Often seen in wispy ‘bandhini’ and ‘lahariya’ chiffons, trademarks of not just Rajasthan craft but also of royalty, Vasundhara Raje is a politician to the manner born, a careful mix of hauteur and reserve — even in defeat. The former royal, who is usually called Maharani, is expected to win her seat Jhalrapatan with a handsome margin but her party appeared headed for a loss to the Congress on Tuesday. As results came in and her party’s defeat seemed imminent, she visited the BJP headquarters here but did not make a comment. This was her second term as chief minister and, in keeping with the tradition of voters choosing the Congress and the BJP alternately, the ruling party looks set to lose power.
Trends showed a majority for the Congress, which was in the lead in 101 seats, miles ahead of its tally of 21 in 2013 when the BJP won a massive victory of 163 seats in the 200-member house. Raje, the daughter of Jivaji Rao Scindia, the last reigning Maharaja of Gwalior, and Vijayaraje Scindia, a prominent BJP leader, ruled Rajasthan as chief minister from 2003-2008 and from 2013-2018 and was leader of opposition from 2008 to 2013.
The high-profile Raje, who blends well into the erstwhile land of kings and queens and grand forts, began her Rajasthan connect after her marriage into the erstwhile royal family of Dholpur in the eastern part of the state. Equally fluent in both Hindi and English, the 65-year-old, known for her glamour quotient and as a crowd puller, was born on international women’s day on March 8 and is known for speaking her mind on issues. She slammed former JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav last week for body shaming her on the last day of campaigning by calling her fat and saying she needed rest.
“I feel insulted. This is the insult of women,” Raje said, adding that she was “absolutely shocked” and did not expect such a comment from an experienced leader. It is probably this matter of fact, candidness that has helped her overcome the many challenges in her political career.
The five-time parliamentarian’s style of functioning is described as ‘autocratic’ by many, within and outside the BJP. Senior BJP legislator Ghanshyam Tiwari had openly criticised her and complained to the high command, demanding action against her. Eventually, it was he who had to part ways from the party in June this year. Amid rumours of her differences with BJP president Amit Shah, Raje led the BJP’s election campaign in the state and took out a Gaurav Yatra.
The Congress termed it ‘Vidai Yatra’ but she was unperturbed. The Jal Swavalamban Abhiyan, an initiative for making villages self reliant in water conservation with the support of public, is among the programmes her government came to be known for. Despite her being a popular leader among masses, many complain that she continues to be imperious and does not keep in touch with common people. Raje, who did her schooling from Presentation Convent, Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, graduated with honours in Economics and Political Science from Sophia College, University of Mumbai. Her first brush with politics came in 1984 when she was made a member of the National Executive of the newly formed BJP.
A year later, she was appointed vice president of the Yuva Morcha, Rajasthan, BJP. The same year, she was elected a member of the 8th Rajasthan Assembly from Dholpur. Raje was elected as MP from Jhalawar constituency in 1998 and also became the minister of state in the Ministry of External Affairs, working closely with then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Raje has been the member of parliament for five times and has held various portfolios, including Small Scale Industries and Agro and Rural industries. Given that politics runs in the family, the four-time legislator’s son Dushyant Singh is a BJP MP from Jhalawar. Raje may have lost this election but will surely be back to fight another day.