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GAYATRI DEVI (1919-2009)

Gayatri Devi was the third Rani of Jaipur from 1939 to 1970 through her marriage to Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II, later she became known as Rajmata of Jaipur. Along with Leela Naidu, she was chosen as one of the world’s ten most beautiful women by Vogue. She was also the founder of the Swatantra Party and was elected to the Lok Sabha thrice.

She was born in the family of the rulers of Cooch Behar in North Bengal. Her father Raja Jitendra Narayan was the younger brother of the heir to the title, but succeeded him when Gayatri Devi was a child, while her mother was Indira Raje of Baroda (q.v.), daughter of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III and Chimnabai II (q.v. ) Gayatri Devi studied at Visva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan , and later in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she travelled with her mother and siblings, then studied secretarial skills in London School of Secretaries; Brilliantmont and Monkey Club London. To her friends and family she is more commonly known as Ayesha.

She married H.H. Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II on 9 May 1940. Maharani Gayatri Devi (as she was styled after marriage) was a particularly avid equestrienne. The Maharaja’s liberating influence, combined with Gayatri Devi’s own strong character, took her well beyond the traditionally limited activities of a Maharani. She founded several progressive schools and won unprecedented success in the political arena. Gayatri Devi had one child, Prince Jagat Singh of Jaipur, born on 15 October 1949. He died in London in 1997.

In Jaipur she set up three schools for girls including the Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ School, and she revived the once flourishing art of blue pottery. After Independence she went into politics, standing for election in 1962. She won the Jaipur Lok Sabha seat by the world’s largest landslide, winning 192,909 votes out of 246,516 cast, confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records. After she won this seat in the Parliament of India, President John F. Kennedy introduced her as ‘the woman with the most staggering majority that anyone has ever earned in an election.’ She was re-elected in 1967 and 1971, running for the Swatantra Party of C. Rajagopalachari, the second Governor-General of Independent India, against the Congress.

When in 1971 the Privy Purses of the Princes were abolished, the government of Indira Gandhi (q.v.) managed to imprison Gayatri Devi in Tihar Jail for five months on a flimsy tax evasion charge. She had lost her husband in 1970 and she now retired from politics, passing up the chance to contest the 1977 elections in which Indira Gandhi was defeated. Her memoir A Princess Remembers (1976) recounts her life in full and frank detail. She is survived by her two grandchildren, Lalitya Kumari and Devraj Singh.
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