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A royal who learnt to be a commoner

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
Last updated on: December 08, 2003 18:54 IST
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Vasundhara Raje on Monday became the first woman chief minister of Rajasthan. She took the oath of office and secrecy at the Amrood Bagh stadium in Jaipur.

A scion of the Scindia family, the erstwhile rulers of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, she is married into the royal family of Dholpur in Rajasthan.

Her mother, late Vijaya Raje Scindia, was one of the foremost leaders in the Bharatiya Janata Party. Her brother, late Madhavrao Scindia, was among the most influential voices in the Congress.

Born on March 3, 1953, in Mumbai, Vasundhara Raje was married to Hemant Singh on November 17, 1972.

She did her schooling from Cathedral School, Mumbai and Presentation Convent, Kodaikanal. She then returned to Mumbai to graduate in economics and political science from Sophia College.

Vasundhara Raje joined the BJP at an early age. She won five successive terms to the Lok Sabha from Jhalawar in southeast Rajasthan.

After the BJP's defeat in 1998, the party decided to anoint its seniormost leader in Rajasthan, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, as the country's vice-president.

Vasundhara Raje was picked to step into Shekhawat's shoes on November 14, 2002. It was a move that many then considered unwise.

For one, Vasundhara Raje is not a Rajasthani; she does not speak the local Marwari dialect; and she had lived in Delhi for many years.

Yet, she proved everyone wrong by giving the BJP its biggest ever win in Rajasthan, sweeping a record 120 seats in the 200-member state legislative assembly.
"Even Shekhawat could not muster this kind of support. Those who doubted her ability to lead the party are now singing her praise, particularly the senior leadership in the state," says Chanderraj Singhvi, her political advisor.
"We did not expect to cross the figure of 91," Vasundhara Raje admitted at a news conference after the results were declared on December 4.

"Crossing the 100-mark was a dream and getting 120 was good," said Pramod Mahajan, BJP general secretary.
Ram Das Aggarwal, a staunch Shekhawat loyalist, maintains that Vasundhara Raje only consolidated the party's position. "Bhairon Singhji had laid the foundation of the party and taken it from two seats to ninety in the last one and a half decades," he pointed out.
But Singhvi believes Vasundhara Raje broke new ground. "She has won the support of the Jat community, which never came to the BJP fold so long as the Rajputs [Shekhawat is a Rajput] dominated the Rajasthan BJP. We had put up 33 Jat candidates and 25 of them won their seats," he says.

In the run-up to the December 1 poll, Vasundhara Raje harped on her being both a Rajput and a Jat [Hemant Singh is a Jat].

The Scindias are Marathas (Scindia is a North Indian form of the Maharashtrian surname Shinde).

Vasundhara herself believes it was the overwhelming support of women that gave the party the landslide victory. "We have 61 per cent of the women voters behind us for this thumping win," she told
The BJP central leadership sent more then 200 top leaders and workers from Maharashtra and Gujarat to every single village to talk to the people. The party leadership then analysed the feedback and formulated its strategy.
One such feedback was on the use of air-conditioned rath (chariot) that Vasundhara Raje had used for her Parivartan Yatra in early 2003.

"The moment she realised that it was sending wrong signals to the electorate, we dumped the fancy car and decided to use an Ambassador to reach out to the people of the state. She became one among them. She ate from their plates and drank water from their jugs and tumblers. Once she had broken this barrier between the royalty and the commoner, we knew the party would win over 100 seats," said Sheshadhari Chari, editor of Organiser, a publication of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Though Vasundhara Raje claimed the party won a pro-development vote, the party admits such a huge win would not have been possible had the state government employees not railed against former chief minister Ashok Gehlot.
Now that she has taken over the reins of Rajasthan, she has to prove her skills as an administrator.

"I have experience as a minister in the central government. But I have not yet known what is it like to be the chief minister of a state," she admitted candidly before the swearing-in ceremony.

How she would turn out as a chief minister the party is not willing to discuss just now. "She has a good head on her shoulders and will be a good administrator for sure," Chari says.

With inputs from A K Diwanji


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Onkar Singh in New Delhi