Maharani Gayatri Devi: From Becoming A Political Icon To A Prisoner During Emergency

The Rajmata of Jaipur was more than a stylish queen—she worked for the upliftment of women and entered politics. She won the 1962 elections on a Swatantra Party ticket with a landslide victory. She was jailed during the 1975 Emergency declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She spent about 6 months in Tihar jail.
Gaytri

Maharani Gayatri Devi (Photo: Wikimedia Commons); (right) Maharani Gayatri Devi during election campaigning. (Photo: Instagram/therajputanaroyals)

Gayatri Devi (1919-2009), the third Maharani of Jaipur, was more than a glamorous face and a fashion icon. The Rajmata of Jaipur, who was Sawai Man Singh II’s third wife, made waves in everything she did. She went against her family and became the third wife of Maharaja of Jaipur. In a conservative society where purdah system was strictly followed, she went without one during a public appearance. And, when she contested the Lok Sabha elections in 1962 on a Swatantra Party ticket, she won the Jaipur seat by the biggest ever majority in the world—192,909 votes. This landslide victory made it to the Guinness World Records, marking her second appearance; the first was for her opulent wedding, noted as the most expensive in history. Born a princess into the royal family of Cooch Behar and later married into Jaipur's royal family, Gayatri Devi transitioned from a fashion icon to a formidable political figure.
A Maharani who was used to a comfort filled life turned into a star campaigner as she got ready to fight the election, even though she could barely converse in Hindi. Gayatri Devi was born in London and spent a lot of time abroad. "She travelled from village to impoverished village in her 1948 Buick, switching to an open jeep where there were no proper roads. ‘Not in the fourteen years of Indian independence has there appeared a candidate with her aura and appeal,’ gushed a correspondent for Time. ‘She is rich, beautiful, intelligent, and a first-rate politician … The Maharani represents the most striking example so far of the return of India’s one-time ruling class to national politics," wrote author John Zubrzycki. She continued to emerge victorious in 1967 and 1971 elections.
However, in the year 1975, a state of Emergency was declared across the country by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The Emergency refers to the period from June 25, 1975 to March 21, 1977. During this period, the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used special provisions in the Constitution to impose sweeping executive and legislative consequences on the country. Journalists, politicians, trade unionists were jailed – including Maharani Gayatri Devi and her stepson Bhawani Singh who had become the Maharaja of Jaipur after the death of Sawai Man Singh II. She was jailed in Tihar Jail for almost 6 months. "Ayesha’s [Maharani Gayatri Devi was fondly called Ayesha] ‘crime’ was breaching India’s foreign exchange regulations. During a tax raid on her properties in early 1975, inspectors had found some loose change in foreign currency," wrote Zubrzycki.
Maharani Gayatri Devi during her appearance on Rendezvous with Simi Garewal was asked about the time spent in jail. She said, " Terrible". She also said, "Tihar was not a woman's jail. Women would only go there when they were undertrial. Bubble [Bhawani Singh ] had a room to himself with his own bath... for the men it was alright." "Ayesha was placed in a smelly room with a single tap but no running water, normally used by visiting doctors. She had expected the jail to be clean ‘like an army barrack’. Instead the conditions were appalling. Outside her cell was a putrid open drain that prisoners defecated in," wrote Zubrzycki.
It was only when her health started failing that she was released. She soon quit politics, even though she wanted to work for the people. “You don’t have to be in politics to do something for your country. I made that mistake, thinking that by being in politics I can do something for India,” she said on Rendezvous with Simi Garewal.
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