New Delhi: BJP leader Smriti Irani, now a Union minister, was allegedly threatened that she would be shot during the campaign trail in Gandhi pocketborough Amethi ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha election. Her husband then charted out an elaborate evacuation plan to ensure she could be quickly taken to a good hospital if the threat was indeed carried out, a new book has claimed.
According to Amethi Sangram: Aitihasik Jeet Ankahi Dastan (Amethi campaign: Historic win, untold story), a book by senior journalist Anant Vijay that was published last week by Westland’s Hindi publishing house Eka, Zubin Irani consulted doctors, zeroed in on the “ideal” hospital, and also plotted the quickest way to get his wife from Amethi to Lucknow and onwards to the medical facility at Gurugram, a distance of nearly 700 km.
The book seeks to bring out some less-known anecdotes from Smriti Irani’s successful campaign for the Amethi Lok Sabha seat in 2019, when she pulled off one of the biggest upsets in contemporary politics by defeating former Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
It is based on interviews conducted by the author with Smriti Irani, Zubin Irani, and senior leaders of the BJP who have been witness to the former TV star’s rise in politics.
‘A death threat and an emergency evacuation plan’
Smriti Irani, the book claims, received the threat during the campaign for her maiden bid for Amethi, in 2014.
When her car stopped at a place where she was to address a public rally, all of a sudden, a man emerged from the crowd and reportedly told her, “Tum Amethi se chunav ladne to aa gayi ho, par tumko pata bhi nahin chalega ki tumhare sath kya ho jayega. Kabhi bhi kisi bhi or se goli aayegi aur sir ke aar-paar ho jayegi (You have come to Amethi to contest elections but you won’t even know what will happen to you. A bullet will come from any direction and go straight through your head).”
Before she could react, the book says, the man disappeared in the crowd.
Smriti Irani, the author says, did not inform anyone in the BJP about this “possible life threat”, aware that the “media may dismiss it as an election tactic”.
But she did confide in her husband Zubin.
Thus far, the book states, it had been an understanding between the couple that Zubin would never interfere with her political career. But this was a moment Zubin couldn’t simply watch unfold from the sidelines.
Without wasting any time, the book says, he got in touch with doctors in Mumbai to discuss what should be done in an emergency — the best hospital to visit in the event of such an attack, and the possible precautions to be taken to avoid it altogether.
The Mumbai doctors, the book adds, told Zubin to reach Medanta at Gurugram in such a scenario.
He then researched the shortest way to reach the Lucknow airport from Amethi, and how to take someone to Delhi and onwards to Gurugram, and on which vehicle.
Zubin also laid down the chain of communication that ought to be followed — explaining who should call whom.
‘A midnight call from Rajnath’
Among other things, the book quotes Irani recalling the exact moment the BJP informed her that she would be fielded from Amethi.
“I remember each and every detail of that day. It was 11:30 (pm) and I got a call from (then) party president Rajnath Singh. He told me that the party has decided that I will contest from Amethi against Rahul Gandhi,” she is quoted as saying. “I immediately said, if this is what party wants from me, I am ready. But first let me discuss this with Zubin and my family.”
Zubin, she says, was in Mumbai at the time. “I called him and told him that when the children wake up in morning, tell them that I am going to contest elections,” she adds.
Irani lost that election, but Gandhi won with a victory margin that was less than a third of what he had scored in 2009.
She went on to become the HRD Minster in the Modi cabinet. She was in Shimla on the day of the election results. According to the book, Narendra Modi personally called her to inform her that she was being included in the cabinet.
A wish to meet Bholenath
Insights from Irani’s personal life in the book see her discussing the historical figures — and a deity — she would like to meet if she has the chance. These include the Maratha warrior-king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the ancient philosopher Chanakya, and Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.
“It might sound stupid but I would want to meet Lord Bholenath and spend some time with him. Without him, what is the purpose of this life?” she adds.
In a section about her life in the days before she became one of Indian television’s biggest stars, with her role as Tulsi in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, the book describes her stints selling things at the Janpath market in Delhi, and as a cleaner at McDonald’s.
The book also notes how she developed an early affinity towards the RSS. As a child, the book states, Smriti Irani would stay with her maternal grandfather, an RSS worker. Smriti, the book claims, would accompany her grandfather to an RSS shakha at RK Puram and got inspired by the “speeches of other Sangh pracharaks”. Smriti’s mother Shivani Bagchi has also been a Sangh member, the book adds.
An advice for Rahul Gandhi
In an interview to actor Anupam Kher in 2017, Irani talked about her interactions with the Gandhis. Smriti Irani, the book states, had told Kher at the time that she had met Rahul Gandhi at the NDA government’s oath-taking ceremony but never talked to him. Congress working president Sonia Gandhi, meanwhile, had told her that she clapped when Irani was taking oath, she added.
Asked if there was any advice she would like to give Rahul Gandhi, Smriti said, “If you don’t like a particular line of work, then don’t do it.”