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The gentleman prince

In May 1968, Madhavrao and his family returned to India for good… And Vijayaraje was keen that her young and charismatic son should follow in her political footsteps.

books Updated: Mar 21, 2009 23:13 IST
Hindustan Times

Madhavrao Scindia: A Life
Vir Sanghvi and Namita Bhandare
l Rs 550 | pp 355

In May 1968, Madhavrao and his family returned to India for good… And Vijayaraje was keen that her young and charismatic son should follow in her political footsteps.

Madhavrao attended the local citizens’ bodies, invited local notables home and even went to a Freemason’s meeting…in an effort to become a part of Gwalior life.

His passion, of course, remained cricket… ‘Through cricket, Madhavrao was able to strike a chord with the people,’ says Shareef Ahmed (his former coach and teacher)... ‘Cricket taught him many valuable lessons that would come in handy later in life... He learned not just how to lead a team off and on the field but also how to accept victories and defeats in life.’
A family emergency

On the morning of July 6, 1975, nearly two weeks after she had gone underground, the Rajmata got into a car, setting out again, this time for Nepal.

But she never completed the journey... The original plan had been for her to go to a crowded marketplace and court arrest. This was abandoned after local Jan Sangh leaders pleaded that it would be impossible to produce a sympathetic crowd given the atmosphere of fear that prevailed. Nevertheless, Vijayaraje was confident that when the people of Gwalior heard that their Rajmata had been taken away by the police, there would be protests in the streets.

In fact, nothing of the sort happened. Indira Gandhi’s Emergency had changed all the old rules.

…Abroad, Madhavrao raged impotently…But the Rajmata was firm. She asked Harish Jagtiani to visit Madhavrao in Kathmandu with the express message that he should not return, no matter how great the provocation.

...Prison was taking its toll on the Rajmata…The daughters, in particular, thought everyone had suffered enough. Recalls Yashodhara: ‘Jiji [Usha Raje] was very firm. She told my mother, “Amma, we’ve lived our lives for you. All of this has happened because of your politics. Now, you are going to have to come out and live your life for us. You are going to do as Mrs Gandhi says.’”

…In her autobiography, Vijayaraje tries to put her own complexion on these events… even though she concedes most of the facts about her Emergency turnaround, she leaves out crucial details — such as the letter she wrote Mrs Gandhi to secure her release… she had almost begun to believe in the myth that Madhavrao had run away while she stayed back to fight. And that while Madhavrao took the support of the hated Congress in 1977, she fought for the Janata Party.
…It was this rewriting of history that bothered Madhavrao the most. Till the very end of his life, he was angered and anguished by the fact that his mother was going around telling people that he had run away to Nepal while she had stayed behind to fight.

Choosing the Congress
Why did Madhavrao Scindia choose to join the Congress party in 1979? To the world at large — and to many in the media — Madhavrao’s decision seemed inexplicable.

...Over a decade later, looking back at that period in his life, Madhavrao summed up the situation. ‘When I finally cut with the Jan Sangh and made it clear that my future was with the Congress, Mrs Gandhi was in opposition. Janata [of which the Jan Sangh was a constituent] was in power and my mother was an important figure in the ruling party. Had I stayed on with them, a secure future would have been guaranteed.’

…As Jyotiraditya — also a Congress MP and minister — now says, ‘The basic tenets of the party — secularism, liberty and a progressive ideology — were in line with his own way of thinking. It was a perfect fit.’

The flight he missed
Against all the odds, Madhavrao seemed to get along with Sanjay Gandhi…they shared a common interest in flying.

On June 22, 1980, Arjun Singh asked Madhavrao if he could drop in and see him in the evening… The two men spoke late into the night and then Madhavrao begged off, explaining that he had to get up in just another few hours.
‘And why is that?’ asked Singh.
‘Sanjay has got this new red plane,’ said Madhavrao excitedly…
By the time Arjun Singh left it was past 2.30 a.m. When the alarm went off a few hours later, Madhavrao was still groggy and reluctant to get out of bed.

...A couple of hours later, the phone rang. It was Arjun Singh…

The red plane had crashed, killing Sanjay and a pilot who had replaced the absent Madhavrao at the last moment.

Rajiv’s minister
At thirty-nine, Madhavrao was the youngest of the new ministers… Rajiv decided to create a new Ministry of Transport where a senior Cabinet minister, Bansi Lal — who first became an MP in 1960 — oversaw the work of three Ministers of State each of whom was put in charge of Civil Aviation, Surface Transport and Railways.

…Much of what we now take for granted — computerization of passenger reservation, super-fast intercity trains and even, incredibly enough, clean food and drinking water — date back to Madhavrao’s initiatives.

…There was one project that was, from drawing board to execution, entirely Madhavrao’s baby. It was a new superfast train called the Shatabdi Express….

On October 21, 1986, Madhavrao was promoted to Minister of State with independent charge and no longer had to report to Bansi Lal. He was alone in the driver’s seat.

Cricket till the end
In 1982, Madhavrao became president of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association and, by default, one of the board members of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

...It helped too that the Indian Railways has a strong sporting tradition and supports nearly forty national-level teams for such games as cricket, volleyball, basketball and hockey. At any given point there are nearly a hundred Railway employees representing India in different games. The spectacular rise of athlete P.T. Usha was during Madhavrao’s tenure.
...In the early days, when he had just started playing weekend cricket, the top Railway managers would show up on Sunday morning, keen to make an impression on their new boss. But Madhavrao told them soon enough that there was no need for them to come — unless they wanted to play.

…The weekend cricket matches — later to give way to golf — remained a part of Madhavrao’s working life, even in later ministries. ‘Political life puts tremendous physical pressure on you,’ he told Sportstar. ‘I think that for every man or woman it is essential to have some sort of a diversion from his vocation. And a cricket match gives me a change. On a cricket field, I am not thinking of a Congress Working Committee meeting or a Cabinet reshuffle. I am just thinking whether this bowler should have one slip or two slips...’

...He regularly consulted with people like captain Mohammad Azharuddin, Ravi Shastri and Kapil Dev, his close cricket friend

Pataudi and former players like Sunil Gavaskar and Bishen Singh Bedi.

...Once before a tour one of the players mentioned to Madhavrao that it was very difficult to play in the West Indies. ‘Why?’ asked Madhavrao. ‘It’s a long, exhausting flight. And we’re only entitled to fly economy class,’ the player replied. ‘It takes us two days just to recover.’ Madhavrao immediately sanctioned business-class travel for all the players.