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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 November 2006, 09:19 GMT
'Her highness' creates India row
By Faisal Mohammad Ali
BBC News, Bhopal

Yashodhara Raje Scindia
Ms Scindia is accused of being out of touch with modern India Pics: Prakash Hatvalne
As India approaches nearly 60 years of independence, some of its former royals seem intent on turning the clock back.

One aristocratic politician has even gone so far as to persuade the authorities to rule that she should be addressed as "highness".

The government of Madhya Pradesh has ruled that the honour should be conferred on Yashodhara Raje Scindia.

She happens to be the state's tourism minister, and from now on will be known as "shrimant", meaning "highness".

'Feudal mindset'

The ruling by the central Indian state brings an end to the long-running feud between the minister and the civil service who serve under her.

One unnamed bureaucrat said that sometimes she refused to attend official meetings and functions if the invitation card in her name addressed her as Ms Yashodhara Raje Scindia.

After the tourism, sports and youth affairs minister complained, the name Scindia was duly removed from the nameplate in her office, with the word "shrimant" pre-fixed before it.

The opposition Congress party in Madhya Pradesh has called the government's order "a mockery of democracy", while members of left-wing parties say they would "never address her with a title which reeks of feudal mindset".

"Does she not know that we are a democracy and there is no distinction between classes of people?" Marxist lawmaker Ram Lakhan Sharma asked.

But Ms Scindia, a London-born married mother of three, is defiant.

Considerable influence

She describes the name-change as "simply an acknowledgement of the legacy of Scindias".

Yashodhara Raje Scindia
All over the world and in Europe, royalty is given due recognition in society
Yashodhara Raje Scindia

"All over the world and in Europe, royalty is given due recognition in society," she said.

The state administration says that she should be known by the nomination papers she filed during the last state polls, in which she described herself as Shrimant Yashodhara Raje Scindia.

Scindias are the former rulers of the princely state of Gwalior, which later merged with other smaller states to make up what is now known as Madhya Pradesh.

Several members of the family are in politics, including the current chief minister of the state of Rajasthan and the young Congress party MP, Jyotiraditya Scindia.

Hundreds of princely states came to an end after India gained its independence from the British.

In the 1970s all privileges given to former royals, kings and maharajas also came to an end.

But because many entered democratic politics, they retained considerable influence.

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