Cine superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s renewed interest in Congress leaders has sparked off speculation regarding his probable political shift, as well as an unanticipated change in his political preferences. Amitabh, who has over 33.1 million followers on Twitter, has of late, been following senior and key functionaries of the Grand Old Party on whose ticket he was elected in 1985 to the Lok Sabha from Allahabad. He subsequently gravitated towards the Samajwadi Party and then swayed in the direction of the BJP.
He currently is the brand ambassador of Gujarat, besides perhaps being the most well known living Indian other than Lata Mangeshkar. Amitabh’s wife, Jaya, is a three-time Rajya Sabha member of the Samajwadi Party from Uttar Pradesh, and if the grapevine is to be believed, she may seek her fourth term in the Upper House on a Trinamool Congress ticket from West Bengal, thereby returning to her Bengali roots.
The film star’s one-time close friend, Amar Singh, could not conceal his contemptuous sarcasm while describing Amitabh as the best political weathercock and stated that he should be made the President of the Opportunistic Party of India. Many of his critics are of the view that the actor would never show any initiative in any matter unless there was a pointed purpose and thus his interest in Congress activists and leaders such as Priyanka Chaturvedi, Sanjay Jha, Sanjay Nirupam as also Rahul Gandhi, P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot was indicative of his political foxtrot.
Amitabh, along with his younger brother Ajitabh, grew up with Rajiv Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi and Adil Shahryar, son of Mohammad Yunus, a close family friend of the Gandhis. The Bachchans’ mother Teji and father Harivansh Rai enjoyed the patronage of both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. In fact, when Amitabh expressed his desire to join films, he was provided two introductory letters handwritten by Indira Gandhi.
One was addressed to Nargis Dutt, and the second to filmmaker, K.A. Abbas. By casting him in his movie Saat Hindustani, Abbas proved instrumental in giving Amitabh his first break in tinsel town. The late Sunil Dutt once shared with me that after Nargis handed over Indira Gandhi’s letter to him, he sent for the young Amitabh and asked him what his strength as an actor was. “My voice”, boomed Amitabh. Dutt retorted, that if this was so, he would play the role of a deaf and dumb man in his upcoming film, Reshma aur Shera. It was because of his proximity to the then Prime Minister and her two sons, Blitz, a premier weekly from Bombay would refer to Amitabh as, “The Sarkari made Hero”.
It is another story that after a string of flops, Amitabh finally made it big assisted by Salim Javed scripts in Zanjeer, Sholay and Deewar. More hits followed and he became the unquestionable Big B of Bollywood, having relegated the two Khannas, Rajesh and Vinod, several notches below his own superstardom.
A startling revelation by Indira Gandhi’s political adviser Makhan Lal Fotedar essays Amitabh’s miraculous recovery after his near-fatal accident on the sets of Manmohan Desai’s Coolie. In August, 1982, the then Prime Minister arranged for special prayers and rituals to invoke divine intervention. An amulet, wrapped in a white cloth, sent by Deveraha Baba was placed under the actor’s pillow when he was showing no signs of revival, while in the same breath pundits were performing puja elsewhere. The PM had cut short her visit to the United States to arrive a day earlier and decided to go through the ritual route since, “she did not want Rajiv to get lonely and wanted Amitabh to survive at all cost”.
Once he started getting better, Harsukh Pandit, a key person in the ten-day puja was instructed to remove the amulet kept under the actor’s pillow for immersing in the Arabian Sea. Amitabh gradually recovered, but according to Fotedar, Harsukh Pandit died soon after. Interestingly, Amitabh has never spoken about Indira Gandhi’s role in his recuperation.
Indira Gandhi was not in favour of Amitabh joining politics, and had specifically told Rajiv in the presence of Fotedar and Arun Nehru that he should never give a Congress ticket to Amitabh and similarly should keep Madhavrao Scindia out of the government. Her unstated logic was that since Amitabh was the most popular star commanding a huge following, he perhaps would overshadow her own son. Contrary to his mother’s advice, Rajiv asked Amitabh to contest from Allahabad against Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna and Madhavrao Scindia was sent to Gwalior to take on Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Amitabh rose to become a major power centre in Uttar Pradesh, and the then Chief Minister Bir Bahadur Singh was virtually subservient to him. It was at this stage that Rajiv wanted him out, but could not muster the strength to tell his close friend to resign from Parliament. Finally, this task was given to Fotedar, who directed the actor to hand over to him his resignation. During the Bofors investigations, the names of the Bachchan brothers figured prominently but nothing could be established against them.
Meanwhile, following Rajiv’s assassination, differences with the Gandhis had become irreconcilable, though Rahul went to pay condolences to the Bachchans when Harivansh Rai passed away. It is most unlikely that the two families would ever be friends again but if this happens, life would have come full circle. Between us.