HOW RAJESH KHANNA WAS DENIED ENTRY TO THE RAJYA SABHA BY HIS PARTY

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Coming to Kaka’s another attempted foray into politics, undoubtedly, Kaka was not only hopeful of making an entry into the Upper House of Parliament, but was almost certain and self-assured of his nomination. My tete-a-tete revealed that he had been shortlisted and sounded in advance. And this was done either by 10 Janpath or someone close to or part of the Party High Command. Otherwise being an ex-MP, he was not so naïve or gullible as to summon the Secretary of India’s Election Commission and also the Returning Officer to his residence to brief him. He had also presumably been advised by 10 Janpath to keep ready all the relevant documents to be annexed with the nomination form. Kaka’s self-announced selection for nomination to a Rajya Sabha seat, compelled me to look back and link the chain of events that had preceded sometimes earlier. A few days before my appointment as Returning Officer, I had received a personal call from then Delhi CM (Shiela Dikshit). She had enquired as to the number of RS seats her party could win in the event of voting. I informed her that given her party’s Assembly strength, a minimum of two seats is a 100% guarantee. However, I promised to get back and confirm after ascertaining more details. Subsequently, I informed her Political Secretary (Pawan Khera) that the Congress Party will make a clean sweep of all three RS seats. I also suggested to my friend Pawan that he may like to advice the CM to ask for three names from her party high command. Obviously, it was in this backdrop that Kaka’s name might have cropped up, shortlisted and he was informed and sounded by someone close to 10 Janpath. But by whom, it is a moot point. However, it is clear that what was supposed to be an intraparty secret, somehow got prematurely leaked out. Kaka’s choice must have dampened and disheartened the others in the race. Hence, a no holds barred campaign began from interested quarters, to impede, obstruct and elbow out Kaka’s entry in Parliament, and instead by projecting their candidature.

Khanna made his debut in 1966Like many Bollywood actors, Rajesh Khanna had also changed his name. He was born as ‘Jatin Khanna’Rajesh Khanna The Politician and The Phenomenon‘Babumoshai, Zindagi Badi Honi Chahiye… Lambi Nahi’ one of his famous dialoguesGiven his popularity and craze among women during his era, Rajesh Khanna had received several letters from women that were written in blood.

Some of the aspirants, though rootless and politically pygmies in comparison to Kaka, presumably had access to 10 Janpath. A few even enjoyed direct entry into their Supreme Leader’s living room and kitchen. Incapable of winning, on their own any election even of a municipality or a Panchayat, they left no stone unturned to grab a berth in the Upper House by hook or by crook, even by elbowing out Kaka. Obviously, in the process, they maintained pressure on high command to sideline and dump or exclude others including Kaka. An easy and common modus operandi followed in politics in such a scenario is to sully the reputation of adversaries and to unleash a smear campaign by planting and publicising uncharitable and cooked up stories about the candidate and his family. In Kaka’s case too, this trick was tried and they did not hesitate to hit him below the belt. Isn’t it a disgusting and a gutter-level jibe: “Apani Biwi to sambhali nahi jaati”? Any person with a modicum of common sense could infer as to where this jibe was targeted at. The Election Commission duly notified the schedule of filing nominations in my Chamber in the Assembly building. On the first day of filing nominations, Kaka phoned early in the morning to find out probable names. He repeated the same thing the next day also and this time, he spoke not once but repeatedly on several occasions, during the day obviously in sheer desperation. On the third day, he almost beseeched, begged, and pleaded “Sharma Sahab, kindly meri help karo”. Please try at your level to find out my position”, he implored. Infuriated at repetitive calls to the Returning Officer who was duty-bound to stay neutral, I retorted, “Khanna Sahab, I am substituting for the Election Commission. Sorry I cannot appear to be meddling in your party matters.” Then feeling repentant that my tone and tenor was somewhat harsh and uncivilised, I toned down and suggested in a softer voice “Sir, you are a celebrity and a senior party man. Why don’t you do one thing? Pick up your phone, dial 10 Janpath and enquire from the Political Secretary of your Party-Chief about your position in the final list. What is the big deal? You are only seeking information concerning yourself, not asking them to divulge any national secret.” The already stressed Kaka hit back with an equally sarcastic rejoinder: “Do you think I haven’t done it? I have tried, not once but umpteen times. I feel I have become a persona non grata for these people. Even a PA, chaprasi or clerk of 10 Janpath is not responding to my texts or calls. They seem to have blocked me. Sharmaji, this is disgusting I have never felt so insulted and humiliated in my entire life. I am compelled to recall a couplet that suits the situation.” He sighed, gave a long pause and recited on phone itself: “Izatteyn, Shohrateyn, Ulfateyn, Chahteyern, Sab Kuchh iss duniyan mein rahtein nahi, Aaaj mein hoon jahan, kal koi aur tha, yeh bhi ek daur hai, vo bhi ek dour tha.” Wow! How true! The nearest translation as I have attempted means – honour, fame, affection, desire everything in this world doesn’t last. Today where I am yesterday it was someone else Wow! That was an era ! Alas ! this too is an era !

On the last day of filing nominations, Kaka, perhaps still nurturing a ray of hope of getting a last-minute nod, again called to ascertain the latest development, if any. By this time, through my sources, I had come to know that Kaka’s name was not there. But now, I had turned extremely sympathetic towards Kaka who, I thought had not only been wronged but also been mercilessly hounded, wounded and dumped in his party turf.

By revealing the three names to him I did not want to further hurt and inflict yet another blow on Kaka’s fragile heart. Hence, I deliberately lied to Kaka and pretended to be unaware of any details. A desperate Kaka disconnected.

The three names finally cleared by the party were: Ms. Ambica Soni, A.R. Kidwai and Dr Karan Singh.

Later in the day, the three selected candidates, accompanied by Delhi CM, her Cabinet colleagues, a large entourage of party MLAs and supporters marched to my chamber in the Assembly building. With great fanfare, they filed their nominations, were administered oath one by one as per laid down procedure and other formalities too were completed.

This drew curtains on the entire episode.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the entire episode badly shattered Kaka. It appeared to have shocked him to the hilt and took a toll on his already dwindling health. He genuinely felt let down, ashamed and foolish at the party’s bizarre and hostile attitude towards him. His dignity and pride were bruised, punctured and injured. The circumstances compelled him to lead the life of sanyasi. He became a “Bairagi” and a recluse. He started leading a more aloof, lonely and detached life. Gradually he shunned all public activities–social, political and those of the tinsel world he originally hailed from. He was now devoid of any zest for life. The decaying state of health and adverse circumstances dimmed what was once a shining star illuminating on India’s horizon.

Leading the life of a hermit or sanyasi, he gradually cut himself off from the world outside. Abandoned shaving his beard regularly which grew haphazardly giving a somewhat shabby and unkempt appearance of a person, attired in his ordinary kurta, pyjama and chappals. With no family patch up in sight and no one to attend to him and the age factor also not going in his favour, some more health-related complications overtook, needing check-up and treatment on regular basis. Some film magazines gossiped that the lonely superstar, during his ailment days had started having a pretty damsel as his live-in companion named one Anita Advani. Gloom descended on India’s entertainment world and Bollywood when on 18 July, 2012, this larger than life personality and, uncrowned superhero of and ruler of Indian cinema and an unmatched cult figure bid goodbye to this world. According to media reports, his cremation was attended by some 9 lakh people from all over India, including many from foreign countries. With his passing away, he proved right the truthfulness of famous lines from his movie “Anand”, wherein he had said: “Babu Moshai, zindagi bari honi chahiye, lambi nahi”.

HONOURED POSTHUMOUSLY

A few months after his death, I read in newspapers that Government of India has decided to posthumously honour Kaka by conferring on him the award of “Padma Bhushan” (the third highest civilian award) for his contribution to the field of art. To be honest, the news did not thrill me at all. Instead, it bewildered me. I was constrained to recall the following Punjabi lines: Jewdian nu kisey poochya nahi, Tey moyan nu poodey Khawawaney ki? When translated it means, no one bothered when he was alive, why to serve delicacies when he is dead and gone?

The political party Kaka belonged to and had assiduously campaigned for and which ruled the country for 10 long years with Dr Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, did not bother to acknowledge, during Kaka’s lifetime, his contribution in the field of art and cinema. This was although he was rated as India’s first superstar who had consecutively given 15 back-to-back evergreen mega super-duper hits and had enthralled the audience for decades with his mesmerising performance on screen. Strangely, Kaka was never conferred any honour by any government, when alive. No National Award whatsoever was conferred on him. His party’s government drew no inspiration from the preceding government headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee, which, in sharp contrast had chosen, not for Padam Bhushan but for Padam Vibhushan, (next only to Bharat Ratna) a local Congressman, veteran Jagparvesh Chandra not after his death but during his lifetime. The situation when placed and seen in Juxtaposition, may lead one to infer that in the matter of Award, Kaka was under-rated and slighted after he had passed away. The Padam Bhushan was collected on his behalf by his wife Dimple Kapadia from the then President Pranab Mukherjee next year in 2013 at a ceremony in the Darbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhawan.

The author is former Secretary of the Lokh Sabha and Delhi Assembly

The article is the part 2 of a two-part series.