Captain Satish Sharma is the only person other than Sonia Gandhi, who had the rare distinction of representing both Rae Bareli and Amethi, considered to be political bastions of the Gandhi family. This indeed was a unique achievement, since Sharma, who was former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s most loyal friend, looked after and nurtured the constituencies for nearly three decades.
Therefore, it is not surprising that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has decided to hold prayer meetings for their family friend, in Rae Bareli and Amethi. Sharma was a very popular figure there and during his stint as the Petroleum Minister in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government, allotted petrol pumps, gas agencies and similar outlets to at least 150 residents of these areas.
A member of the inner circle, Sharma continued his long association with Rajiv’s family even after his demise in 1991. It was often said in Congress circles that for nearly 18 years following the assassination of his friend, Sharma continued to contribute towards household expenses in one form or the other.
A man who never forgot his humble beginnings, he grew up in what today is Arjun Nagar, near Safdarjung Enclave, where his father owned a small crockery factory. His association with Rajiv started somewhere in 1968, when while on his way to the Flying Club, his bicycle had a brush with the car in which Rajiv was travelling. Rajiv immediately alighted from his vehicle to assist Sharma and after putting the cycle in the luggage boot, took him for medical assistance.
It was the beginning of a long friendship, which was strengthened when the two joined the Indian Airlines as pilots. There were several coincidences in their lives; Rajiv had married Sonia while Sharma tied the knot with Sterre, a Dutch national by birth. Incidentally, not many are aware that Sharma and Sterre’s wedding was performed as per Arya Samaj rites at the Arya Samaj Temple on Hanuman Road. In fact, attempts were being made to contact the priests there for his prayer meeting to be held at the Chinmaya Mission in the national capital on Monday.
Sharma was younger to both Rajiv and Sanjay and shared a close bond with their mother, Indira Gandhi. Another unknown fact is that the licence for the production of Sanjay’s dream project, the Maruti car was obtained with his help from Aurangabad and both brothers remained grateful for his help and assistance.
A regular visitor to Indira Gandhi’s residence on 1, Safdarjung Road, Sharma had become a part of the family. The name given to his daughter, Sharika, was originally selected by Indira Gandhi for her yet to be born grand-daughter. Sharika is the Kul Devi of the Nehru Gandhis and Indira Gandhi would always go and worship at the temple located on Hari Parbat in Srinagar.
However, Sterre and Sonia were both expecting and when Sharma sought a probable name for his daughter, Sharika emerged as the consensus. This was corroborated by the late Makhan Lal Fotedar, Indira Gandhi’s political adviser. Thus, when Rajiv was blessed with a daughter, Indira Gandhi settled for Priyanka.
During the Indira era, four persons were entrusted with the task of carrying out her confidential work. They were R.K. Dhawan, Arun Nehru, P. Shiv Shankar and V.S. Tripathi. However, after the former Prime Minister was gunned down by her own security guards, some changes had to be made. Tripathi had passed away and Dhawan was asked to leave by Rajiv. Thus, in addition to Arun Nehru and Shiv Shankar, Satish Sharma and Vijay Dhar were included in this team.
Rajiv had a special liking for Sharma and would occasionally send him for important assignments. Once when he asked him to go to Singapore, he was surprised that his friend was still hanging around. Sharma told him candidly that he had no money. At this stage, Rajiv asked Arun Nehru to arrange the finances and arrange for the trip.
Sharma was inducted into the Rajya Sabha for the first time in 1986 from Madhya Pradesh. He was unhappy when the former Prime Minister decided to drop Arun Nehru from his council of ministers. Both Sharma and Nehru shared a close friendship, notwithstanding their confrontation from Rae Bareli in 1999. He was one who subsequently helped in the rapprochement between the Gandhis and Arun Nehru, shortly before the latter passed away.
The Gandhi loyalist was heartbroken when he was denied a Rajya Sabha berth in 2016; he had been elected from Uttarakhand in 2004 and from Uttar Pradesh in 2010. The same year, he lost control of both the Aero Club and the Delhi Flying Club. A firm believer in destiny, he would spend hours together with astrologers. His association with Chandraswamy was also because of his love for astrology.
Brij Mohan Bhama, a former student leader who was once Dhawan’s Man Friday, remained his constant companion for a number of years. As a matter of routine, the duo would walk into the Oberoi’s at 4 pm daily, where Sharma would have butter milk and an apple and while returning home carry a multigrain bread and some goat cheese. Smoked salmon was also amongst his favourites.
His proximity with the Gandhis was on full display when Rahul Gandhi acted as one of the pall bearers at his funeral and also participated actively in his last rites, while sister Priyanka and Robert Vadra shared the grief with his family. Sharma was, without doubt, Rajiv’s most dependable friend. Between us.