Diya Kumari looks every bit the quintessential Indian princess. Her impeccable style reflects in her trademark chiffon and lehariya saris and minimalistic accessorising. A scion of the Jaipur royal family, she is the only daughter of the late Maharaja Brigadier Sawai Bhawani Singh Bahadur and Rajmata Padmini Devi.
However, the 48-year-old does not mind getting her chiffons dirty as she revels in the heat and dust of politics. She mingles with the electorate with great ease, and insists that sitting on the floor for an impromptu lunch of dal-roti in rural Rajasthan or even helping out the women in the kitchen come naturally. Diya says that the ability to wear her royalty lightly is courtesy her “very normal upbringing”. “I was taught by my parents that I was not above others,” she said.
Diya made her electoral debut in 2013 at the instance of Vasundhara Raje, another royal-turned-politician. She joined the BJP ahead of the assembly polls at a mammoth rally in Jaipur, and won from Sawai Madhopur. This year, Diya registered a grand victory from Rajsamand constituency in the Lok Sabha polls, winning by 5.5 lakh votes—the third highest margin in the state and the second highest for a woman candidate.
She says she was initially reluctant to take the political plunge. “I was not sure, despite having seen my father fight an election and my grandmother (Maharani Gayatri Devi) having enjoyed popular support as a politician. Also, my children were small at that time. Home life was bound to get affected,” she said. “However, I realised that it is easier to work for the people when you are in politics.”
As an MLA in Sawai Madhopur, which was developed by her forebears, Diya learnt that the advantage of being a royal was that the people related her with the credibility that her family enjoyed. But, the downside was that some people had doubts about her accessibility and the seriousness of her political intent. Diya, however, says that she had no qualms marching to government offices to get work done for her constituents.
On the challenges involved in the Lok Sabha polls, Diya said: “[Rajsamand] is one of the largest constituencies in the country. And I got only 20 days to campaign. However, I made an effort to go to every gram panchayat and told the people about the work that I had done in Sawai Madhopur. [As an MP,] my priority would be women’s issues, making women more financially independent, improving tourism in Rajasthan, and of course, water conservation, since I come from an arid state.”
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Diya says that the record number of women MPs is a pointer to the growing participation of women in politics, both as leaders and as voters. However, on the issue of reservation of seats for women, she says while it is the need of the hour, ultimately, primacy should be given to merit.
The non-political side to her is also quite fascinating. She took on fierce Rajput opposition to marry the man of her choice. (The couple divorced earlier this year.) She showed the same brave timbre as she landed in Rajsamand in the face of protests by Kshatriyas to her candidature. And, as the only child of her parents, she took on the duties of carrying forward the legacy of the Jaipur royal family.
Diya, who did a course in decorative arts in London, has a keen interest in history, arts and music. She runs the museum trust of the palace and manages heritage hotels and two schools in Jaipur. She is also involved with the Princess Diya Kumari Foundation, which trains and empowers women from impoverished backgrounds. She is confident that she can balance all this with her role as an MP. “I have a great team working with me. So I am confident that I can manage all this as I fulfil my duties as an MP,” she said.
Constituency: Rajsamand, Rajasthan
Vote share: 69.61%
Education: Fine arts decorative painting diploma, London