The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Star families seek to shake off feud shadow
- Emissaries shuttle between Sonia camp and Bachchans to dispel notions of animosity

April 2: The Nehru-Gandhi family and the Bachchans are keen on dispelling the impression of being feuding clans.

While the reason for the falling out between the once-close families has been a matter of long speculation, the recent controversy over Jaya Bachchan losing her Rajya Sabha membership, followed by the drama of Sonia Gandhi’s resignation as an MP, has reinforced the picture of two sides in battle.

That may or may not be true but, in the wake of the office-of-profit fiasco that claimed Jaya and Sonia, Amitabh Bachchan is said to have prevailed upon his wife to stay off politics for the time being. The Samajwadi Party was keen to field her for the Rajya Sabha again but Amitabh is believed to have politely declined the offer.

Brother Ajitabh may have played a role in developing this new attitude. Ajitabh, the younger of the two, who himself broke with Amitabh ' again for reasons that are not in public knowledge ' has moved closer after the star’s illness.

Bachchan family insiders said that to suggest the brothers had made up would be premature but “all the steps in the right direction are being taken”. The person responsible for the partial reconciliation is Ajitabh’s artist daughter Namrata who is determined to bury the differences.

From Sonia’s side, common friends have communicated to the Bachchans that the Congress president “neither has the desire nor inclination” to cause any inconvenience. After the complaint about Jaya holding an office of profit in Uttar Pradesh, despite being an MP, was made to the President by a Congressman, the Samajwadi Party had alleged that Sonia was behind it.

The emissaries claiming to represent the Nehru-Gandhi family are said to have spoken of the “emotional history” and “genuine affection” the two sides have shared for over six decades.

Sources said Sonia is not blind to the fact that Amitabh has been facing health and family problems. The star underwent a surgery some time ago and Delhi’s social circles are agog with rumours of trouble in daughter Shweta’s personal life. She is married to Nikhil Nanda.

Amitabh, apparently, had reservations about Jaya’s visit to the Bachchan family’s ancestral village Babu Patti in Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh, the sources said. It is more than likely that he was aware there would be repercussions as Uttar Pradesh is a prestige issue for the Nehru-Gandhi family, which zealously guards its inheritance.

Fifty kilometres from Allahabad, the Nehru family’s hometown, Pratapgarh also shares its border with Rae Bareli, Indira Gandhi’s constituency and now Sonia’s.

On her March 5 visit there, Jaya said things that might not have made the denizen of 10 Janpath happy. She said: “The complaint has come from (the) Congress party'. It’s a shame people like us are not allowed to sit in Parliament.”

Jaya added that she wasn’t the only MP holding an office of profit ' Sonia did, too.

Obviously, the Samajwadi Party, with whose leaders Sonia does not have a pleasant relationship, wanted to strike out at her. Jaya possibly went along thinking she was on firm ground as Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s daughter-in-law and Amitabh’s wife.

As he advises Jaya not to contest for the Rajya Sabha again, Amitabh would have in mind the recent decision of friend Anil Ambani who resigned his membership in the aftermath of the office-of-profit controversy.

While Ambani said he wished to “uphold morality and transparency in public life”, some observers linked the decision also to a possible effort to distance himself from the Samajwadi Party, whose leader Amar Singh is at the centre of a phone-tap scandal. It is not known if some such consideration is also guiding the Bachchans.

Like Ajitabh’s daughter Namrata, Amitabh’s son Abhishek is keen on first uniting the Bachchans and then restoring some sort of functional ties with the Nehru-Gandhis.

According to the buzz in art circles, Namrata is organising an art event for charity in which Abhishek has agreed to be the guest of honour.

If things go according to plan, some day Abhishek might be seen hugging Rahul Gandhi. It may take time, but don’t rule it out.

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