Rajasthan chief minister a veteran politician and ex-princess

Ms Raje, 63, is known for her flamboyance and style.
Ms Raje, 63, is known for her flamboyance and style.PHOTO: VASUNDHARA RAJE/FACEBOOK

Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, a princess from an erstwhile royal family, is known for her flamboyance and style.

When she was chief minister from 2003 to 2008, Ms Raje took to the catwalk at a fashion show in 2006 to promote khadi, a handspun cloth, earning criticism from conservative quarters in the western desert state.

Since she was re-elected as Chief Minister in 2013, she has been more low-key but has not shied away from implementing tough reforms.

She changed labour laws, allowing companies to lay off up to 300 workers, up from 100, without the need for government permission, sparking an uproar from trade unions. She simplified land acquisition regulations to facilitate the setting up of factories.

These two reforms are what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been struggling to implement. Ms Raje and Mr Modi are both from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Ms Raje has also been trying to attract foreign investment and has focused on cooperation with Singapore and Japan. In 2014, she visited Singapore and, according to officials, has been personally monitoring and following through on initiatives on skills, water management and urban development.

Ms Raje, 63, was born into the royal family of Gwalior, a one-time princely state that was absorbed into India after independence. Her father was the last maharaja, or ruler, of Gwalior. Members of her family have branched into politics and joined rival parties.

Her elder brother Madhavrao Scindia was a prominent Congress leader who died in a plane crash in 2001. Her nephew Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia is a Congress MP, while her son Dushyant Singh is an MP in the same party as she is.

Ms Raje, who completed her undergraduate studies in economics and political science at Sophia College in Mumbai, entered politics in 1984. In a political career spanning three decades, the politician, who is comfortable whether at a high society dinner party or a political rally in a remote village, has been both a federal minister and a state minister.

The five-time MP was minister of state for external affairs when Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee was prime minister

In 2003, she became Rajasthan's first woman chief minister but lost the 2008 state election to the Congress party. But she made a comeback to power in 2013.

However, analysts said Ms Raje faces some challenges politically, and in pushing Rajasthan as an investment destination, in her second term.

She has many detractors within the BJP and, last year, Mr Modi skipped the Resurgent Rajasthan investment summit, given the controversies surrounding her links to businessman Lalit Modi, who was being investigated for financial irregularities.

She also faces an uphill task in trying to attract industry and investments into her state, which neighbours economic powerhouses Gujarat, Delhi and Maharashtra.

Tourism remains the mainstay, with nearly 35 million tourists visiting the state in 2014 to 2015.

Mr Rishi Sahai, managing director of investment bank Cogence Advisors, said: "The state holds a lot of potential but it has to find its own competitive advantage and try to capitalise on it. It faces huge competition with Gujarat on one side and Delhi on the other."

Nirmala Ganapathy

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'Rajasthan chief minister a veteran politician and ex-princess'. Print Edition | Subscribe