Born on March 8, 1953, the day, which is celebrated as International Women’s Day, Rajasthan’s chief minister Vasundhara Raje, one of the most powerful women politicians of India, lends credence to the quote “The king may rule the kingdom, but it’s the queen who moves the board.” (by D. M. Timney).Hailing from Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh’s Scindia royal family and who got married into Dholpur royalty, Raje is often called the maharani of the desert state now. Incidentally, Gwalior was one of the richest, largest and highest ranking 21-gun salute princely states of India.
Into her second stint as the supremo of the still conservative desert state, she is known as a quick decision taker and somebody who is a hard taskmaster.
Managing an unprecedented victory for the BJP winning 163 seats out of the total 200 Vidhan Sabha seats, she has silenced her critics who called her unapproachable, autocratic and dictatorial in her first term. Especially after her dismal loss in 2008.
But for now the state BJP has no other leader of her stature, who can compete with her for the state’s top political post. A prompt decision maker, Raje is known to take tough stands and has initiated many reforms as soon she took over in Dec 2013. The foremost amongst them being reforms in the land acquisition act, labour act, education sector to attract investors and take the state onto the road of development.
Raje completed her education from Presentation Convent, Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. She graduated in Honours in Economics and Political Science from Sophia College, Mumbai University.
Her plunge into politics
A Rajput with the royal lineage of the Scindia’s, Raje was initiated into politics early. Daughter of Vijay Raje Scindia and Jivaji Rao Scindia, the last reigning Maharaja of Gwalior, she learnt the ropes of politics early. Her mother Vijay Raje Scindia, a Jan Sangh and BJP leader known for her commitment towards people, influenced her the most.
Raje herself says of her mother: “She has been the biggest influence on me. Because of her, politics is a part of my life. My mother would travel and meet people, hear them out. And on those days I would be with her, learning how to be one amongst the people.”
Her Rajasthan association
Her association with Rajasthan began when she got married into the Dholpur royal family and was married to its scion Hemant Singh. She contested for Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha in 1985 from Dholpur.
She then went on to become a MP representing Jhalawar in the Lok Sabha in 1989 for the first time. Holding onto the seat five times in a row, Raje gave it up to her son, Dushyant Singh when she became the chief minister for the first time in 2003.
She was also the minister of state for external affairs in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government at the Centre and got to work closely with Vajpayee, who held the Cabinet rank portfolio himself.
Membership of Legislature
- 1985-89: Member, 8th Rajasthan Legislative Assembly
- 2003 – 2008: Member, 12th Rajasthan Legislative Assembly.
- 2008 onwards : Member, 13th Rajasthan Legislative Assembly
- Membership of Parliament
- 1989-91: Member, 9th Lok Sabha
- 1991-96: Member, 10th Lok Sabha
- 1996-98: Member, 11th Lok Sabha
- 1998-99: Member, 12th Lok Sabha
- 1999-18/12/2003: Member, 13th Lok Sabha
Her Rajasthan entry
After BJP’s senior most leader Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was made the Vice-President, he moved to Delhi. Raje was brought into lead the 2003 Assembly elections. Many doubted her choice as she wasn’t a Rajasthani in real terms. Having lived in Mumbai and Delhi, she was not even well-versed with local dialects despite being the royal bahu of Dholpur.
But during her campaign trail, a first of its kind undertaken in the state, she shed all her royal inhibitions and became one with the commoners. Starting her Parivartan Yatra, she toured the entire state, talked to villagers, ate from their thalis and more importantly with them, donned their clothes and mingled with them.
Midway into her Parivartan Yatra when she realized her rath was an obstacle between her and the common man, she dumped her air conditioned Rath for an ordinary ambassador car. Before her yatra, a battery of grassroot workers along with senior leaders from Gujarat and Maharastra had surveyed the entire length and breadth of the state, reaching out to almost every village. Her campaign was micro-managed by late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, who was a master strategist.
Raje till date says her biggest strength is the people who have always loved her and stood by her.
In 2003, she trumped home with 120 seats for BJP in the 200-member Assembly seat, a first big win for the party in the desert state, silencing all her critics.
Political observers say her political mentor Bhairon Singh Shekhawat also could not muster such a support for the BJP, although he had laid the foundation for it in a state, more or less dominated by the Congress till then. And that she broke new grounds by getting the support of Jats and Rajputs. Till then Jats were not into BJP fold as Rajputs dominated the party. Shekhawat was a Rajput too. Raje also managed the support of women, at least 61 % women had voted for her, making her the first woman chief minister of one of the most conformist states of India.
Raje’s first stint from 2003-08: Her first tenure from 2003 to 2008 was marked with infrastructure development as Jaipur and its smooth roads and highways rapidly developed under her.
Raje’s oft repeated that when she first took over the reins of the state in 2003, the state coffers were empty and Rajasthan’s fiscal deficit was 6.6 percent of GDP. By 2007-08, this had come down to 1.75 percent.
Raje’s defeat in 2008: But her downfall in 2008 was ensured when she failed to contain the most violent caste clashes between Gujjar-Meena communities, which left 70 dead in May 2007. A repeat of violence the next year was one of the lowest points in her first stint. Though she promised quotas to Gujjars, nothing could come of it. Her rivals say she contained the unrest by allowing the police to fire, whether it was on farmers in Gharsana in bordering Ganganagar district or on Gujjar–Meena protestors. The rural voters refused to back her in the 2008 elections.
Her style of functioning also came in for a lot of flak during her first stint. Her regal demeanor and her arrogant style of functioning daunted her own party workers from approaching her, leave alone the aam aadmi.
Gossipmongers say even her ministers found it difficult to get through to her, especially after 8 pm. So much so that she earned the moniker of “8 pm CM” then.
Her equations with the RSS was also not cordial, who never wanted her to continue. She is also have supposed given a free hand to administration to collect money on the smallest pretext of work done be it land title or even lodging a complaint at the police station.
Also her closeness to former IPL chief Lalit Modi, with whom she had close family relations, was under scanner as he came to be known as the de facto chief minister, who called the shots in various land deals. Then even the top state bureaucrats were found waiting to get an audience with him at the famous Rambagh hotel suite here, which was always booked for Modi.
Raje lost the elections and managed 78 seats for the party. In 2008, BJP got 35.5 % of votes and the Congress a shade better 36.9 %. In the 78 seats BJP won, it secured 43.1%. votes and the Congress 33.5%. In the 122 seats BJP lost, it managed 28.9% of votes and the Congress 39%.
Pollsters said Raje suffered because of faulty ticket distribution. District level leaders have their own dynamics and caste is an equally important determinant. The ticket distribution is majorly done in conformity with the leadership and caste equations. Her fallout with tribal leader Kirori Lal Meena, who left the party had a major impact. Also the RSS did not work in the constituencies where in the candidates of their choice were given tickets.
Raje’s out of power (2003-08) : Raje was asked to step down as the leader of Opposition in 2009 by then party president Rajnath Singh but she put her foot down and flaunted her strength of MLAs in Delhi and remained defiant.
Rajnath held her responsible for BJP’s loss while Raje felt in-fighting caused BJP the state. Raje , however, later gave up her post. Raje’s climb down came after the BJP’s parliamentary board talked tough with her. Raje was reinstated as Leader of Opposition in 2011 as Rajasthan readied for 2013 Assembly polls.
Her second stint : Months before the 2013 elections, Raje started her groundwork. This time her 2003’s Parivartan Yatra was renamed as Suraaj Sankalp Yatra meaning good governance. The dimensions of the yatra was the same – scouring the length and breadth of the largest state traversing the 33 districts, attending over 1000 welcome meetings and addressing over 200 public meetings and mingling with people, who still lacked the basic facilities of roti, paani, bijli, ghar and job. She dwelt upon the freebies given by the Congress government and said instead of sops, she would give them employment.
Campaigning extensively, Raje managed to get Narendra Modi to canvass for the party too, creating the Modi wave in the desert state too and enhancing her chances of winning the elections. The Modi wave did work in her favour as his meeting saw huge surge of crowds especially thronging the venues wanting to hear only him. The Modi wave brought a deluge in Rajasthan, obliterating the Congress totally and reducing it to a rubble. It became a historic win for BJP never witnessed before.
BJP won 163 seats left in December 2013 elections and left a bruised and battered Congress with just 22 seats.
With a saffron surge in the Vidhan Sabha, Raje has the mandate, the numbers and a will to push through the reforms, which she says is necessary to get investments to the state. She has brought in reforms in land acquisition, labour and suggested some in the education field to get the state out of the BIMARU tag.
In August 2014, the Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha passed amendments to the four legislations, which include the Factories Act, the Industrial Disputes Act, the Apprenticeship Act and the Contract Labour Act (Regulation and Abolition) Act, with the aim to make the desert state investor-friendly. For this she had put in place a thinktank comprising eminent economists Arvind Pangariya, Bibek Debroy, entrepreneur Kiran Majumdar Shaw long before Modi made Pangariya chief of Niti Aayog.
She is willing to taken on entrenched lobbies and have already visited Singapore to lure investors.
On the lines of Vibrant Gujarant, Raje is preparing for Resurgent Rajasthan Summit this year in November.
On completion of her first year, Raje said the government has a plan to bring in investment worth Rs 3 lakh crore in year 2015. Raje wants to develop and push most project on the Private Public Partnership model for which she has been wooing investors especially in the road building sector.
She has herself said she is in a hurry and wants investment to come in, capitalising on the Delhi-Mumbai-Industrial Corridor, a major part of which passes through Rajasthan.
All this to ensure the 15 lakh jobs to youths she ensured during the election campaigns. To start with she has initiated the skill training programme for the youth. 200 such centres are likely to be opened across the state where in 40 agencies with which the government has signed MoUs would train the young people, which will help them find employment.
Raje, had told Reuters in one of her interviews that her goal is to “create a habitat for employment” – not to destroy jobs. We have no intention of hurting anyone. We have to open up every single employment opportunity.”
Raje says nothing changes overnight. She says ; “ People have chosen me for 5 years , not one . See what we have done after five years.
Raje has also started the Sarkar Aapke Dwar programme, where in the government along with the offices, bureaucrats go to each of the seven divisions of the state for 10 to 12 days and listens to the people’s complaints. The entire governance is done from there in those days.
Another of Raje’s flagship, ambitious programme is the Bhamashah Yojana cards by she wants to empower the women.
One of the firsts among all states, the card in the name of the woman of the family will ensure that both cash and kind benefits will directly into the beneficiary’s account.
Raje says : “With this card, the women of Rajasthan have entered a new era of social and economic empowerment. Extending recognition to women as head of fanily under the scheme our government has acknowledged their individuality and has made an attempt to restore their dignity in family. “
Raje says her principle on taking the state onto the road of development is “ a lot of common sense with some economics.”
Raje’s aam aadmi drive
Raje refused to take the designated Chief Minister’s house No. 8 Civil Lines, preferring to stay in her leader of Opposition house, No. 13. She has asked her officers not to spend on renovating the house. Raje’s personnel security would be halved. She wants the police instead to take care of the common people. She has reportedly said that public security is most important and should be given first preference.
Raje was ready to wait at the red traffic signal so as not to inconvenience the aam aadmi on the road.
Now Raje has restricted her cavalcade to just 2-3 cars and waits at the traffic signals, just like other commuters. Traffic police officials say now there is no special route lining or constant wireless messaging before the Chief Minister comes out of her house or office.
Earlier, whenever the Chief Minister used to travel, commuters had to wait at least 20-25 minutes in their respective lanes before they were allowed on their way.
Raje has also decided not to shift to the Chief Minister’s official residence 8, Civil Lines and instead stay on in her present house at No. 13, which she got as Leader of Opposition.
Her followers say she wanted to remain connected with her people and since the CM House, apart from being huge, has many check points, pickets and formalities which act as barriers between her and the common people.
The Chief Minister’s official residence, also require a huge number of officials to man it. And Raje now wants these personnel deputed elsewhere for the public.
Her staff says the CM House runs up a huge electricity bill almost Rs 3 lakh per month. The CM residence is built on 3.21 lakh square feet while Raje’s present residence is about 1.46 lakh square feet.
But her detractors say being very superstitious and religious, she has been advised by some astrologer to stick to her present bungalow no. 13, which has proved lucky for her. Raje took her oath on Dec 13.
Raje has also decided not to travel by special planes if it is not an emergency. She will take the routine scheduled flights just like a commoner.
Raje’s religious streak :
Raje is said to be very religious and performs puja from time to time. She invariably visits Tripurari Sundari Mandir before embarking on any yatra.
Raje’s flamboyance, style Raje highlights Rajasthan’s unique designs like leheriya, bandhni in her wardrobe. Owning best of designer sarees, jewellery and hand bags, her Royalness prefers everything to the tee. Her favourite patterns of sarees are leheriyas, bandhinis and floral chiffons.
Raje’s social media drive Techno-friendly and and gadget-savvy Raje has become one of the most popular and followed female politicians in the country, so says her social media team.
Raje has a fan following of over 3 million on her Facebook page and has 159 thousand followers on her Twitter handle. Her every move, every meetings, her special events, her ideas, their implementation, her dreams, her compliments to people of every hue, her remembering of great leaders, small occasions are all uploaded instantly and are up-to-date. Her Twitter page is never static.
Thanks to 10-member social media team members, who say: “Our team has 10 young technocrats, who have manned and maintained social media stream and are raring to go. We work 24X7 and what helps us is that Raje herself is very digitally inclined and open to ideas.”
Raje never puts down an idea and always gives it a thought even though she may be very busy. The team helps her with the tweets but it is most often Raje’s own thoughts and ideas.
Raje joined the social media bandwagon in July 2013, just a few months before the Assembly elections. It was to raise the various problems plaguing the desert state, her travels and findings during the Suraaj Sankalp Yatra.
It was then she and her team thought of the campaign “I believe,” in which she asked people to share their views about anything especially how to improve the state and she got umpteenth replies.
Actually during her yatra, Raje had met a youth who simply told her they don’t want freebies but jobs, better infrastructure and opportunities. That struck as impressive and thoughtful and she mentioned it in her Budget speech and also on the social media sites.
She has followers like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, union human resources development minister Smriti Irani, Abhishek Bachchan, Rajyavardhan Rathore and many others.
Raje’s Lalitgate ordeal
Raje was recently singed by the Lalitgate controversy in June 2015. The affair not only engulfed her but sucked in her son and Jhalawar MP Dushyant Singh too.
Raje, who has never made any bones about being friendly with Lalit Modi as their family ties went back decades, however, found it hard to explain her signed document of 2011 which endorsed Lalit’s application to stay on in UK and also that her assistance should not become known to the Indian authorities.
Although Raje distanced herself from the document saying she did not know which document they were talking about, the actual document was in fact mailed by Lalit’s team led by advocate Mahmood Abdi to the media.
However, Lalit, in an interview to the India Today TV channel, had claimed that she had indeed agreed to be a witness and had accompanied his wife, Minal, when she went for surgeries in a hospital in Portugal in 2012 and 2013.
“My relationship with Vasundhara Raje goes back 30 years. That relationship is known to everybody. She is a close friend of the family and my wife for a long time…. She openly agreed to be (a witness) but, unfortunately, by the time the case went to trial, she was already chief minister. So she did not become a witness. The statement she gave is all on records in the courts,” Lalit had said from Montenegro in the Balkans.
“My wife was being taken to Portugal by whom, by Mrs Vasundhara Raje. Nobody knows that, I am putting that on record now,” Lalit had added.
Dated August 18, 2011, when Raje was Opposition leader in the Rajasthan Assembly, the document with the description “witness statement” said: “I make this statement in support of any immigration application that Lalit Modi makes, but do so on the strict condition that my assistance will not become known to the Indian authorities.”
The document was part of an application that a legal firm, Gherson, had filed with the UK Border Agency on behalf of Lalit.
On top of the document was a declaration titled “confidential notice”: “This witness statement is provided on the strict understanding that its contents and the identity of its maker are treated confidentially and that it is used only for the purposes stated in it.”
The TV channel, which put out the document, however, clarified they had not been independently verified and that the Rajasthan chief minister’s signatures were not on them.
Within two months after Modi’s wife Minal’s treatment at the Portugal Hospital, the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, Rajasthan’s government MoU with it to set up a centre for research in the field of oncology treatment in October 2014, also came under the scanner.
A communiqué issued said the MoU was signed in the presence of Raje. The joint venture was to establish a cancer centre over 35,000 square metres of land on the Rajasthan University of Health Sciences campus.
Her son Dushyant Singh also got embroiled in the controversy when it came out that the Enforcement Directorate was investigating a transfer of Rs 11.63 crore to a company owned by the BJP MP.
A public interest plea in Delhi High Court alleged that black money was routed through the deal.
According to an exposé by a television channel, Lalit’s company, Anand Heritage Hotels had paid the amount in April 2008 to Niyant Heritage Hotels Private Ltd, a company owned by Dushyant and his wife Niharika.
When Dushyant started his company in 2005, its shares were priced at Rs 10 each. Three years later, when Lalit bought a stake in the company in 2008, he bought each share for over Rs 96,000. The reports said a total amount of Rs 11.63 crore was transferred to Dushyant’s firm through loans and purchased shares.
In Delhi High Court, Poonam Chand Bhandari, a lawyer, filed the PIL saying black money was transferred through Modi’s company.
Raje and Dushyant owned Dholpur Palace, the seat and palce of Dholpur royals, was also dragged into the controversy by the Congress who alleged that the property was actually government owned.
Congress’s senior leader Jairam Ramesh had alleged that several revenue department documents between 1954 and 2010 showed that the palace was a government property but Raje and Lalit Modi’s company has turned it into a “high end luxury hotel” and invested Rs 100 crore with no role of the state government. Both Raje and Dushyant were called trespassers.
Dushyant has now filed a criminal defamation case against Ramesh, the hearing of the case would soon begin.
Raje’s ordeal was far from over as the BJP top guns initially refused to back her. Sources cite many reasons for it, the foremost being many more secrets may just tumble out.
There were parallels drawn between her son Dushyant Singh and Congress’ Robert Vadra.
Second, the confidentiality clause in the unsigned document attributed to Raje in support of Lalit’s application to stay on in the UK, touched a raw nerve in the BJP.
“This is extremely serious. If it is proved that she was willing to give such a witness statement, the consequences will be severe for her,” a source had said then.
Third, Raje’s equations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi were never very cordial. Sources say when he was the Gujarat Chief Minister and she his counterpart in Raajsthan, Raje known for her autocratic ways of functioning in her last tenure, somehow did consider him her equal and looked down upon him.
She was miffed with Modi, when her son Dushyant, a three time MP, did not make it to the Centre’s ministers list.
Secondly just one MP from her state, Nihalchand Meghwal, was chosen in the council of ministers and that too as a junior minister. Meghwal was not her choice. Shortly after he became a minister, a rape case against him bounced back to the limelight.
Modi’s supporters suspected Raje of resurrecting the case and contended that if the charge was “true”, she ought not to have fielded him in the Lok Sabha elections. After a while, the dust around Meghwal settled down.
She spread the word that in spite of delivering all Lok Sabha seats ( 25) in Rajasthan and surpassing the tally of her Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh counterparts, she had been given the short shrift for “no fault” of hers.
A section of the BJP believes that when Modi had asked Raje to join his cabinet in an important ministry, she had refused, saying Rajasthan was her “base” and the ground from beneath her feet would slip if she relocated to Delhi.
When Modi shuffled his ministers last November, Rajasthan again remained under-represented because the only MP to get in was Rajyavardhan Rathore, again as a junior minister. Besides, the Olympic shooter was a Modi favourite.
But despite the ordeals, Raje still remains the most popular BJP leader in the state and her position remains unchallenged.
Raje, who is a religious person, has been performing pujas daily, recently visited Ma Pitambara Temple at Datiya Madhya Pradesh and kept herself locked for three days, offering prayers.
The Ma Pitambara temple is known to be visited by politicians going through a rough patch in their lives and careers; they perform puja here hoping for divine help to get things back to normal.
Datia is about 100 km from Gwalior, where Vasundhara Raje’s family, the Scindias, are erstwhile royals.
Raje remains the undisputed queen in Rajasthan
That she comes a regal background with fiery Vijayraje Scindia as her mother, only adds to her queenly aura.
Allegations of corruption, nepotism and the rising clout of upstarts like Lalit Modi surfaced regularly. Party workers and the RSS satraps constantly complain of her inaccessibility and dismissive attitude. But she has always survived. Raje is said to be one BJP’s biggest fundraisers, which the party cannot afford to lose.
So it is difficult to expect that Raje’s fortress can be breached by a minor storm in the name of Lalit Modi. The BJP top brass knows very well that Raje is still their best bet in the desert state.