Stepping Out Of Royal Privilege

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Dushyant Singh
Photo: Vijay Pandey

THE TIME: 11AM. The place: Rajasthan’s Baran district. The temperature: 40 degrees. Six men cling to the top of a speeding jeep as they wave saffron and green flags. Men inside the jeep cheer for the ‘Raja’ to the beat of drums. About 20 minutes later, the ‘Raja’ alights. He is immediately surrounded by a troop of euphoric followers. A wedding band bursts into the popular Hindi song, Yeh Desh Hai Veer Jawaanon Ka (This country is one of brave young men) and leads the way inside Bohat village, about 275km from Jaipur, the state capital. As the young ‘Raja’, garlands swathing his neck, treads through the dusty bylanes of villages in Baran, a shadow remains with him.

This ‘Raja’ won his first Lok Sabha in 2004 as a BJP candidate from Jhalawar, in Southeast Rajasthan, courtesy the shadow. Since then, for his detractors, Dushyant Singh — Jhalawar’s MP and the only child of former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia — has owed his entire political existence to his mother, whose shadow, they believe, sustains him.

But in this Lok Sabha poll, Dushyant is asserting his identity. “Last time, I fought the battle on the basis of whose son I was. This time, my plank is my work,” says ‘Raja’, as Dushyant is known here. The 35-year-old hotel management graduate from the US is seeking a second term from Jhalawar-Baran, the new seat formed after delimitation.

Dushyant has had the opportunity to observe politics closely from his early years. His grandmother, the late Vijaya Raje Scindia, ‘Rajmata of Gwalior’, was Vice President of the BJP. His uncle, Madhavrao Scindia, was a senior Congress leader until he died in a plane crash in 2001, and his mother was first elected as an MLA in 1985.

‘Last time, I fought the battle on the basis of whose son I was. This time, my plank is my work,’ says Dushyant Singh

His own political journey formally began in 2004. His mother was at first reluctant to let her son join politics, but later relented. Dushyant defeated the Congress’ Sanjay Gurjar in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls by a substantial 81,579 votes.

The next stop was Jhalawar. The stage there had already been set by his mother, who had been elected from there to the Lok Sabha for four unbroken terms since 1989. Conditions couldn’t have been more perfect but Dushyant says this very perfection was his challenge. “I had to live up to my mother’s reputation,” he says. “I couldn’t let the standard of work plummet.”

In the beginning, Dushyant stayed away from the national media. “He was shy, and didn’t know much about politics. The art of diplomacy came much later,” says a close associate. But the supposed ‘Mama’s boy’ surpassed the ‘super boys’, as he impishly calls the other young MPs in Parliament. In the Lok Sabha, Dushyant asked 604 questions and participated in 46 debates, the highest amongst young MPs. “I write my own speeches and speak on international and state issues and I stay for entire sessions,” he says.

HAVING COVERED over 15,000 kilometres since March 15, the day he kicked off his campaign, Dushyant has traversed the length and breadth of Jhalawar-Baran. His village-hopping starts at nine in the morning and continues well past midnight. Helping him in his campaign are hundreds of foot soldiers, his wife, Niharika Raje and mother Vasundhara. With good reason. “For the first time since 1989, this seat will witness a close contest,” reveals a party worker.

Dushyant’s opponent, first-timer Urmila Jain of the Congress, has the support of the state machinery, with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot campaigning for her. The BJP got a shock in the December 2008 assembly elections when Urmila’s husband, Pramod Jain Bhaya, now a minister, defeated BJP strongman Raghuveer Singh Kaushal, the sitting MP from Kota. The BJP won only two out of eight assembly seats in the region.

But Dushyant appears to be unruffled. “My work is my answer,” he says. He has provided drinking water through tube wells and hand pumps to over 85 villages and a sports stadium worth Rs 6.5 crore, where three Ranji Trophy matches have been played. Thanks to Dushyant, a two-lane 85km highway now links Jhalawar and Baran .

Dushyant Singh believes that the young need to join politics as they can be instrumental in changing the policies of the country. This young MP aims to provide education and health for all. While global warming is an area he wants to focus on down the road, right now, it’s all about winning this election. And Dushyant is leaving no stone unturned towards that end. His mother may be by his side, but this ‘Raja’ is getting his hands dirty by managing both supporters and election issues by himself. With his mother’s blessings, of course.

shobhita@tehelka.com

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