He was a serious politician but the late Madhavrao Scindia was quite the fun prankster too and was once hosting the greatest stars of Indian cricket when he decided to also have a scare-fest – at their expense of course. (More Cricket News)
And so, the senior Congress leader and scion of the erstwhile Gwalior royal family staged a "dacoity" to spook the cricketers, including Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath and Erapalli Prasanna.
The anecdote, on the time the cricketers had been invited to play an exhibition match in Gwalior, is recounted in senior journalist Rasheed Kidwai's recently released book “The House of Scindias: A Saga of Power, Politics and Intrigue”. It focuses not just on the history of the Scindias but also gives people a peek into the palace politics, intrigues and convictions of the Scindia household over generations.
Madhavrao was not just a well-loved Congress leader and a former Union minister. He wore many other hats and would often take time off for a round of golf or don a pair of flannels to play cricket, his greatest passion, says the book published by Roli Books.
The story goes that on a rest day during the exhibition match in Gwalior, Madhavrao decided to take his guests to Shivpuri for a ‘shikar’ trip (hunting was permitted then).
"At midnight, when the players had gone to bed, they heard gunshots and found themselves surrounded by 'dacoits' who said they would 'kidnap' them. All the members of the party were asked to get inside jeeps and hand over their belongings," Kidwai writes.
Viswanath and Prasanna were in particular petrified and started howling, saying they were part of the Indian Test cricket team and the country needed them, according to the book.
The “dacoits”, however, pretended they had never heard of cricket. The drama went a bit too far and the guests were not amused when they were told that the “dacoits” were, in fact, Madhavrao’s employees, and that the whole incident had been staged.
The amusing incident was also recounted by the late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, former India captain and a friend of the Scindias, during a television interview in which he said Madhavrao and he were hand in glove on the prank.
The book states that Madhavrao’s passion for cricket began at an early age. Encouraged by his school teacher and coach Sharief Ahmed, he had set up a palace cricket team that played against various sides.
Madhavrao’s passion for cricket was well known. Once a young lad shouted at him for a cheeky single, saying, 'Chal, chal (run, run)'. The brusque address had almost Madhavrao run himself out, according to the book.
After the match, the lad went up to him apologising, “Maharaj, I am sorry I couldn’t address you as shrimant or maharaj in the heat of the moment!” Madhavrao laughed it off."
Another interesting anecdote narrated in the book relates to friendly cricket matches played by MPs in Delhi.
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel used to recall how he himself got bowled out, short of a century, just because Madhavrao wanted the strike.
"This had happened in the winter afternoon of 1980-1981 when a friendly cricket match among parliamentarians was on. Patel, a young Congress MP from Gujarat, was batting with flourish when Madhavrao walked in to join him at the other end," Kidwai writes.
Journalist D K Singh is quoted as saying that Patel was on a roll, nearing the century mark, leaving Scindia at the non-striker’s end most of the time.
"Frustrated, the scion of the erstwhile royal family of Gwalior walked up to him and said, ‘You have done your part. You can let others take it from here'. Patel, second time Lok Sabha MP from Bharuch, Gujarat, got himself bowled, short of a century," recounts the book.
Singh later asked Patel why he did not complete the century and then walked out and Patel’s response was, “Arre, how could I? He was Madhavrao Scindia and I was a nobody in Delhi.”
The book also chronicles the journey of Madhavrao Scindia 'the politician'. Like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Pranab Mukherjee, Scindia was "probably one of the best prime ministers India never had", Kidwai says.
"His rise was cruelly cut short by fate—at the same time as when the Congress was on the trail of a comeback. He died in a tragic plane crash on September 30, 2001, just eight months after the death of his mother, Vijayaraje Scindia," says the book.
But while the ailing Rajmata was in her eighties and had the satisfaction of seeing her party, the BJP, firmly in power, Madhavrao was just 56, in the prime of his political life, it says.
Less than three years later, in 2004, a Congress-led coalition would come to power at the Centre and remain at the helm for the next 10 years.
“… Madhavrao Scindia would have been Prime Minister if he had lived,” former Union minister K. Natwar Singh is quoted as saying.
In other words, according to Singh, Madhavrao would have been Sonia Gandhi’s first choice as prime minister in the UPA government instead of Dr Manmohan Singh.
"While that will always remain in the realm of conjecture, there is little doubt that within the Congress, Madhavrao was much more popular as a leader than Manmohan Singh, who is by nature a reticent man," the book says.
The book also deals with other Scindias that played a key role in India's politics -- Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia, her daughters Yashodhara Raje Scindia, Vasundhara Raje, and Madhavrao's son Jyotiraditya.