony attended by senior Congress politicians, media magnates, intellectuals and socialites, as also the family, friends and associates of Madhavrao Scindia.
The book traces the life of Scindia from his days as a rookie businessman at Bombay's Ballard Estate and goes back and forth, touching upon his days as a student in India and Oxford; his rise in politics, his isolation from his mother, his family life and his premature death - all through a series personal recollections by long-time friend Vir Sanghvi.
Bhandare, who met Scindia only twice in her life, complemented Sanghvi's personalised accounts, with well-contexted chronciles of the politician's life set against the backdrop of contemporary Indian politics.
"When I received the invitation to attend the gathering, I wondered if it was seven years since Mdahavrao Scindia left us," Gandhi reminisced in her inaugural address.
"I knew him before I joined politics. In fact, he was the only minister whose portfolio remained unchanged for five years. My husband (former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi) used to say Madhavrao Scindia had turned the railways around and mastered the intricacies of its functioning.
"My contact with him came much later. I worked closely with him when the Congress was battling forces of religious discrimination and communalism. And Madhavrao Scindia realised that this was a battle we could not afford to lose. As a colleague, he would proffer straight-forward advice and come up with sincere answers," Gandhi maintained.
Recalling his first encounter with Scindia in 1977, author Vir Sanghvi said: "I was was student at Oxford and was doing journalism during vacations. I was asked to do a story on boarding schools of India by a now defuct Bombay-based magazine 'Youth Times', which was doing a special issue on boarding schools.
Madhavrao was the head of the Scindia Board of Governors (which managed the Scindia School in Gwalior)," Sanghvi said.
As the magazine did not have the money to send Sanghvi to Gwalior, it asked him to interview the politician at his home in Haji Ali in Bombay. The rapport that Sanghvi struck with Scindia flowered into a friendship that lasted for nearly 25 years.
"I knew I would write the book long before I wrote it," Sanghvi said.
The book, he said, came about at the behest of vice-chairperson and editorial director of Hindustan Times, Shobhana Bhartia, a close family friend of the Scindias.
"The most enduring period of my association with Scindia was when he was accused in the hawala scandal. He left the Congress and contested against the Congress official candidate as an independent. I toured Madhya Pradesh with him. For sometime, it looked as if the hawala would never end and his political career was over.
"But the fact that he did not have to face ridicule or challenges made it so special. He believed in certain values which helped him tide over the crisis," Sanghvi told IANS.
For Bhandare, who researched exhaustively for the project, it was a lesson in contemporary Indian history. "It gave me an insight into Indian politics right from the pre-emergency days when Madhya Bharat was merged with India up to the Vajpayee government and Kargil," Bhandare told IANS.
The book was introduced to the audience by Madhavrao's widow Madhavi Raje Scindia, the current chairman of the Madhavrao Scindia Foundation. Son Jyotiraditya Scindia, Minister of State for IT and Communications, sat in the audience.
The book is priced at Rs 550.