New Delhi, 02 October 2001

Madhav Rao Scindia –– An IDC Tribute

by P K Jain

The untimely death in a plane crash of Madhav Rao Scindia on 30 Sep has taken away from the nation –– already short of promising, sincere and honest politicians –– a leading statesman. Whenever any thinking person thought of a possible list of India’s future prime ministers, Scindia's name always came within the first three, if not at the top. A born Maharaja, he was a man of the ‘classes’ and the masses with a rare charisma around him. A lot has been written and said in the media about him. IDC would like to share two personal experiences of this great personality. 

The first one was in 1977/78 when in Moscow I had befriended a British Naval Attache, a scion of nobility who in Churchillian style had a cynical view of India and Indians. Scindia had just moved into the Indira Congress Party from the Jan Sangh/BJP –– a surprising move given the family background and history ––  Indira Gandhi having deprived the privy purses from ex-rulers and his mother being a pillar of the Hindu nationalist party. This British gentleman was in Oxford with Scindia.  One day on being asked about his views on the future of Scindia in Indian politics, he remarked that the Gwalior ex-Maharaja was certainly much brighter and more intelligent than their Prince Charles and should be able to play better politics than cricket!

The second was a personal encounter in 1988/89 when he was Minister of State for Railways. The navy had initiated the Karwar Naval Base (Seabird) Project and the Railways had floated the Konkan Railway Project, the main beneficiary being the port of Karwar and its adjoining areas. The project report and siting plan of most naval facilities had been finalized including the acquisition of land. The Railways’ authorities who owned some of the land, were making exorbitant demands for a portion of it, which was critical for the Naval Base. We were aware that being a commercial venture Konkan Rail would get completed far ahead of the Naval Base and get priority from all quarters including the State Government of Karnataka. Even then we were quite conscious that the Naval Base might take anything up to 50 years in the making and land once gone would never be available to us. (A constraint the Navy was bitterly aware of in all places, be it Bombay, Vishakhapatnam or Cochin). 

All of us working in Seabird were determined to plan for a future of at least a 100 years. Not finding due understanding at the ground level from the railway authorities, we decided to meet Scindia in Delhi. Not only did we get an appointment most readily but were elated at the manner he heard us and made some pointed enquiries. At the end he asked us to rest assured that the Naval Base project would not be unduly affected and in a spirit of give and take and flexibility, solutions would be found to the differences. 

As a proof of his sincerity, just when we were leaving, he in his unique modesty said, “I was a Naval NCC cadet in school and quite fond of the Navy." He then pointed to a photograph on his office mantlepiece of a young Scindia in naval uniform with a deck cap. True to his word, in further meetings with the railway authorities all issues were amicably resolved within a month to the entire satisfaction of both sides. 

Konkan Rail is a reality on ground ferrying man and materials whilst Karwar Naval Base after a cold storage of nearly eight years has just commenced the preliminary works. How much one wishes that he ought to have lived on to become the Prime Minister of India!!

May his soul rest in peace.

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