The former royal family of Jodhpur, known by Shyam Benegal’s film Zubeida, has plunged into the poll battle after nearly four decades. ‘Maharani’ Chandresh Kumari is contesting on a Congress ticket to test the royal family’s popularity with the masses.
The family, whose writ ran unchallenged in the entire Marwar region, which form the six desert districts of Rajasthan, is now fighting a battle for relevance in modern times.
It is now the eighth generation of Maharaja Man Singh, who ruled here in the 19th century and was given credibility by his ancestor,Maharaja Umed Singh, the best known Jodhpur royal till date, which is in the news now.
‘Maharani’ Chandresh Kumari, the 64-year-old daughter of the late Maharaja Hanwant Singh is contesting on a Congress ticket.
She has returned after nearly four decades to her hometown, following her marriage with a member of the royal family of Kangra, Himachal Pradesh in 1964. “I joined politics in Himachal. During my pre-marriage days in Jodhpur I was not interested in politics. It was due to my husband’s leanings that I became a member of the Congress party,” Chandresh Kumari said.
A former All India Mahila Congress chief, she was also a minister in the Congress government in Himachal Pradesh before losing the last assembly election in the hill state in 2007.
Her father Hanwant Singh had contested as an Independent in 1952 from the former Marwar seat and won but did not live long to celebrate his victory. He died in a plane crash shortly after the elections with his second wife, as shown in the film Zubeida, about which no member of the former royal family wants to talk.
The next fling in politics by the royal family came in 1972, when Chandresh Kumari’s mother, Maharani Krishna Kumari fought and won as an Independent.
It is now after 37 years that the former royals are in the fray again. As some locals said, “They have come to know that the times have changed.”
In her meetings, Chandresh is conscious not to flaunt her royal connections. “I am your sister and the daughter of Jodhpur. I want your votes to strengthen the hands of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.”
The former maharani has made it a point to keep the company of Gehlot’s wife, Sunita Gehlot, during her campaign. The chief minister belongs to Jodhpur and has been a four-time MP from this seat himself.
“I can sleep on the floor and my doors are always open for the people. I am not like Vasundhra Raje who needs a five-star hotel to sleep at night,” Chandresh said in an election meeting recently.
Her rival and sitting BJP MP Jaswant Singh Bishnoi, 51, accuses her of being arrogant. “Where will you find her after the elections?
In her palace or in Kangra?” he asks. Locals feel Chief Minister Gehlot has played a masterstroke by fielding the former maharani.
“The royal family was very close to Vasundhra and the present Maharaja Gaj Singh had campaigned for the BJP in the past. But his hands are tied now,” said a local analyst, G.P. Bhatti.