Even after they lost their kingdoms and titles way back in 1947, the royal families in Rajasthan continue to taste power and hold sway over people.
At present, more than half of the royal families are actively associated with political parties while others are influencing voters due to their sway on other communities who still revere them as their ‘Raja Saheb’.
The trend of palaces coming into politics dates back to 1951-52 when the erstwhile King of Jodhpur, Hanwant Singh Rathore, fought the Lok Sabha election. He died in a plane crash before the results were declared. Later, his son Gaj Singh and daughter Chandresh Kumari Katoch, also tried their luck in politics and succeeded.
Early 50s was the same time when the King of Bikaner, Karni Singh, jumped into the poll fray and won. His granddaughter, Sidhi Kumari, carried forward his legacy and is a member of Legislative Assembly from Bikaner East since 2008.
Jaipur’s queen and princess of Cooch Behar, Gayatri Devi, ran in the Lok Sabha election on the symbol of Swatantra Party in 1962 and retained her seat three consecutive times. Dia Kumari, the BJP MP from Rajsamand, is the present scion of the Jaipur royal family in the poll fray and is contesting from Vidhyadhar Nagar. She has stressed the need for parivartan (change) in Rajasthan.
‘Clean image helps’
“Clean image helps erstwhile royals win elections. People know that they won’t take money in commissions, as they are already rich. This works well among the poor farmers and lower castes in the State who are otherwise harassed by the politicians or their offices when it comes to getting benefits from government schemes,” said Ashfaq Khatyamkhani, a Sikar-based political analyst.
The biggest name among the royals who had a winning streak is Vasundhara Raje, princess of Gwalior who married the Dholpur king and later got separated. Ms. Raje joined politics in 1984 and won the immediate Assembly election in 1985. Ms. Raje’s son Dushyant Singh is also an MP from the Jhalawar-Baran constituency, since 2009. The BJP deciding to go faceless in this election is being seen as the party’s attempt to get out of the aura of Ms. Raje, a five-time MP and two-time Chief Minister.
People are awestruck with royals such as Ms. Raje and others, says Nagendra Ambedkar Sole, Professor of Public Policy at the Central University of Rajasthan. “The royals, unlike other politicians, don’t leave their people and move to metros. They are pro-people and are available for them which, I feel, is also a reason why royals keep winning, even now,” he added.
Vishvendra Singh, MLA from Deeg-Kumher and current Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister in the Gehlot government is the descendant of the Bharatpur royal clan and second in the family to enter politics after his father. Mr. Singh, who has already started his election campaign at a time when the Congress hasn’t released the names of its candidates, said at a public meeting in Sinsini village that he wasn’t willing to contest the election this time but couldn’t refuse when Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot asked him to.
Vishvaraj Singh Mewar, a descendant of Maharana Pratap Singh and a member of the former royal family of Udaipur, joined the BJP earlier this week.
Harshvardhan Singh Dungarpur, descendant of the Dungarpur royals, is a Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan. His grandfather, Laxman Singh, too had been to the Upper House of Parliament.
From the descendants of Kota royals to the erstwhile king of Alwar, from the Jaisalmer royal clan to scion of Karauli kingdom, almost every royal family has tried its luck in politics in last seven decades and still has a sway over voters in their pocket boroughs.