Maharani Gayatri Devi was the third wife of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur. Following India’s independence, she became a successful politician of the Swatantra Party. This excerpt, from her memoir A Princess Remembers, describes the 1962 Lok Sabha election in which she won 192,909 out of 246,516 votes cast, one of the biggest electoral landslides the world has seen.
In 1962 the Swatantra Party was contesting elections for the first time. There was a meeting of some of its leaders and prominent party members in Jaipur, and there it was decided that besides contesting the Jaipur parliamentary seat myself, I should be responsible for securing the election of candidates for the whole area that had been the old state of Jaipur. This was a serious responsibility for someone without political experience. Jaipur state covered about 16,000 square miles. It had five parliamentary seats, and 40 seats in the State Legislative Assembly of Rajasthan.
Finding suitable candidates immediately presented a great problem. The Swatantra was a new party, and besides, many of the eminent citizens we approached refused to stand for an opposition party for fear of government pressure and reprisals. Businessmen were worried that their import permits might be cancelled or supplies of essential materials might be delayed. We did eventually manage to attract a number of good candidates, but through all the preliminary work I was continually confronted with evidences of my own ignorance of how much had to be done before a political campaign could be launched.
I had never before heard of electoral rolls, did not know the names of the different constituencies, and did not realise that there were special seats reserved for the Harijans and the tribal people. I knew nothing about election agents, nominations, withdrawals, or parliamentary boards.
Very fortunately, I had expert advisers and assistants from the party, the Thakur of Dudu, one of Jai’s most loyal jagirdars and an election agent with a team of tireless workers who all performed magnificently – in educating me as much as in organising the campaign. The President of the Swatantra party in Rajasthan, the Maharawal Dungarpur and the Vice President, the Raja of Bhinai gave me guidance and advice.
As soon as it was known that I was actually running for Parliament, people from all sorts of different sections of society kept coming to Rajmahal to ask Jai and other members of our family to stand as candidates. Jai made up his mind to stay out of politics and couldn’t be persuaded to change it, but both Joey and Pat were roped in. Joey as a candidate for the State Legislative Assembly from a constituency where he would be opposing the Home Minister of Rajasthan and Pat, at the last minute, as the parliamentary candidate from the Dausa constituency that held the first capital of Jai’s ancestors.
This seat was to have been contested by the General Secretary of the Swatantra Party, but he decided that he would be more useful touring the country before the elections and entering Parliament later in a by-election. Minoo Masani left it to Jai to find a replacement. Jai went to the constituency, and asked the people whom they would like as a candidate. He suggested a number of possibilities – lawyers and eminent public men – but the people insisted that he should stand himself and failing that, that he should propose a member of his own family. There was no question of Bubbles standing for election, as he was in the army. Joey was already committed, so there remained only Pat, who was eligible as he had just turned 25 and was working in Calcutta.
That morning I telephoned Pat to ask if he would agree to stand if Jai was unable to persuade the people to accept any other candidate. He was very reluctant about the whole thing, explaining that he would have no time to campaign and even if he were elected, would hardly be able to fulfil his commitments to his constituents in Jaipur when his own work would keep him in Calcutta. I assured him that his father would not put forward his name unless it was absolutely necessary. We waited
impatiently for Jai to come back; it was well past midnight when his cavalcade arrived. Exhausted and covered with dust, Jai came upstairs and said simply, “I’m afraid it’s Pat.”
We telephoned him again the next morning, and he was furious, saying that he couldn’t possibly campaign for more than ten days. We tried to calm him down and urged him to come to Jaipur at once, because the nominations were to be closed at 3 pm three days later. Pat said he would fly to Delhi and motor from there, but lunchtime on the last day he still hadn’t arrived, and we were all waiting anxiously on the front terrace of Rajmahal. Telephones kept ringing as the press and well-wishers asked for news of his arrival. At 2.30 he drove up, scarcely said “hello” before he hurried to the Collectorate to file his nomination just before the books were closed and then disappeared again, to return only for the last fortnight of the campaign.
Once we had managed to find candidates for all the seats, the campaign began in earnest. To start off, Jai came with me to Sheikhawati, a part of Jaipur state. It was a desert region, starved for water, where the very scanty irrigation enables the people even in the best of times, to grow only one crop a year.
Many of the men from the area are drawn to the army, and are known for their tough, disciplined efficiency as soldiers. It is also the home of many important businessmen, who may be engaged in commerce and industry almost anywhere in India but still maintain large ancestral estates in the region. I spent three days there; Jai met many ex-soldiers and discussed their problems with them while I was busy campaigning, learning to overcome my timidity and beginning for the first time to feel the warm excitement of communicating with a sympathetic audience.
Jai and I drove to a number of different towns and villages in a car where there was a road and by jeep where there were only country tracks. All the people had been alerted about our arrival and had put up welcoming arches over the roads. They crowded our route, called out to us and often stopped the car or jeep to offer us fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes they sang for us and performed the local folk-dances. Always their speeches of welcome were in the most flowery language theycould summon.
Gradually I got used to addressing large meetings, backing up the local candidates with a brief description of the new party we were starting and asking the villagers to help us by giving us
their votes. Sometimes I quite forgot the crowds and hardly paid attention to the other speakers, gazing instead at the beautifully painted murals which decorate the houses in the towns of that
desolate area. The doors were made of some kind of heavy silvery metal, carved and decorated and one could see that although the land was poor agriculturally, still a lot of wealth made by merchants elsewhere in India was brought back to their home district and spent on schools and colleges, as well as the lovely façades of private homes.
During the next two months I covered hundreds of miles mostly by jeep, campaigning more for other candidates than for myself and I discovered with wonderment that the mere hint of my arrival in the remotest sections of the state guaranteed a crowd beyond anything I had imagined.
Excerpted with permission from A Princess Remembers, Gayatri Devi from The Book of Indian Queen: Stories and Essays, Aleph Book Company.