The Congress in Madhya Pradesh is attempting to appropriate Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, among leaders of the 1857 rebellion against the British, by invoking her name to target its former leader Jyotiraditya Scindia ahead of the byelections to 28 seats.
When Mr. Scindia, a BJP MP, was scheduled to address a public meeting recently in the Sanwer Vidhan Sabha constituency of Indore, a group of girls dressed up as the queen took to the streets. “I am Rani Laxmibai. The Scindia family is my murderer. Why are members of the Scindia family here in Sanwer. Shoo away these murders,” they shouted.
The reference is to the claim of a few historians that the Scindia dynasty of Gwalior had betrayed the queen and joined hands with the British, which helped quell the uprising. With three political leaders of the family now in the BJP, including Mr. Scindia’s aunts Vasundhara Raje and Yashodhara Raje, the Congress is flaying him by claiming he had ‘betrayed’ the mandate and the State’s voters in the present.
Further, the Congress is associating the trope with the alleged historical injustice meted out to the queen, a symbol of pride and women empowerment in the Gwalior Chambal region, a stronghold of Mr. Scindia where 16 seats are up for contest. In addition, the party has promised voters of organising programmes in memory of Rani Laxmibai and erect her statues in the constituencies if it returns to power.
While visiting the queen’s memorial here, 68-year-old Rajneesh Tomar said he had heard of “some kind of betrayal” at the hands of the Scindias in relation to the queen, but was unsure of its nature. “What is the point of broaching the past when there are more pressing issues in the present like unemployment, corruption and the agrarian crisis. The parties should focus on that,” he said.
Ramsevak Das of the Siddh Peeth Shri Gangadasji Maharaj ki Badi Shala, an ashram behind the memorial that claims the queen breathed her last within its compound, said, “For whatever reason the Scindias weren’t able to support the rebellion, history shouldn’t be politicised,” he said.
To spread the message further, the Congress has begun distributing to ‘intellectuals’ a book titled Jhansi ki Rani Laxmibai, which also makes the allegation against the family. The Hindi text penned by Vrindavanlal Verma, claims the party, was pulled out of circulation in the region by the family.
“I wish the Congress all the best. I wonder why they were silent for 30 years while my father was a member. And I wonder why they were silent for 20 years while I was a member,” Mr. Scindia told The Hindu.
“I think the public sees through such nefarious designs and duplicity. They [the Congress] should take a lesson in history before they comment on my family. My family’s contribution to the nation is well known. I don’t think the public needs a lesson in history, the least of all from Kamal Nath, who should speak about his own history rather than about others,” he said.
Keshav Pandey, public relations officer of Mr. Scindia, claimed the attempts at the appropriation would yield no dividends for the Congress. “Voters want to hear of only the development of their region. The party quotes a poem which is a product of imagination. There is no element of truth to it,” he said.
“The betrayal of Rani Laxmibai is the biggest weapon with the Congress,” said K.K. Mishra, party media incharge for Gwalior-Chambal. “Everyone is talking about their betrayal in the present and the past. Do they believe voters are stupid?” he asked.