Ajitabh Bachchan addresses the media with Sheeri Wadhawan in Allahabad on Saturday. Picture by Naeem Ansari
June 23: Ajitabh Bachchan appears to have become the third member of the family, after elder brother Amitabh and sister-in-law Jaya, to start playing an active role in politics.
The Mumbai-based businessman arrived at hometown Allahabad today to campaign for a Congress-backed Independent mayoral candidate for the June 27 civic polls, prompting some surprise and a great deal of interest in Mumbai and Delhi.
Ajitabh, “Bunty” to friends, said his visit had “nothing to do with politics” and that he had come to “support close family friend” Sheeri Wadhawan.
Sheeri is the wife of former Allahabad mayor and Congress member Ravi Wadhawan, 65, who was once close to Amar Singh and served as chairman of a culture committee set up by Mulayam Singh Yadav’s erstwhile government.
Sheeri has been involved with various social and welfare activities in Allahabad since the late 1980s, and her daughter Prema is the producer of the Doordarshan comedy serial Aashiq Biwi Ka.
“The Wadhawans are personal friends. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be here and support a candidate from the family. This trip is to honour a good family friendship,” Ajitabh, who participated in a rally organised by the local Congress, told reporters.
Allahabad had witnessed Amitabh’s entry into politics too, as much as it had witnessed the growth of a bond between the Nehru-Gandhis and the Bachchans. Amitabh has now drifted apart but Ajitabh — whose home in Mumbai’s Vashi is just a few kilometres from the actor’s Juhu bungalow, Pratiksha — has all along stayed close to the Gandhis.
In one of his interviews, Amitabh had recalled his first meeting with Rajiv Gandhi in Allahabad when he was four years old and Rajiv all of two.
“There was this fancy dress party on Bank Road (where the Bachchans lived in the 1940s),” he said.
“Rajiv Gandhi was two years old and had been dressed up as a freedom fighter. Ma says he messed up his pants. We were all such tiny kids then, absorbed in our little games, that it didn’t seem such a big deal that Pandit Nehru’s grandson was in our midst.”
After Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Amitabh contested the 1984 Lok Sabha polls from Allahabad at Rajiv’s invitation and trounced the seasoned H.N. Bahuguna. But controversies such as the Bofors scandal led him to quit politics in a huff, starting a process that gradually distanced him from the Gandhis.
Ajitabh, who served as honorary secretary and treasurer of the Kamala Nehru Memorial Hospital in Allahabad from September 1985 to May 1987, too, had to resign in the aftermath of Bofors. But his warm and informal relationship with the Gandhis endured.
When Rahul Gandhi worked in London, he was seen at Ajitabh’s Hampstead home. Rahul attended the funeral of Bachchan Sr, Harivansh Rai, in 2003 and was escorted around by Ajitabh.
Decades ago, when Ajitabh had presented three foreign-bred pups to Rajiv and family, Rahul had adopted a male pup and named him Pluto while Priyanka took care of a female pup, Pippa. Rajiv had insisted that the children themselves tend to the pups.
Ajitabh was a witness to Indira’s will, presented before Delhi High Court on May 4, 1981. He executed a Rs 15-lakh surety bond for the will before the high court registrar, Usha Mehra.
Just as Ajitabh insisted today, Amitabh too claims he now has “nothing” to do with politics. But many have questioned his acceptance of the post of brand ambassador for Gujarat, ruled by Narendra Modi.
When an interviewer asked him about Modi recently, Amitabh bristled. “Is there some kind of a constitutional law that says that somebody has some political belief and therefore you can’t be friends with him?” he asked.
“Everybody has the freedom to be friends with anyone. You are talking about my role in promoting Gujarat, which is part of my country. Modi is a constitutionally elected chief minister of a state. Deny him that, and then talk to me.”
Allahabad still has the influential Amitabh Bachchan Fan Club, which had played a key role in his 1984 victory and organised a rousing welcome for the actor when he visited the city in 2001.
Local Congress leaders, however, allege that the fan club is now controlled by people sympathetic to the BJP.