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Amit’s loss is Sonia’s too

Dec. 21: Amitabh Bachchan’s mother Teji Bachchan died at Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital at the age of 93 this afternoon, robbing her family and the Nehru-Gandhis of their strongest link over three generations.

Rahul Gandhi is likely to represent his family, now estranged from the Bachchans, at tomorrow’s funeral of the woman his mother had called her “second, no, third mother”.

Electoral politics, however, may prevent a big turnout from the Samajwadi Party, whose general secretary, Amar Singh, is a self-proclaimed “younger brother” of Amitabh’s. The party, which counts Amitabh’s wife Jaya as one of its MPs, is busy with a crucial bypoll in Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress paid its respects, spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed saying that Teji, “mother of the famous actor, AmitabhÖ contributed a lot to society when she was active”.

Although the party officially said nothing about Rahul attending the Mumbai funeral, a source hinted that “somebody” from the Gandhi family may have spoken to Amitabh’s younger brother. Ajitabh has reportedly been in touch with the Gandhis but his relations with Amitabh are not clear after their public estrangement a few years ago.

Sonia had made it a point to send Rahul to the funeral of Amitabh’s father, poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan, in January 2003.

Sources say Sonia has always retained her affection for Teji, who acted as her godmother and schooled her in Indian customs when she arrived in Delhi as Rajiv Gandhi’s fiancee in 1968 and was put up at the Bachchans’.

“I came to learn a lot from them. Teji aunty is my second... no, my third mother (after her own mother and mother-in-law Indira Gandhi),” she had said in a 1985 interview. “Amit and Bunty (Ajitabh) are my brothers.”

Several wedding rituals like Sonia’s mehendi ceremony were held at the Bachchan home.

Sources said Teji had got Amitabh to quickly smother the fire in October 2004 when Rahul and Jaya traded charges over which family had let down whom.

A Samajwadi Party source said that had Teji not been so ill (she had been bedridden for months), she would have worked for a rapprochement and perhaps dissuaded Jaya from joining the party.

Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is expected to fly down for the funeral and Amar rushed to Mumbai after hearing Teji had turned critical this morning. But other leaders were asked to stay put in Ballia to fight the state’s “most prestigious” Lok Sabha byelection since V.P. Singh defeated the Congress in Allahabad in 1988.

“The outcome will be a referendum on the Mayavati government. If we win, we will launch a massive movement against her,” MP Ramji Lal Suman said.

Amitabh and Jaya were at the hospital when the end came at 1.15pm. Daughter-in-law Aishwarya cancelled a trip to reach Lilavati and her husband Abhishek flew back from Rajasthan.

Ajitabh and his family arrived a few minutes after Teji’s death.

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