Every election brings qualitative changes in Lutyens' Delhi. For many, Verdict 2019 may have meant work in progress and business as usual, but some bungalows in green and picturesque New Delhi district may see their world turn upside down.
The former Maharaja of Gwalior, Jyotiraditya Scindia, plans to make a quiet exit from 27, Safdarjung Road, much before the July 26 deadline. The house has been allotted to Union human resource development minister Ramesh Chandra Pokhriyal.
For Jyotiraditya, 27 Safdarjung Road has a deep emotional bond. This was the house where his father, late Madhavrao Scindia, had lived for decades. The young “peoples’ maharajah” was killed in an air crash on September 30, 2001, leaving the Congress poorer on many counts.
After Rajiv Gandhi, Madhavrao was Congress’s link to the great Indian middle class. He wore several hats — cricketer, golfer, connoisseur of art, culture and films and a prized celebrity in Delhi’s glitterati. Yet, he would find time to pursue politics for at least 12 hours a day. It was Madhavrao’s passion for politics that got him on the ill-fated aircraft which crashed near Mainpuri on a fateful Sunday. Scindia Senior left the house with a goodbye kiss to young Jyotiraditya.
As Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, it was not Madhavrao’s duty to shore up the party’s prospects in Uttar Pradesh in the 2001-2002 state assembly polls. But as a “loyal Congress worker”, the Maharaja of Gwalior had taken it upon himself to chip in. He used to say: “I do not wish to speculate on Congress prospects in UP but as a loyal soldier, I want to contribute as much as I can.”
Madhavrao had felt duty-bound to tour Uttar Pradesh. State party chief Sriprakash Jaiswal, considered a surprise appointment then, was his nominee. Jaiswal was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kanpur in 1999. “Democracy is all about people’s representation,” Scindia used to say.
Within the party, Madhavrao evoked a mixed response. Some were in awe of his royal lineage and dashing personality, while some felt insecure and saw him as a threat. As railway minister, Madhavrao had become a household name for introducing the computerised reservation system and the Shatabdi trains. His reputation as an efficient administrator grew further till he resigned as civil aviation minister, owning moral responsibility for an air crash.
Among today’s Congressmen, he was one leader who could speak extempore on issues ranging from caste politics and the nuclear missile defence system to the finer points of Lagaan, a film he loved. He would go on talking about the bowling action of Kachra, a character in the film, and how Aamir Khan’s team humbled the British. To a large number of Congress leaders, the Maharaja was warm and friendly, always smiling and had no airs.
At 27, Safdarjung Road, Madhavrao often invited a select group of mediapersons for drinks, meal and ‘gupshup’. He would often narrate anecdotes. Once, late at night, he was stopped by a policeman in London who asked for his identity. When Madhavrao said he was the Maharaja of Gwalior, the policeman retorted: “Well, if you are Maharaja of Gwalior, I am Pasha of Iran.”
Fifty-six-year-old Madhavrao was a stickler for probity in public life. He was agitated when his name figured in the Jain Hawala case and resigned from the Congress. “It was a battle against my honour”, Madhavrao had said after returning to the party in 1997. He, however, refrained from commenting on prime minister Narasimha Rao, seen as his bête noire and the man responsible for framing him in the Hawala case.
When Rao was booked in the Lakhubhai Pathak cheating case, I recall meeting Madhavrao at 27, Safdarjung Road, trying to get his reaction. The maharaja was subdued. Strolling in the front lawn, he looked up at the sky and mumbled something like this, “There's a natural law of karma that vindictive people, who go out of their way to hurt others, will end up broke and alone…”
Madhavrao was elected to Parliament in 1971 as an independent candidate and joined the Congress during the Emergency. He had moved in 27, Safdarjung Road after becoming a minister in the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet. Madhavrao’s move to join the Congress had sparked a confrontation with his mother Vijayaraje Scindia, who was a founder member of the BJP in 1980. Madhavrao used to seldom react to his mother's frequent outbursts against him. When Vijayaraje slipped into coma at Delhi's Apollo Hospital, Madhavrao would spend hours sitting next to his ailing mother.
Like the Scindias, the Mukherjees will be vacating 13, Talkatora Road. The house of the former president is currently with Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijeet, now reduced to a former member of parliament from Jangipur. Pranab, who was an occasional visitor to son Abhijeet's house, had a habit of stopping to look at the huge Malda mango tree that was planted by his wife Surva Mukherjee as if remembering or paying homage to the accomplished Rabindra Sangeet exponent.
13, Talkatora Road has been allotted to Gaurav Gogoi who had won from Kaliabor, Assam. Delhi grapevine has it that Gaurav recently visited the address but he was sent back without the knowledge of the Mukherjees. Interestingly, before Pranab Mukherjee moved in that house as a minister in the Indira Gandhi cabinet, the house had belonged to Gaurav’s father Tarun Gogoi who was a Sanjay Gandhi contemporary and rose to become Union minister and Assam chief minister.
Gaurav Gogoi has the satisfaction of bringing Tarun back to 13, Talkatora Road to relive some old, fond memories. For Jyotiraditya, a real parting with father Madhavrao is happening now.
(Rasheed Kidwai is a visiting Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). Views are personal)