The last public picture of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with his wife Sonia Gandhi alongside that of Rajesh Khanna published on the front page of most national dailies on May 21, 1991 remains part of the recollection of a large number of people in the capital. The photograph was taken when the Gandhis had gone to cast their vote for the Super Star who was the Congress nominee against the BJP stalwart LK Advani from the New Delhi constituency. Though Advani won narrowly in the controversial election, Khanna remained determined to enter the Lok Sabha, which he eventually did in the by-election after Advani, who had also contested from Gandhi Nagar gave up his New Delhi seat. Needless to say, he defeated another top star Shatrughan Sinha in a hyped confrontation and entered the Indian Parliament.
Very few people know that Rajesh Khanna was made the Congress nominee to spite Amitabh Bacchhan who had fallen out with his good friend Rajiv Gandhi following the Bofors controversy. His election incharge Brij Mohan Bhama, a close associate of RK Dhawan then remembers how the former PM had wanted Khanna "in order to settle scores with Bacchhan". Ambika Soni who had been earlier told to get ready to contest against Advani was taken totally by surprise when Khanna’s name was announced on the day of the nomination. According to Bhama, Rajiv wanted Khanna. The actor who had earlier wanted to fight from Thane in Bombay agreed and his name was finalized.
A file photo taken on May 20, 1991 shows Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi casting their vote for Congress candidate Rajesh Khanna contesting against BJP stalwart LK Advani from a New Delhi constituency. The picture appeared on the front pages of most newspapers on May 21, 1991, the day Rajiv was assassinated. This is the last photo of Rajiv and Sonia together. Rajesh Khanna died in Mumbai.
Having covered his three elections in the capital including the one in 1996 where he lost to Jagmohan, I had come to know him quite closely. Our first meeting was, however, earlier, when as the secretary General of the Press Club of India, I invited him for a "Meet the Press" programme in December, 1990. The actor wearing his trademark Kurta Pyjama came accompanied by Bharat Upmanyu, a noted astrologer and his most trusted associate. On personal note, a few years later, he had also made it a point to attend my wedding reception.
Khanna also affectionately called Kaka had become an integral part of the city and initially stayed in Som Vihar and subsequently at an apartment in Vasant Kunj belonging to his friend, Naresh Juneja. Once he was elected to the Lok Sabha, he moved to Lodi Estate. The phenomenon as he was dubbed by Bombay’s leading film writer Devyani Chaubal always remained very much a filmi person. His mannerisms and frankness often perceived by his detractors as arrogance was his hallmark. Bharat recalls, "contrary to what people think, he was a softhearted and a genuine human being. He had tremendous intuitive sense and could always make out what the other person was thinking about him. Therefore, he would become intolerant of that person at times. He was very conscious of his popularity but also knew that his personal life’s upheavals had taken a toll of his career."
Rajesh Khanna’s interest in politics always remained intact. He told me once that the Congress was going to nominate him to Rajya Sabha. It never happened and he never hid his disappointment. He used to say that he had given so much time to campaign for his party and was even considered also as a candidate from Amritsar, his hometown when Navjot Singh Sidhu had resigned.
Khanna was truly a super star and never tired talking of his films. His movies had stopped clicking at the Box office but he knew that his super star status remained steadfast in the hearts of his innumerable fans and admirers. There was never any ambivalence in his mind over this. Goodbye my friend.