Recalling the Bollywood showdown for New Delhi: Kaka vs Shotgun

- May 4, 2024

Late Rajesh Khanna’s win in the 1992 Lok Sabha by-election for the New Delhi constituency revealed his popularity among Delhiites; it, however, also impacted his friendship with co-star and BJP rival Shatrughan Sinha

RIVALS: Shatrughan Sinha (left) was fielded by Bharatiya Janata Party to take on Congress’s Rajesh Khanna

It may come as a surprise to many people but a garden in National Park Colony, which is adjacent to the Moolchand Metro Station in Lajpat Nagar, is dedicated to the late Rajesh Khanna. 

Inaugurated a couple of years ago by his wife, Dimple Kapadia, the park was named after the Bollywood superstar of the 1970s because he had represented the New Delhi Lok Sabha seat and served the constituency with care. 

In 1992, Khanna contested and won the Lok Sabha by-election from the New Delhi constituency, of which the National Park Colony is a part. Representing the seat until 1996, he built his reputation of being a popular and approachable leader.

The 1992 by-election was a unique face-off between two Bollywood giants. Khanna, representing the Congress party, faced Shatrughan Sinha of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). 

The election was necessitated after BJP leader LK Advani, who had won both the Gandhinagar and New Delhi seats in the 1991 general elections, chose to vacate the latter. Advani’s victory over Khanna in 1991 was narrow, with a margin of less than 1,500 votes. 

Recalls noted journalist Aroon Kumar of Hindustan Times, “Even though Advani ji managed to win that contest, it was Khanna who won the hearts of people. He really worked very hard in his first attempt in election. He even humbled Advani ji from a couple of assembly seats like Minto Road and Gole Market.”

Even after so many years, many Delhiites recall the image of Khanna assisting Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi as they cast their votes on May 20, 1991, at a polling booth in Nirman Bhawan. This became Rajiv Gandhi’s last photograph in Delhi, as he was assassinated the following day.

With Advani’s departure, BJP nominated Sinha for the by-election. Despite their thick friendship, Sinha accepted the challenge, setting the stage for a high-profile campaign. While the by-election’s outcome held little significance for the Central Government, it captured significant media attention.

Kaka’s triumph and a broken friendship

From the outset, it was evident that Khanna had an edge over Sinha. He diligently connected with voters through door-to-door campaigns, demonstrating his commitment and making promises to the public. Despite this, some voters and political analysts remained sceptical and felt that Khanna would abandon his constituency after elections. The Congress had initially intended to field Khanna from Thane in the 1991 elections, with Ambika Soni being considered for the New Delhi seat. His eventual nomination surprised many.

Despite the doubts, Khanna convincingly won the by-election. However, this victory came at the cost of his friendship with Sinha, who admitted that the defeat led to irreparable damage in their relationship. 

Recalls writer Sunil Negi, who was Khanna’s media manager when he was fighting the Lok Sabha elections, “Khanna was very bitter with his Bollywood colleague for fighting against him. Honestly, he had never forgiven him for fighting against him. Khanna snapped all ties with Sinha.”

Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi cast their votes for Rajesh Khanna at Nirman Bhawan in the 1991 general elections PHOTO: @FILMHISTORYPIC

Before moving to a government bungalow in 54 Lodhi Estate, Khanna resided in Som Vihar and Vasant Kunj, maintaining close contact with his constituents and journalists. He earned the affection of Delhi’s residents.

Delhi has undergone significant transformation between 1992 and 2024. Two generations have passed, and Sinha’s political journey has seen him transition from the BJP to Congress and now Trinamool Congress. As he walks through the streets of New Delhi, the memories of the 1992 by-election are likely to resurface, reminding him of his friend and rival, Rajesh Khanna, whose legacy lives on in the heart of the Capital.