On May 23, 2019, when the entire nation has set its eyes on the results of the general elections, the birth centenary of late Rajmata Gayatri Devi becomes more relevant. Her landslide victory back in 1962 will always be remembered in India’s electoral history.
Gayatri Devi won the Jaipur Lok Sabha seat as a Swatantra Party candidate with a majority of 1.75 lakh votes. Her victory received recognition from the Guinness World Records as the World’s largest landslide victory in an election.
Born on May 23, 1919, in the Cooch Behar Royal family, Gayatri Devi came to live in Jaipur after her marriage in 1940. She was the third Queen Consort of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh, the last Maharaja of the princely state of Jaipur. The liberal Maharaja granted her a life without purdah and supported her decision to join politics. She joined Swatantra Party willingly, founded by Chakravorty Raja Gopalachari, the last Governer General of India, as she wanted to oppose Congress.
In 1962, the party was geared up to contest their first election and best candidates were roped in from several Royal families. It was also the first election fought by the party which went to the parliament in 1962 as the second largest opposition, after the Communist Party of India (undivided back then).
As the wife of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh, Gayatri Devi was enormously popular among people. Her victory became almost obvious on the last day of the campaign when her husband addressed a record number of people gathered for her public meeting, who expressed their loyalty to the Royal family.
Still, winning the election seemed like a tough assignment. Many voters of her constituency couldn’t recognise the party symbol.
In her autobiography, The Princess Remembers, Gayatri Devi gave a vivid description of how she moved door-to-door and taught people, especially women voters, to identify her party symbol. She was afraid that even if people would reach the polling stations with an intention to vote for the Maharani, they might end up casting their votes to the other candidates.
She wrote in the book– ‘…They noticed a symbol showing a horse and a rider, agreed with each other that the Maharani rides so that must be her symbol… Then they caught sight of the emblem of flower. Ah, the flower of Jaipur– who else could it mean but the Maharani?’ As per her autobiography, she became too nervous before the result day. Her husband told her that for the honour of the Jaipur royal family she was expected to secure at least 5 thousand votes more than her nearest rival. Finally when the results came out, all of her opponents had been forced to forefeit their deposits.
As a successful parliamentarian, she held the seat for the next two consecutive Lok Sabha elections – 1967 and 1971. Her presence in the parliament had not been wrapped in silence. She was vocal on several regional and national issues. One of her most remembered incidents inside parliament was a curt remark against Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, the then prime minister, during a debate on Indo-China war. She was quite a young parliamentarian at that time. Raising voice against Pt Nehru on an issue of international affairs and national security was considered very commendable by her party colleagues.
Gayatri Devi gradually withdrew herself from politics in the later years but immersed herself in social work. Since her pre-marital days as the Princess of Cooch Behar, she had been groomed as a socially conscious Royal with empathy for the people. Till today, people of Jaipur and Cooch Behar are proud to call her as their own for she would always remain one of the most adored Royals of India.