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Vijaya Raje Scindia (pronounced ‘Sindia’) was born Lekha Divyeshwari and became known as Vijaya Raje after her marriage to the last Maharaja to rule Gwalior. Until 1970 she was known as the Rajmata (queen mother) of Gwalior, and she continued to be called this privately till her death. She was the eldest child of Thakur Mahendra Singh by his first wife Chuda Deveshwari, who died while giving birth to her. Her father was a deputy collector posted at Sagar in what is now Madhya Pradesh, where she was born. Her mother was a member of a branch of the aristocratic Rana family of Nepal that had been exiled to India. After Lekha’s mother died, her maternal family brought her up, although they were not very well off, and she had little contact with her father, who remarried. In childhood her grandmother, Rani Dhan Kumari, an orthodox and pious woman, was her strongest formative influence. Her upbringing was more middle class than aristocratic. She was tutored at home and did well enough to go to Vasanta College, Benares, and the Isabella Thoburn College, Lucknow. This necessitated her staying in hostels, which gave her greater independence. This was in the late 1930s when the Independence movement was at its height, and Vijaya Raje was impressed by Gandhism. However, before she could involve herself any further in activism, in 1941 her uncles’ efforts to find a match for her proved successful. The family of Jiyajirao Scindia were interested. There was, however, some doubt on the part of a few of the Scindias, largely because she was not a Marathi, and after the wedding Lekha, now renamed Vijaya Raje, had to work very hard to be accepted by them.

After Independence she entered politics in 1957, running as a Congress party candidate in Madhya Pradesh. She was elected to the Lok Sabha again in 1962 from the Guna constituency, then in 1989, 1991, 1996 and 1998. In between she was elected to the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly (1967-71) and the Rajya Sabha (1978-89). In fact, she won all the elections she ever contested. In 1967 she resigned from the Congress and joined the Jana Sangh, feeling closer to its ideology. The couple had a daughter, named Padmavati Raje, who married Kirit Deb Barman, the last ruling maharaja of Tripura, but tragically died aged twenty. The second daughter was Usha Raje, who married Rana Pashupati Shamshersingh, a cousin from Nepal. Their daughter is Devyani Rana. The third child was Madhavrao Scindia, who joined Indira Gandhi’s Congress party shortly after the lifting of the Emergency in 1977. This was regarded by the Rajmata as treason, for she herself had spent the Emergency in Tihar Jail. The Rajmata remained with the Jan Sangh, shifting to the BJP in the 1980s. The two youngest daughters, Vasundhara Raje, Ex -Chief Minister of Rajasthan and Yashodhara Raje, followed their mother into rightist politics. Vijaya Raje supported the BJP’s campaign to get a Ram temple built in Ayodhya.

In 1956 when girls education was deemed a subject of lesser significance, she laid the foundation of Scindia Kanya Vidyalya. She was Pro-Chancellor of Sagar University, and wrote two books, an autobiography with Manohar Malgonkar called The Last Maharani of Gwalior, and Lok Path se Raj Path, in Hindi. Her grandson and Madhavrao’s son Jyotiraditya Scindia, is also a Congress politician.
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