When the line ‘Scindia, a friend of the British, left the capital’ is mentioned in the poem ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’, it brings attention to the Scindia (Shinde) dynasty of Gwalior, which continues to hold significant influence in Indian history and politics. This line has had a lasting impact, and many people still view the Scindia family with suspicion. But were the Shindes always pro-imperialist? This article explores the lesser-known truths about the Scindia (Shinde) family, who have not been given complete justice.
Scindia [Shinde] Family History
The truth can take on many different forms depending on what one has seen and experienced. Ranoji Shinde played an important role in the revival of Indian culture, alongside other Maratha leaders like Holkar. During the rule of Peshwa Bajirao, Ranoji and Holkar began collecting taxes from central Indian provinces, and their family’s influence grew as they participated in Maratha army battles. Dattaji Shinde also helped expand the Maratha Empire in North India, but the family suffered great losses with the assassinations of Dattaji and Jankoji Shinde.
Mahadji Shinde, a warrior who fought in the Third Battle of Panipat and was injured, rose to restore the Scindia [Shinde] family prestige and Hindavi Swarajya. He fought to restore Maratha pride until his death and prevented the British from advancing beyond Bengal. During his reign, the power of Sultan Hyder Ali of Mysore and his son Fateh Ali Khan (Tipu Sultan) was confined to their region.
The Maratha Empire was at its strongest during the time of Mahadji Shinde, despite British interference. However, the efforts of Mahadji, Peshwa Madhavrao, and Nana Fadnavis eventually fell apart, and by the 19th century, the Marathas were in decline.
During the 1857 revolt, the Scindia family was confined to Gwalior under the rule of Jayajirao Scindia. Although they were not as powerful as their ancestors, they were not pro-British either. At one point, Jayajirao considered fighting the British, but his minister Dinkar Rao advised him to remain neutral.
The incident of Scindia leaving Gwalior before the war was misconstrued as “friendship with the British,” which has given rise to suspicions about the family’s loyalty. However, the reason behind Jayajirao Scindia’s departure from the capital remains unknown. This incident is reminiscent of the dilemma faced by rulers of Mewar and Kashmir, who fought fierce battles against invaders in the past but were forced to retreat when the situation became untenable.
This cannot be called betrayal but rather a lack of viable options. Jayajirao did what he could, but he was not alone in his dilemma during the 1857 revolt. Only a few provinces or regions actively supported the revolutionaries, while many remained neutral or pro-British. Compared to other royal families or provinces, the Scindia [Shinde] family of Gwalior took longer to regain their prestige.
The efforts to restore the prestige of the Scindia [Shinde] family of Gwalior began with Vijayaraje Scindia, who pledged her support to the Congress and also supported Syama Prasad Mukherjee, who founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the precursor to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Madhavrao Scindia and Vasundhara Raje also contributed to this cause. More recently, Jyotiraditya Scindia has continued this legacy of restoring the family’s influence, and their impact is still felt in India today.
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