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Tuesday, October 02, 2001

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Madhavrao Scindia, 1945-2001

TO SAY THAT the death of Madhavrao Scindia is a loss to the Congress is to understate the overwhelming tragedy of his sudden unforeseen departure. Scindia's death is a loss to the polity itself - a fact that is accentuated in these distressing times when a dismal mixture of mediocrity and manipulativeness seems essential for political success. Scindia represented a rapidly vanishing face of Indian politics - sophisticated, cosmopolitan and dignified. His work, as Union Minister and for the Congress party, was characterised by a certain unmistakable vitality so much so that those who knew him could rarely be unaffected by his vigour and enthusiasm. For someone who was the son of Maharajah Jiwaji Rao and Maharani Vijaya Raje Scindia, Madhavrao Scindia spent a considerable amount of effort to play down his blue- blooded lineage. The Oxford-educated heir to Gwalior wore his royalty lightly. He made a point of never claiming any special privilege or prerogative because of his ancestry. When he was Union Minister in the Governments headed by Rajiv Gandhi and Mr. Narasimha Rao, one of Scindia's main ambitions was to establish himself as a meritocrat. And when in the thick of political activity, he made the transition from prince to politician easily in a manner which never drew attention to his background. If one did not already know he was to the manor born, one might not have guessed it.

As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the present Lok Sabha, Scindia lent the party the focus and the drive it had been lacking in recent times. Most of the time, he was required to be at the forefront of his party in the numerous parliamentary skirmishes it engaged in with the BJP-led Government. His political record was enviable. He enjoyed the distinction of holding a Lok Sabha seat for an uninterrupted 30 years and, in 1984, registered what must be his most famous victory when he took on and defeated political heavyweight Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee in Gwalior. His big political break came immediately afterwards when Rajiv Gandhi made him Minister of State for Railways. Although he served with considerable distinction later in the Civil Aviation and Human Resources Development Ministries, many believe - and probably quite correctly - that Scindia left his biggest imprint during his first ministerial stint. Many steps to improve efficiency in the Railways were taken during this time and new and faster trains commissioned.

Although he had an impeccable electoral record, winning every election he fought from Gwalior and Guna, Madhavrao Scindia was unable to extend his political sway all over Madhya Pradesh. An important reason for this was that unlike some of his rivals, Scindia lacked the political cunning and the street-smart guile to flourish in the rough and tumble of politics in his home State. This did not hinder him from making a mark in national politics where he became one of the most visible faces of the Congress, one of its star campaigners and one of its most articulate spokesmen. If a list were drawn up of the very few people who held out the potential to be a future Prime Minister, Scindia's name would have certainly been high on it. Having started out in politics under the shadow of his mother, for Scindia, associating with the Congress meant breaking out of the ideological hold of his highly politicised family. Over the years, his essential liberalism and his commitment to pluralism were never in question. Short of leaders who enjoy national credibility and already jolted by the recent deaths of Rajesh Pilot and Jitendra Prasada, Madhavrao Scindia's death leaves a substantial void within the Congress. The party will miss him dearly and the nation will miss him just as much. The Hindumourns his passing along with the nation.

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