Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi’s decision to unfollow over 60 Twitter handles, including some of the members of the Congress ecosystem, has become a talking point in the country. Initially, it appeared that he had unfollowed only a few pro-Congress propagandists, however, it later came to light that he has followed more people, including ‘journalists’ and other prominent individuals of the country.
Interestingly, another significant personality unfollowed by Rahul Gandhi is Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
The sudden unfollowing of Amitabh Bachchan by Rahul Gandhi has ignited a fresh debate on what might have transpired between the two, as the ties between the two families – Gandhis and Bachchans – go back to three generations and almost six decades.
The decade-old ties between Gandhis and Bachchans
The ties between the two families can be traced back to Amitabh Bachchan’s father, Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan, who worked in India’s Foreign Ministry as a Hindi Officer. Former Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru apparently had high regards for Dr Bachchan, which resonated in the families ties as well.
Harivansh’s wife and Amitabh’s mother, Teji Bachchan, became a close friend of Nehru’s daughter, Indira. As they moved to Delhi, Teji Bachchan worked as a social activist, and her friendship with Indira Gandhi became deeper.
Their friendship between the two families reached the peak when Bachchans lent moral support to Rajiv Gandhi in the late 1960s during his marriage with Sonia, which Indira opposed. When Rajiv Gandhi was courting the young Italian girl Sonia Antonio Maino, Teji Bachchan acted as a mediator between the two families as Indira disapproved of their relationship.
In 1968, when Sonia Gandhi arrived in India as Rajiv Gandhi fiancee, it was the young Amitabh Bachchan who drove to Palam airport to receive her. When the marriage was finally fixed in 1969, Sonia Gandhi and her family moved in briefly and stayed at the Bachchans’ New Delhi residence at 13, Willingdon Crescent, to learn about Indian customs and traditions from Teji.
And she spent the next 43 days with Bachchans before her civil marriage to Rajiv Gandhi on 25 February. The Bachchans had attended the wedding and had wished the newlywed couple.
During an interview with Dharamyug magazine in 1985, Sonia had opened up about her initial association with the Bachchans. “Mummy [Indira] had asked me to stay with the Bachchans [before her wedding] so that I could learn Indian customs and culture from close up. Slowly I came to learn a lot from that family. Teji aunty is my second…No, my third mother. My first mother is in Italy, and the other was my mother-in-law, Mrs Indira Gandhi, the third is Teji Aunty. Amit and Bunty [Ajitabh] are my brothers”.
Rajiv wanted Amitabh Bachchan to be active in politics, Big-B fought on Congress ticket
The friendship between the two families continued throughout the next decade. It was speculated then that both families had held wide-ranging discussion regarding Big-B’s possibility of entering full-time politics. However, the relations touched a new high in 1984 when Rajiv Gandhi persuaded Amitabh Bachchan to enter politics and contest the election from Allahabad on a Congress ticket.
Eventually, Amitabh Bachchan was given a Congress ticket in 1984, who won from Allahabad with a handsome margin. His emphatic win over Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna took the bonhomie between the two high-profile families to a new high. In the next few years, Amitabh Bachchan became the face of the famous youth brigade in Delhi, comprising Satish Sharma, Arun Nehru, Arun Singh and Kamal Nath.
However, things started taking a different turn in the late 1980s when the Bofors scandal was exposed and many, including Rajiv Gandhi and Amitabh Bachchan, were alleged to have received kickbacks. This was the turning point when Bachchan started distancing himself from Rajiv to avoid tarnishing his image.
Three years later, Amitabh quit politics and resigned after a newspaper reported his involvement in the Bofors scam. This marked the beginning of the souring of relations between the two families. Years later, Amitabh Bachchan was given a clean chit in the case by the Supreme Court.
In the early 1990s, the relationship between families turned sour after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. The Gandhi family was expecting Amitabh Bachchan to join the Congress party to assist Sonia Gandhi, which he clearly refused, citing his engagements. Apparently, this offended the Gandhis, who thought Big-B betrayed the family.
A few years later, when Big-B was in a financial crisis, he felt cheated by the Gandhi family, who did not come to his rescue. The mutual feeling of betrayal got complicated and led to further events of betrayals and rifts, which widened especially after the Bachchan family’s ties with Amar Singh became stronger.
Amar Singh, who was with the Samajwadi Party then, helped Amitabh Bachchan during the financial crisis. The two became very close, and later, Jaya Bachchan was nominated to Rajya Sabha as a Samajwadi party member. The rift between the Bachchans and Gandhis widened as the Bachchans grew close to Amar Singh, who, according to some, was never liked by the Gandhis.
Gandhis vs Bachchan
The cold war between the two reached a pinnacle when Bachchans and Gandhis engaged in a mudslinging affair, pulling each other down by putting out statements against each other in the media.
The relations got spoiled when Amitabh’s wife, Jaya Bachchan, went public with her disappointment. In an interview, Jaya had expressed her disappointment against Gandhis, saying, “Those who brought us into politics left us midway. They left us when we were in a crisis. They are known to betray people.”
Subsequently, Rahul Gandhi, then the youth leader, had hit back, saying, “The Bachchans are lying. Why are they levelling the charge now after so many years? Amitabh was introduced to politics two decades ago. They have changed loyalties. Those who know the Gandhi family know we’ve never betrayed anyone. People know better about who betrayed whom. People also know who their loyalties are with.”
Following the controversy, Amitabh Bachchan too had aired his views on the controversy. “They (the Gandhi family) are the rajas (rulers), and we (the Bachchans) are runk (subjects). Any continuation of the relationship depends on the rulers’ mood. Now, they accuse my family of lying.”
To add more fuel to the already deteriorating relationship, the UPA government in 2005 had slapped Big-B with Income Tax notices for alleged illegal possession of agricultural land while he was still at the Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai recovering from a severe intestinal ailment. Apparently, the Congress government had made Amitabh Bachchan pay the bill from his hospital bed.
In 2010, Amitabh became the face of the ‘Khushboo Gujarat Ki’ campaign under Narendra Modi, who was the then Chief Minister of Gujarat. Amitabh Bachchan’s close relationship with Bal Thackeray, a bitter political enemy of the Congress, had also irked the Gandhis.
Given the twists and turns into the relationship between the two elite families – Bachchans and the Gandhi family, the latest controversy over Rahul Gandhi deciding to unfollow the senior actor has added more fuel to the fire. Though the official reasons for unfollowing Amitabh Bachchan are yet to be revealed, some within the Congress party have suggested that the Gandhi-scion will not follow any film stars on Twitter in the future.