An erstwhile princely state, Amethi has since 1977 come to be better known as the bastion of the Nehru-Gandhis. This came about when its former raja, Rananjay Singh, offered it to Sanjay Gandhi for his political debut. His brother Rajiv took the same route, and was followed by wife Sonia and son Rahul, who continue to give this rustic town its high profile.
But this isn’t a story about the Nehru-Gandhis. It’s about Amethi’s original first family and a tale of two wives—Garima, the first wife of local scion Sanjay Singh, and Ameeta, to whom he is married now. Garima and her three children—Mahima, Anant Vikram and Shaivya—have declared a war for their inheritance, the battleground being none other than the royal Bhupati Palace in Amethi.
Sanjay is being charged with using his political clout to evict Garima and her children from the palace where they have been camping for the last two months. “The Amethi district magistrate called my brother Anant Vikram last Friday and told him pointedly that there were instructions from the UP chief minister to leave the Amethi Bhupati Palace by the next morning,” Mahima, 39, told Outlook.
It has been almost two decades since Sanjay married Ameeta Modi nee Kulkarni, a national badminton ace of the 1980s, after her national badminton champion husband Syed Modi was gunned down in 1988 outside Lucknow’s sports stadium where he used to go for his daily practice. Both Sanjay and Ameeta were among the key accused till they got a clean chit from the apex court. They married subsequently, with Sanjay apparently having used a proxy for Garima to get a mutual divorce decree.
Garima has been silent all these years about the technically ‘polygamous’ situation and has, in fact, even defended Sanjay at times. If she has decided to act after 19 years, she says it’s “in the larger interest of her children”.
Sanjay, once a close lieutenant of the Nehru-Gandhi brothers, fell out of favour with the family after changing political hue once too often. For the moment, though, he is back in the Congress fold as a Rajya Sabha member.
“We were literally on tenterhooks for many days as the local officials and police were totally misguided by our father and Ameeta Modi, who got even my driver and servant beaten up on the palace premises and got us locked inside,” says Anant, 37, who worked in the merchant navy. “I told the DM that this palace legitimately belonged to us as much as it belongs to my father as it was an ancestral property. And only after I showed proof of our claims did the official machinery stopped interfering.”
Father Sanjay flatly denies all the allegations. “It is very unfortunate that my children have resorted to such cheap tactics. They are being misguided by some persons. An empty mind is the devil’s workshop, and that is what is happening to my son, who has quit the navy and has no work to do. All they are interested in is more money. My son is perhaps also interested in inheriting Amethi’s legacy, without having to work for it. This, when I have given him a huge apartment in Gurgaon and I also give him Rs 1 lakh pocket money every month.”
Asked why he was depriving his first family of their rightful inheritance of the billion-rupees worth property in Amethi, he says, “I have never said that. I am ready to sit across the table and sort out things. But I surely do not approve of the idea of washing dirty linen in public.”
In an FIR, Garima alleged that she and her children were being held captive in the palace on Ameeta’s orders.
Sanjay says he has had no interaction with Garima over the past 20 years. His marriage with Ameeta, claims Sanjay, “is absolutely legal”, though he does admit that the divorce decree issued by the Sitapur-based lower court on March 27, 1995, was declared illegal by both the high court and the Supreme Court. However, Sanjay maintains, “the Supreme Court did not express any opinion on the main allegation levelled by Garima that I had put up an impostor before the lower court. It had also given her the opportunity to revert to the lower court if she wanted to contest the issue; but Garima never approached the lower court.”
Fortified by her children, Garima is beginning to ask the questions now. Daughter Mahima, who lives with her husband in San Francisco, is camping with her mother and siblings in two rooms in one portion of the palace. They all see Ameeta as the “villain of the piece”, even though she had managed to win them over at one point of time by doling out goodies to them.
Now they are going ahead and questioning her very status as Sanjay’s legally wedded wife. “The very basis of my father’s marriage with Ameeta Modi is false. Please take a look at the Supreme Court order which in 1998 set aside the divorce decree fraudulently obtained by my father. It also clearly upheld my mother’s status as the true and legally wedded wife of Sanjay Singh.”
Ameeta’s only gameplan, say Garima’s children, “is to see that the legitimate heirs of the Amethi palace are deprived of their inheritance rights so that she can grab all the property over which she has no rightful claim.”
Garima had, in fact, lodged an FIR with the Amethi police on Friday, claiming that the palace staff was keeping her and her children captive on Ameeta’s orders, who has been the undisputed ‘rani’ for two decades.
Local sympathy meanwhile is beginning to veer towards Anant, which cannot be good news for Ameeta, who has been the local MLA on a BJP ticket. Hundreds of people stood up in Anant’s support last week in Amethi when some goons, allegedly let loose by Ameeta, attempted to attack him on July 25.
“The local police has now gone ahead registered a counter-FIR against me,” exclaims Mahima. “And while the cops have taken no action on the FIR lodged by my mother a day earlier, station in-charge Mohammed Hameed is busy conveying direct and indirect threats to us to vacate the premises or face eviction.” Neither the police station in-charge nor the district magistrate responded to repeated calls.
“Nearly nine of us (including some relatives) are living in two rooms, with just one toilet and a non-functional kitchen in one corner of the massive palace; and my father and his illegal wife want us evicted from there too,” says Mahima. “I am simply seeking justice for my mother and brother, and we will take this fight to a logical legal end.” The princely state is gone, the princely estate remains.
By Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow