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‘The House of Scindias: A Saga of Power, Politics and Intrigue’ review: Power and responsibility

Reading Rasheed Kidwai’s House of Scindias: A Saga of Power, Politics and Intrigue during a time when second, third and in some cases even fourth generation inheritors are grappling with political legacy and the manner of its transfer, is an interesting experience. As I read it, I was also reporting on the full-scale revolt within the Paswan family, and of course the unending tussle within the Congress party to settle the question of leadership.

Stamp of authority

The prolific number of political leaders that the Scindia family has spawned deserves to be recorded but the manner in which sociologist Max Weber’s seminal work on power and authority has worked its way through the story of one family is even more fascinating. Weber distinguished between three kinds of authority — traditional, rational and charismatic. Traditional authority accrues from respect in society based on old established cultural patterns, the rational from legal frameworks and bureaucratic structures like governments and charismatic authority is derived from an individual’s personal charisma and magnetism.

In the Scindias, one can see the intertwining of all three types of authority over generations, its scope and limitations as well. And while some members of the clan traversed opposing ideological planes — Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia started off as a Congress MP and later helped found the Bharatiya Janata Party, her son Madhavrao Scindia was in the Jan Sangh (precursor to BJP) and moved to the Congress, and his son, Jyotiraditya, did the opposite, being in the Congress first and then moving to the BJP — the book is more about their successful negotiation in being in power.

The book covers a swathe of history, from the original founder of the Scindia clan, Ranoji Rao Scindia, to the current generation. It delves into the Scindias’ relationship with the Peshwas of Pune, the Mughals in Delhi, their role in the First War of Independence of 1857 right up to post-independent India. What is interesting is that at crucial moments in India’s history, the clan managed to prevail — particularly telling is the fact that the late Jiwajirao Scindia, Maharaja of Gwalior at the time of independence, was one of the first princely states to accede to India even when others protested and provided a role model for many to follow.

Mystery fortune

The book presents a chapter on each of the Scindias who made it into public life, and Kidwai peppers the narrative with interesting anecdotes including the missing “beejak” or map key for a fortune which legend has it that it is lodged in underground vaults in Scindia-owned palaces and forts. My personal favourite is the appeal made during elections by family members when on opposite sides of the political spectrum — folklore has it that whenever a Scindia was asked to campaign against another, they would simply tell the crowd meri izzat rakh lena (protect my dignity), leaving the crowd confused as to what was expected of them.

Kidwai reflects on the nature of dynasty and the endurance and dexterity required for staying on in power, whether as a crowned ruler, or a democratically elected “public servant”. It also shows that the ability to stay at the helm of public affairs and the transfer of political legacies seldom make for comfortable dinner conversations in families, something newer political dynasties may want to pay heed to.

The House of Scindias: A Saga of Power, Politics and Intrigue; Rasheed Kidwai, Roli Books, ₹395.

nistula.hebbar@thehindu.co.in


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