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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May, 2004, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
India's royals campaign for votes

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News Online correspondent in Mysore

Srikantadatta Wodeyar, son of the former ruler of Mysore
Srikantadatta Wodeyar, son of the former ruler of Mysore
A row of majestic elephants caparisoned in gold raise their trunks in salute amid the blare of trumpets.

We are in front of the Mysore palace in southern India - a massive structure with domes, turrets, arches and colonnades built in the 19th century.

Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar bows his head before walking over to a temple built within the palace grounds to offer prayers.

His motorcade of five sports utility vehicles then heads off in a cloud of dust through the cast-iron palace gates which bear the Mysore royal shield with a double-headed eagle.

There is a very special connection between me and the people
Srikantadatta Wodeyar
Mr Wodeyar is seeking re-election as the Congress Party MP for Mysore.

He is also the son of the former ruler of Mysore and one of several descendents of India's royals who have left their gilt palaces to plunge into the heat and dust of Indian democracy.

Ancient ties

Before independence in 1947, some 562 princes ruled over a third of India.

Mysore Palace
Times have changed for the occupants of Mysore palace
With the dissolution of these states since then and the abolition of royal titles and privileges in 1971, many of the royals have become entrepreneurs, hoteliers, diplomats or soldiers.

But many others have forged a successful career in politics and this year's elections have seen some of India's most powerful aristocratic families throw their hat into the ring.

For many like the former Mysore maharajah, it is easy to evoke ancient ties with a people they once ruled.

"There is a very special connection between me and the people of Mysore," Srikantadatta Wodeyar tells BBC News Online.

"It is almost reverential."

Divided royals

On India's eastern coast lies one of its poorest states - Orissa. As many as 16 former royals are contesting elections to parliament and the state legislature.

Bolangir, one of the least developed districts of the state, has four royals belonging to two different families contesting the polls.

KP SINGH DEO
Congress leader and former central minister, Kamakhya Prasad Singh Deo, the six-time MP from Dhenkanal
People here know that I have worked for them and development work in the constituency speaks for itself
"We members of the royal families are never involved in corruption and people know that," says Ananga Uday Singh Deo, a state minister whose family once ruled Bolangir.

"We also have a tradition of serving people and they trust us," he adds.

Bolangir is represented in parliament by Sangeeta Singh Deo, from the same royal family, who is a member of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Another Orissa royal-turned-politician is her distant relative KP Singh Deo, a Congress leader and former central minister who won his first parliamentary seat in 1967.

Mr Singh Deo, the six-time MP for Dhenkanal, is looking for a seventh win.

"People here know that I have worked for them and development work in the constituency speaks for itself. We have a tradition of serving people," he says.

Meanwhile, in central and western India, two members of one of the country's most powerful royal dynasties are campaigning hard - ironically, for opposing parties.

They win because they are powerful and use the veneer of nobility to earn a degree of respect
Sociologist Pushpesh Pant
Jyotiraditya Scindia is the Congress candidate from Guna in Madhya Pradesh, while his cousin Dushyant is running for the BJP in the neighbouring state of Rajasthan.

The Scindias, who ruled Gwalior in central India, are one of the country's best-known royal families. Others are the Gaekwads of Baroda, the Nizams of Hyderabad and the rulers of Kashmir.

Election 2004 has two Gaekwads in the fray, again on opposite sides.

Feudal appeal

One reason for the electoral success of the royals is said to be the feudal mindset of many of their voters.

"Since the princely states were outside the purview of British-ruled India, they had no democratic tradition," says sociologist Pushpesh Pant.

"Many of the voters in these areas still treat these families as their rulers by right," he adds.

But not all of India's royals have genuine blue-blood roots. Many are feudal landlords or minor nobles for whom identifying with a royal line has paid dividends.

"It is nothing more than money and muscle power," says Pushpesh Pant. "They win because they are powerful and use the veneer of nobility to earn a degree of respect."

Before India's independence, India's royals had a permanent seat in the House of Princes, the upper house of parliament.

Having lost that, they are now looking to enter the lower chamber, the house of the people.




India votes 2004: Full in-depth coverage here

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