Black Sheep, Saffron Politics: The Colourful History of Scindia

Jyotiraditya Scindia’s exit from the Congress is the culmination of a long and twisted family legacy.

6 min read

Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam, Vishal Kumar

In the wake of long-time Congress loyalist Jyotiraditya Scindia's resignation from the grand old party, rumours of his subsequent BJP membership are spreading like fire. The Scindia family history is once again being examined for precedence and factors that could have led to this 'betrayal,' and one does not need to dig too deep to find fissures and reasons that might have contributed to this shifting of allegiance.

The Scindia family tree is a tale of royalty, politics and switching sides, and this new turn is yet another extension of the fraught relationship the erstwhile royal family has had with various political parties.


Family Background: Popular, Loved, 'Traitors'

Descended from the Maratha dynasty, the Scindias have ruled Gwalior since the early 1700s. The family had a somewhat controversial relationship with the British – in fact, Jayajirao Scindia, one of the heads of the family, is seen as being almost loyal to the British, and has even been accused of being a 'traitor' to the Indian cause.

An excerpt from Volume 1 of the Gwalior State Gazetteer, published in 1908, features a compilation of stories about Jayajirao's actions during the 1857 mutiny. "Never forget that Rani Laxmi Bai was martyred by the joint armed forces of Sindhias and East India Company. Not only this, one of the leading commanders of 1857 Indian War of Independence, Tatya Tope was captured in Gwalior State ruled by this criminal Sindhi clan and executed on 18 April 1859 in Shivpuri, part of the Gwalior State," the piece reads. "On 30 May (1858) Tantia Topi [sic] and Lachmi Bai [sic], 'the Rani of Jhansi', appeared before Gwalior and called on Sindhia to join them. Jiyaji Rao not only refused but without waiting for the column on its way from Agra, led out his troops against them on 1 June."

Descendents of this colourful family have stood out in the domain of public service, enjoying popularity among their subjects and a position of importance in India’s history.

After Independence, the royal family ceded to the Union of India, under the leadership of Jivajirao Scindia, grandfather of Jyotiraditya Scindia.


Jivajirao Scindia – The Last King of Gwalior

Jivajirao was the last reigning king of the Gwalior princely state, which is a part of present-day Madhya Pradesh. Ascending to the throne in 1925, for the entirety of his reign, Jivajirao remained at a principled distance from politics – maintaining an independent royal rule and not openly joining any party.

In 1941, he married Lekha Divyeshwari Devi, who would later become Vijaya Raje Scindia, the 'Rajmata' of Gwalior, one of landmark figures in Indian politics.


Vijaya Raje Scindia – the Iconic 'Rajmata'

One of the most well-known, popular and glamorous figures of India's political past, Vijaya Raje Scindia was born into a family, that traced its roots to the Rana dynasty of Nepal. Her marriage to Jivajirao Scindia in 1941 yielded five children: Padmavati Raje, Usha Raje, Madhavrao, Vasundhara Raje and Yashodhara Raje.

Jyotiraditya Scindia’s exit from the Congress is the culmination of a long and twisted family legacy.
Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia, the first member of the royal family to step into politics.
(Source: Twitter/@VasundharaBJP)

Vijaya Raje was the first member of the Scindia family to enter politics – there are stories of an informal agreement with Jawaharlal Nehru, who was perturbed by the king's leanings towards the Hindu Mahasabha. In 1957, she was elected as an MP from Guna Lok Sabha seat on a Congress ticket.

But after 10 years, she left the Congress, triggering the government's collapse, and in 1967, she joined the Jan Sangh, the precursor to the BJP, later joining the BJP itself after persuasion by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, one of her close friends and aides. Vajpayee had long been a royal family supporter, publicly mentioning how grateful he was to the Maharaja and Rajmata for providing a scholarship that had enabled him to pursue his education in DAV College, Kanpur, where he joined the RSS and laid the foundation for what would become an enduring relationship with the BJP.

In 1975, she was one of the many political leaders jailed during the Emergency, due to opposing political views to the Congress.

In 1989, she won Guna on a BJP ticket, and was also one of the party vice-presidents. She was one of the most vocal party voices on the Babri Masjid demolition issue, taking a hardline pro-BJP stance. Three of Vijaya Raje Scindia’s children have gone on to enter politics – Vasundhara Raje and Yashodhara Raje, who are both BJP members –and her sole son, Madhavrao Scindia, who was a senior Congress leader.


Vasundhara Raje and Yashodhara Raje Following Their Mother's Footsteps

In their mother's footsteps, the sisters are senior leaders among the BJP, and they often tweet in support of each other's endeavours. They have on occasion taken potshots at the branch of the family that did not match the political loyalties of the rest.

However, Jyotiraditya's recent decision has been welcomed by them, and Yashodhara Raje even tweeted her support, invoking her mother's memory.


Madhavrao Scindia – the Black Sheep

The 'black sheep' of the otherwise saffron family, Madhavrao Scindia made his entry into politics beside his mother, in the Jan Sangh.

He was one of the three party members who defied the Indira Gandhi wave in the 1971 Lok Sabha polls, along with his mother and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

In the 1977 election, after Emergency was lifted, he contested from Guna as an Independent candidate, and won the seat. In 1980, he won the same seat on an Indian National Congress ticket, and later held various important posts, such as Railway Minister and Minister for Civil Aviation.

Jyotiraditya Scindia’s exit from the Congress is the culmination of a long and twisted family legacy.
Madhavrao Scindia began his political career with the Jan Sangh, but soon turned to the Congress.
(Source: Twitter/@VasundharaBJP)

Political differences with the Congress arose, similar to the issues his son has recently faced, and in 1996, Madhavrao started his own party, the Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress, and even beat Congress candidates in elections.

The short-lived rebellion soon ended, and the issues were seemingly resolved, leading to his return to the Congress. He married Madhavi Raje Scindia, and had two children, Chitrangada and Jyotiraditya. In 2001, he died in a plane crash.


Jyotiraditya Scindia Repeating History?

One can see that Jyotiraditya Scindia's recent decision carries the weight of family expectations and rebellions of the past. In 2001, he joined the Congress, and won the by-election for the Guna seat that had been left vacant due to Madhavrao's death, defeating the BJP rival by a huge margin.

He has since been a loyal member of the party, even being appointed Minister of State various times, but the top post of chief minister has long eluded this scion of the erstwhile royal family.
Jyotiraditya Scindia’s exit from the Congress is the culmination of a long and twisted family legacy.
Jyotiraditya Scindia's resignation is an echo of his father's similar exit from the Congress in 1996.
(Photo Courtesy: PTI/Kamal Kishore)

After successive wins as the Congress candidate for the Guna seat, which is now a family stronghold, he lost in 2019 to Krishna Pal Singh Yadav, the BJP candidate who had been his long-time aide.

Tensions between him and the party, which had been brewing for a while, came to a head after this, and Jyotiraditya was even seen maintaining contact with members of the BJP. His resignation was met with a statement of expulsion, where the Congress claimed that he was being removed for ánti-party activities.' This has been pointed out to be an echo of 1996, when his father temporarily resigned from the party, and was also expelled by them after that.


His exit from the Congress is thus the culmination of a long and twisted family legacy, that has seen this politician return to the roots of his grandmother, the Rajmata. Will this return to the old reap benefits for the family scion? Only time will tell.

(With inputs from The Week and Indian Express.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from news and india

Topics:  BJP   Congress   Vasundhara Raje 

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More