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Big B's Side Role In The Corridors Of Power

01/06/2016 8:28 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Rupak De Chowdhuri / Reuters
Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan attends a news conference to promote his forthcoming movie "Aarakshan" (reservation) in Kolkata July 27, 2011. The movie is directed by Prakash Jha and is scheduled to release on August 12. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri (INDIA - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT PROFILE)

Amitabh Bachchan grew up surrounded by the elite of Allahabad. His father Harivansh Rai Bachchan was a poet and professor of renown and his mother, Teji, hobnobbed with the city's rarefied social circles, with occasional interactions with giants like Jawahar Lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Therefore, Big B was within touching distance of the corridors of power even when he was Little B. Access to the Nehru household was nothing new for him.

Around the mid '50s, the Bachchans moved to Delhi with Harivansh Rai getting a government job with the Ministry of External Affairs. The shift to the national capital led to a phenomenal increase in the Bachchans' high-profile friends and also ensured easy access to the Nehru-Gandhis in their Teen Murti House. Rajiv and Sanjay were chums of Amitabh and his brother Ajitabh. Bonhomie with the powers that may be, continued.

Even after Pandit Nehru's demise, the Bachchans maintained relations with Indira Gandhi and the bond only grew stronger and stronger.

I saw Amitabh continuously comforting [Rajiv Gandhi's] family inside the special train that was arranged for their travel.

Amitabh was now a star. In 1982, when he was critically injured during the shooting of the film Coolie, Indira Gandhi, as the Prime Minister, paid him a visit in the hospital. Bollywood always looked at the Bachchans' proximity to the Gandhis with awe and envy.

Even after Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984, Big B continued to associate with the Gandhis. During Rajiv's prime-ministership (1984-89), the relationship further flourished. Rajiv introduced Big B to politics and the latter successfully contested the Lok Sabha elections from Allahabad. However, in 1987, the Bofors scandal, in which there were allegations of the Bachchans' complicity, rocked the Rajiv government, eventually ousting it from power. The Gandhis defended the Bachchans despite a huge nationwide outcry.

After Rajiv's violent death in May 1991, Big B and the family stood by the Gandhis and Amitabh himself accompanied the grieving family for the immersion of Rajiv's ashes in Allahabad. I saw Amitabh continuously comforting the family inside the special train that was arranged for their travel.

In 1991 itself, there were reports of cracks in the relationship between the two families and it was rumoured that Big B had expected the Gandhis to bail him out from financial trouble but they perhaps didn't. Strains between the two were now more than visible and Big B ceased to enjoy their patronage --which he had become accustomed to for nearly four decades at the time.

His participation [in Modi's two-year jamboree] kicked off a controversy due to his alleged involvement in the Panama scandal. But the establishment is steadfastly by his side.

Then came the 1999 elections and the Congress tasted defeat. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh were now the fresh heavyweights in politics. Big B was now friends with these two Samajwadi leaders. The breakup with the Gandhis was complete and final, or so it seemed. Amitabh was appointed brand ambassador for Uttar Pradesh and was even seen attending Sahara supremo Subrata Roy's family functions with great enthusiasm and zeal.

His transition to a new class of politicians with perceived doubtful antecedents was smooth and decisive. His wife Jaya Bachchan was also nominated as a Rajya Sabha MP. The equation was new but powerful.

In the meantime, Narendra Modi was emerging as the new star in the political horizon. It wasn't long before Big B became the brand ambassador for Gujarat! He was also close to those in power in Maharashtra, and shared a close relationship with Balasaheb Thackeray. He was no longer seen in the company of Mulayam and his ilk, but the icon had no shortage of political leaders flocking around him, given his larger-than-life image built up over years of stellar performance on the silver screen.

Recently, Big B's name came up in the Panama papers. There were even reports that his name would be dropped from the Incredible India campaign.

It's time he gracefully retires from the public domain to protect his name being drawn into any controversy.

Yet, Amitabh Bachchan was drafted by those in power to grace the jamboree in Delhi marking two years of the Modi government. His participation kicked off a controversy due to his alleged involvement in the Panama scandal. But the establishment is steadfastly by his side. He believes and wants us to believe he is apolitical. So the show goes on.

Big B has an incredible fan following. It's time he gracefully retires from the public domain to protect his name being drawn into any controversy. As an ardent admirer, I want him to enjoy his 'Vanaprastha' with his dignity and fame intact.

It has been rightly said, "There are no permanent friends or enemies in politics, only permanent interests."

The writer is a retired IPS officer. Views expressed are personal

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