Rajasthan elections: Royals in the fray bear ancestral legacy
Rajasthan's post-Independence transition has consistently seen former royals embrace politics. From Ram Rajya Parishad to Swatantra Party, they have taken various paths to join the fray
Forced to relinquish their thrones after Independence, the various principalities of the country that were not part of British India joined the Indian Union under an official order of the Union government, headed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The merger of these principalities into the Union was crucial for the integration of an independent India that was preparing to frame its own Constitution.
Having lost their thrones, the princes were left adrift. At risk of fading away, the smarter among them opted to be part of new India's political system and remain in the public eye.
At the time of Independence, Rajasthan was home to 22 small and large princely states, including Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Udaipur, Kota, Alwar, Bharatpur, Karauli, Jaisalmer, Dungarpur, Banswara, Sikar, and Khetri.
Once an interim government was formed in various princely states, Rajasthan was created by merging these 22 states following the formation of an interim government with Heera Lal Shastri as the first chief minister. Later, Indian Civil Service officer VT Krishnamachari, once the prime minister of Jaipur, was made chief minister, and he was succeeded by Jai Narayan Vyas.
When the country's first general elections were held in 1952, some former princes remained in the political system and formed a party called Ram Rajya Parishad, the brainchild of the maharaja of Jodhpur, Hanwant Singh. While Hanwant himself contested the first Lok Sabha elections, he also fielded several aristocrats (thakurs) from among his erstwhile subjects and important landlords. However, Jaipur, Udaipur, and several other former states did not join his party.
Dr Karni Singh of Bikaner, for example, contested as an independent and won. And though Ram Rajya Parishad was a party of Rajputs, Rajput politician Bhairon Singh Shekhawat opted out of the party and contested as a nominee of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, which later became the BJP.
Ram Rajya Parishad won 24 seats, and chief minister Jai Narayan Vyas lost to a Ram Rajya Parishad candidate, though he became a member of the first Vidhan Sabha after winning the by-election from Kishangarh. He later became CM when Tika Ram Paliwal made way for him.
Ram Rajya Parishad had faded by the second elections in 1957, and a large number of its members either lost to Congress candidates or did not contest. Later, a significant number of them joined and contested as Congress candidates.
However, maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur formed the Swatantra Party, drawing a large number of erstwhile Rajput princes and nobles. For 10 years, the Swatantra Party was a force to reckon with and posed a significant challenge to the ruling Congress.
By 1972, the Swatantra Party had faded too, and a number of its members either joined the Congress or the Bharatiya Jan Sangh.
Dr Karni Singh continued to contest as an independent and was elected to the Lok Sabha five times. The scion of the Bharatpur royal family, Maharaja Bachhu Singh, also contested and won.
Though he supported the Swatantra Party, Bhagwat Singh, son of the former ruler of Udaipur, chose to opt out of electoral politics. However, his eldest son Mahendra Singh won the Lok Sabha elections from Chittorgarh in 1989, though he lost when he contested for the second time.
This time, his son Vishvaraj Singh is contesting from the holy city of Nathdwara against veteran Congressman and assembly speaker Dr CP Joshi, who was a Cabinet minister in the Manmohan Singh government. Vishvaraj Singh wanted to contest from Udaipur, but was forced to contest from Nathdwara, as there was no rival formidable enough to take on Joshi.
"I have the blessings of my people and my father, who is the head of the erstwhile Mewar royals. I have joined politics after much thought, and if elected, I shall work for the development of the holy city of Nathdwara, which attracts lakhs of pilgrims from all over the country and abroad," said Vishvaraj.
Diya Kumari, who is a sitting member of the Lok Sabha from Rajsamand, has been fielded by the BJP to contest from Vidyadhar Nagar assembly constituency in Jaipur. She first won the 2013 assembly election from Sawai Madhopur and was part of the Opposition when the Congress was ruling the state.
Diya Kumari is one of seven members of Parliament to have been fielded by the BJP this time, as the saffron party felt it lacked strong enough candidates.
Diya Kumari’s father, the late Brig Bhawani Singh, a decorated hero of the 1971 war, contested the Lok Sabha elections from Jaipur in 1987 on a Congress ticket but lost to Girdhari Lal Bhargav of the BJP.
"I am contesting as I have been asked to contest the assembly election by the party. To me, the orders of the BJP are supreme, as I am a disciplined soldier of the party. The development of Vidyadhar Nagar, which is a new township in Jaipur, will be my first priority. I have undertaken a lot of development work in Rajsamand constituency, which is spread across several districts now," she said.
Siddhi Kumari, scion of the Bikaner royal family and granddaughter of late Dr. Karni Singh, is a three-time MLA from Bikaner who was first elected from Bikaner East in 2003 and is contesting again from her old domain as a BJP candidate.
Siddhi Kumari, who looks after the estate of the former royals, said, "I have seen my grandfather, who was a public figure and a member of the Lok Sabha. My grandmother is the daughter of maharawal Laxman Singh of Dungarpur, who was the leader of the Opposition for several years and was also a speaker in the Rajasthan Assembly. Thus, I know what politics is and how to work for the masses."
Kalpana Devi, a scion of the Kota royal family, was elected from Ladpura in Kota district in 2018, and has been fielded once again by the BJP. Her husband Ijyaraj Singh is a former member of the Lok Sabha who won on a Congress ticket from Kota. Incidentally, Kalpana Devi’s father Brijraj Singh, a former ruler of Kota, was thrice a member of the Lok Sabha from Jhalawar as a nominee of the Jan Sangh.
And Jhalawar is the seat that was represented by former CM Vasundhara Raje and now by her son Dushyant Singh. Raje, who served as a BJP chief minister for two terms, is once again in the fray from Jhalawar, though she seems to have been been sidelined by the party, even if she has managed nominations for some 40 of her loyalists.
Vishvendra Singh, scion of the Bharatpur royal family, has been in both the Janata Dal and BJP as a Lok Sabha MP, and switched to the Congress after Bharatpur became a reserved Lok Sabha constituency. Currently the state’s tourism minister, his political lineage also includes his uncles raja Man Singh and his younger brother Raja Bachhu Singh, MLA and MP respectively.
Man Singh, a seven-time independent MLA from Deeg from 1952-84, died in 1985 in police firing along with two of his supporters when he tried to damage the helicopter of chief minister Shiv Charan Mathur. This incident led to the resignation of Mathur in the midst of assembly elections, and Heera Lal Deopura was made chief minister. The case was investigated by the CBI, and 11 persons were convicted in the killing.
Man Singh’s daughter Krishnendra Kaur Deepa, 66, was later elected from Nadbai, and she is again contesting as a BJP nominee from the same constituency. She was also a minister in Vasundhara Raje’s cabinet from 2013-18.