There is a never-ending curiosity about the reasons behind the souring of relations between the Gandhis and the Bachchans, who were more like family than friends before the bond between the two families broke. A book by veteran journalist and former M.P. Santosh Bhartiya seeks to dispel the mystery and claims that an incident related to the payment of college fees of Rahul Gandhi, who was then studying abroad, could have taken matters to a point of no return.
According to Bhartiya's book V P Singh, Chandrashekhar, Sonia Gandhi Aur Main, which was released recently, and which is a chronicling of important political events concerning the three leaders, Sonia Gandhi was extremely hurt when she found Amitabh Bachchan to be less than forthcoming in helping her out in the matter of payment of the college fees of Rahul after her husband Rajiv Gandhi's death.
Bhartiya writes in a chapter dedicated to the Bollywood superstar that Sonia had one day discussed with Amitabh the issue of payment of Rahul's college fees and urged him to arrange for it.
Amitabh, the book claims, replied: “The money has all being messed up by Lalit Suri and Satish Sharma. There is nothing left. But I will do something.”
Two days later, according to Bhartiya, Amitabh sent a cheque of $1,000 to Sonia. However, she returned the cheque to him, he writes: “Sonia Gandhi could never forget this incident and taking it to be an insult, she removed Amitabh from her life forever,” Bhartiya recollects in the book written in Hindi.
Bhartiya also writes about certain incidents that preceded the above event, and which had in an incremental manner built up the bitterness and mistrust between the Gandhis and the Bachchans.
According to him, Amitabh had asked Sanjay Gandhi to lend him Rs 20 lakh, but the request was declined. Bachchan had after the incident started distancing himself from Sanjay.
Problems had also crept up when V.P. Singh, finance minister in Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet, was perceived as a targeting Amitabh and his businessman brother Ajitabh. Rajiv, a childhood friend of Amitabh, was also uneasy about Singh's proactiveness in scrutinising the business interests of the Bachchans since an attack on Amitabh would be construed as an attack on him. Amitabh had crashed Rajiv's vacation in the Andamans in December 1986, after which Singh was moved out of the Finance Ministry.
In the wake of the allegations of financial irregularities against him, Amitabh, according to the book, wanted to resign from the Lok Sabha. But Rajiv felt it would be imprudent since Singh would then have contested the bye-election from Allahabad and won easily. As Rajiv tried to convince Amitabh not to resign, as per Bhartiya, one day, he came to meet him with his mother Teji Bachchan, who said that her son would not quit provided that he was made the foreign minister. Rajiv, writes Bhartiya, was stunned and just kept looking at the faces of Amitabh and Teji.
After Singh became prime minister and Rajiv moved to Ten, Janpath, Amitabh came to meet him. The meeting, writes Bhartiya, lasted barely ten minutes, and after Amitabh left, Rajiv said: “He is a snake.”
V P Singh, Chandrashekhar, Sonia Gandhi Aur Main
Warriors Victory Publishing House
Price Rs 999; Pages 475