The northern Indian state of Rajasthan went to the polls on Friday to send lawmakers to the 200-seat legislative assembly.
Rajasthan, the “land of kings and royalty,” is known to be loyal to the erstwhile royal families of the region, especially those who have been living here for generations.
This is one of the major reasons descendants of the royal families play a key role in swaying the political dynamics in the elections.
Both major political parties – the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and opposition Indian National Congress – conducted rallies and gave fiery speeches as part of their campaigns in the state. They also, very strategically, put their “royal” candidates in place for the polls.
From the BJP, a total of four candidates belong to the erstwhile royal families, while the Congress party has given tickets to three such candidates.
The royal lineup
The chief-ministerial candidate of the BJP and also the current incumbent, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, hails from the erstwhile Scindia royal family of Bhopal. She was married to the former king of Dholpur (a city in eastern-most parts of Rajasthan), Hemant Singh, and is contesting the Jhalrapatan seat in Jhalawar. She has won the Vidhan Sabha (State Legislative Assembly) election three times from there.
Manvendra Singh, who quit the BJP in September and joined the Congress party, belongs to the erstwhile royal family of Jasol. He is contesting opposite Scindia for the Jhalrapatan seat. Singh is the son of former cabinet minister Jaswant Singh, who is also known to be a founding member of the BJP.
In another case of switching “loyalties,” Kalpana Devi from the royal family of Kota has been given a BJP ticket. Devi is the wife of Ijyaraj Singh, a former Congress member of the federal Parliament, and is contesting the Ladpura seat in Kota. She shares the royal legacy with Vishvendra Singh from Bharatpur, who happens to be her cousin.
The BJP has also given a ticket to Krishnendra Kaur alias Deepa, who belongs to the royal family of Bharatpur. She has been fielded from Nadbai and is contesting elections for the sixth time, having won the seat three times before.
“I have always been among the public, so the residents of Bharatpur connect with me. I do not believe in caste discrimination, or discrimination based on family background. I have lived my life as any other commoner in Bharatpur,” Deepa told Asia Times.
In contrast, Vishvendra Singh, Deepa’s cousin, is contesting elections in Deeg-Kumher on a Congress ticket. Singh recently told The Economic Times that he dreams of bringing drinking water from the Chambal water project to the residents of his constituency.
The fourth candidate placed by the BJP is from an erstwhile royal family of Bikaer is Siddhi Kumari. A two-time MLA in the Bikaner-East seat, she is known to make few appearances in public and the assembly. Her grandfather Karni Singh, the erstwhile ruler of Bikaner, was a five-time independent minister of Parliament from Bikaner and among the first members from a royal family to get involved in politics, The Times of India reported.
Inakshi Chaturvedi, an associate professor in the University of Rajasthan’s Department of Political Science, pointed out the positives and negatives of having royal candidates in the fray.
“The plus point is that they have all the means and measures to win the election as they are in constant touch with the public, and are well versed politically and socially. New party leaders learn all this through experience, which takes time,” she said.
“The negative is that the families have ruled the public in the past, but not in a sensitive manner. The attitude of commitment and service towards the people has always been missing. This is not there among the new political leaders, who are seen to be willing to be available for the public,” she added, pointing out that “tickets have been given to members of royal families in the past as well, but their aura is slowly diminishing.”
Notably, some members of the erstwhile royal families who were fielded in the past and even won seats have not been given the green light by the parties this time.
Diya Kumari, granddaughter of Maharani Gayatri Devi, who hails from the erstwhile royal family of Jaipur, is one such candidate who has been given a miss this time by the BJP.
Diya had contested the Sawai Madhopur seat in the last election and won handsomely. However, several incidents this year showed that relations between her and the chief minister were sour, especially after the Jaipur Development Authority sealed the Rajmahal Palace, a property owned by the royal family of Jaipur, as part of an anti-encroachment drive.
Diya has, time and again, denied allegations of bitterness and insisted that it was she who refused to be fielded again.
Other former royals not given a ticket include Rajeshwari Rajya Lakshmi from Jaisalmer and Rukshmani Kumari from Chomu.
Commoners or royalty
Political analyst Prakash Bhandari traces how some of the royals came to join political outfits after Independence and as India underwent changes.
“The Ram Rajya party, an outfit of princes and landlords, was founded in 1948 but dissolved later, when many of its members joined the ruling Congress or the Jana Sangh. In 1959, the princes and zamindars [landowners, especially those who lease their land to tenant farmers} under the leadership of Maharani Gayatri Devi returned by floating the Swatantra Party, which too dispersed after 10 years,” he explained.
According to Bhandari, the princes lacked political acumen and could not shed their lifestyle. They also realized they couldn’t identify with the masses and people’s perception about them was poor.
“But later, after the dissolution of [the] Swatantra Party, various princes and thakurs [honorary title used for landlords or people of royal families] joined either the Congress or BJP, thereby getting a banner under which they could become people’s representatives or remain in politics,” he added.
“They do not hold importance as an ex-royal these days. They are now ruled by the principles of the various political parties and are just like any other commoner.”