At a recent election meeting, Jaya Bachchan said: "Those who brought us into politics left us midway. They left us when we were in a crisis. They are known to betray people.” The reference is more than obvious.
Subsequently, Rahul Gandhi retaliated: "The Bachchans are lying. Why are they levelling the charge now after so many years? Amitabh was introduced to politics two decades ago. They have changed loyalties. Those who know the Gandhi family know we've have never betrayed anyone. People know better about who betrayed whom. People also know who their loyalties are with."
On Friday, Amitabh Bachchan aired his views: "They (the Gandhi family) are the rajas (rulers) and we (the Bachchans) are runk (subjects). Any continuation of the relationship depends on the rulers' mood. Now, they accuse my family of lying."
What's gone wrong in this Dosti No 1? Delhi Times traces the highs and lows of the Gandhi-Bachchan friendship which dates back to the Jawaharlal Nehru-Harivansh Rai era.
Amitabh Bachchan entered politics on Rajiv's request. Later, he resigned from politics after he faced charges of receiving kickbacks in the Bofors case. However, the relationship between the Bachchans and Gandhis came under strain nearly six years after Rajiv's assassination in 1991. Till then, Sonia Gandhi and her children reportedly relied on Amitabh and Captain Satish Sharma for every major decision, political as well as non-political.
The rift between the Bachchans and Gandhis widened as the Bachchans grew close to Amar Singh who, it is believed, was never in the good books of the Gandhis. However, the two families maintained a respectable distance and never uttered a word about each other in public. The only time that Amitabh spoke on the cracks in the relationship was when he admitted in an interview to a private news channel that things were no longer the same between the two families.
Says Amar Singh, "The Bachchan-Gandhi relationship dates back to a time before I was born. I have no authority or competence to comment on the ties of two great families. Only they are competent to comment on each other. All I know about Amitji is that he is a man of great dignity, depth and emotion and he's convinced that there's respect only for utility and no place for emotion."
In a biography, Amitabh says: "Rajiv and Sanjay studied in Doon School, Ajitabh and I were in Nainital... but our holidays fell around the same months. We'd hang out and swim every day at the pool of Rashtrapati Bhawan. The friendship continued. After schooling, Rajiv went off to Cambridge. Whenever he would be back home, we'd get together and exchange notes... When he started flying, I'd go with him to provide ballast at the Flying Club of Delhi. I'd glide there for hours... Panditji died. Mrs Gandhi became PM and the family moved to 1, Safdarjung Road, which was close to our home at 13, Willingdon Crescent. Rajiv, Sanjay, Ajitabh and I formed a closely knit group of friends."
In the same biography, Amitabh explains how he entered politics: "The induction was because of the tragic assassination of Mrs Gandhi. I wanted to stand by Rajiv. When he asked me to contest the elections, I told him that I didn't know the 'p' of politics. He said the party would help me. I plunged into the fray..."
Speaking on the Bofors issue, Amitabh says: "The Bofors accusations were aimed at me and my family like poison arrows. It was insinuated that I would come out of the accusations unscathed because of my friendship with Rajiv. I wanted to ask: Protected from what?"
Reacting to Rajiv's death, Amitabh has said: "Rajiv was a very noble, very decent human being. His commitment was resolute and one admired him for it."
First meeting between the Bachchan seniors and Indira Gandhi took place in Allahabad. Sarojini Naidu invited Harivansh Rai and Teji to Anand Bhawan, the Nehru family home where she was staying. "This led to the beginning of a close and lifelong friendship between Teji and Indira, who was still unmarried. Mrs Naidu introduced the pair of us very dramatically as 'the poet and the poem', a phrase which Indira was long to remember, alluding to it frequently when introducing Teji to foreign visitors," reminisces Harivansh Rai in his autobiography.
Bonds grew fast. Within a month, the Bachchans were invited to Indira's wedding, where they sang in front of the assembled guests, including dignitaries and national leaders. "We sang our duet again at the wedding of Indira's eldest son Rajiv, though our voices were no longer what they had been in the old days," says Bachchan Sr.
They moved to Delhi, Nehru invited the family for breakfast. "We arrived at Teen Murti punctually at 8... We had tutored Amit and Ajit for this breakfast, showing how to say 'namaste' to Panditji and Indiraji, how to sit and reach for things... Panditji sat Bunty and Sanjay on his right and Amit and Rajiv on his left... After breakfast, Panditji took them to the garden," writes Bachchan Sr.
"It began with a very happy event, writes Harivansh Rai. Rajiv Gandhi's fiancee Sonia, visiting from Italy, was put up at our house, where she had an introduction to the Indian ways of life. She was so taken with our friendly openness that she began to look on Teji as a mother and Amit and Bunty as brothers. Rajiv and Sonia were married in February, with some part of the ceremony being held at our house," he recalls. The day before the Rajiv-Sonia wedding, a mehendi (henna) ceremony was held at the house of the Bachchans, where Sonia was staying. On the occasion, reveals Sonia in her book on Rajiv, she wore a simple lehnga (skirt) and odhni (veil) given to Indira by the banjaras (gypsies) of Andhra, and the traditional floral jewellery of Kashmiri brides.
When he was being awarded the Padmabhushan, Bachchan Sr decided to take Amitabh along for the Presidential awards ceremony. Amitabh found his specially-stitched suit too small: Jaya had packed Ajitabh's suit by mistake. Amitabh rang up Rajiv to borrow a churidar pyjama, kurta and shawl. "It was perhaps the first time he'd worn that outfit which became his favourite clothing," writes his dad.
Amitabh met with an accident on the sets of Coolie , Rajiv was in America with his family. But as soon as he read about it in the foreign papers, he flew back to Mumbai, drove straight to the hospital from the airport at midnight. Indira Gandhi too came to visit him. "While her arrival underlined the seriousness of the situation, it was also a source of strength to us; nothing that could be done for Amitabh would be left undone so long as life remained," writes Harisvansh.