- Renews offer to return the land, provided criminal charges against him are dropped
- An old zamindar surfaces who claims he sold plot to the actor's uncle in the '40s for Rs 5,000 which wasn't paid. If he pays him Rs 5,000 now, the land can be his
- Claims some Shukla brothers misused his power of attorney
***Never before has a plot seen so many twists as in Amitabh Bachchan's dalliance with 'do bigha zameen' in dusty and remote Daulatpur village of UP's Barabanki district. First, the superstar stated in a Faizabad court that he owned Plot No. 702 (2.5 bighas) in Daulatpur. He even furnished a document to validate this, only to have the state government declare it as "a forged land record". Then, in a very public move, the man "offered" to return this land to the gram sabha. When the controversy refused to die even then, he added two new characters to the cast, the brothers Shukla of Barabanki who, he alleged, had "misused" the power of attorney he had given them to buy land on his behalf. His complaint to Maharashtra deputy CM-cum-home minister R.R. Patil had the Mumbai Police rushing to UP, but it turned out to be a wild goose chase.
A lesser mortal would have given in. But this is the Big B. On October 12, the actor filed a supplementary affidavit in the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court in which he once again offered to "forego" his claim over Plot 702. In return, he beseeched that the court pass an order declaring that no proceedings "either civil or revenue or criminal in nature" be initiated in future against him. Almost on cue, R.N. Gupta, counsel for the gram sabha, who had earlier argued that Bachchan's claim to the land was a blatant forgery, did a U-turn. He informed the court that the sabha had no objections if Bachchan decided to give up his claims.
But the state government would have none of it. Advocate general Devendra Upadhaya told Outlook, "The counsel for the gram sabha has no right to make such a declaration; after all, the land belongs to the state and it is amply evident from the official land records that forgery was committed to show Bachchan as owner of this piece of land." The government says Bachchan will have to prove ownership of the land before he can "return" it. And it is well aware that Bachchan's side is introducing new twists in the case only to complicate matters and slow down the proceedings.
Ergo the entry of Ramchander Singh, an ageing erstwhile zamindar of Daulatpur. In an application in a lower court, Singh said he had verbally handed over Plot 702 to Bachchan's "uncle" Salik Ram in the 1940s for Rs 5,000, a sum which was never paid. If Bachchan pays him that Rs 5,000 now, Singh contends, the land can be his. Talking to Outlook, Singh's lawyer Uma Shankar Sahai said that "under the UP tenancy laws, till the Zamindari Abolition Act of 1951 came into force, there was no requirement of any written records to transfer land".
Since Singh's claim altogether bypasses any requirement of documentary corroboration, the only area of conjecture it leaves for the sceptic is whether Amitabh Bachchan really had such an ancestor. Bachchan himself refused to entertain any queries from Outlook, despite repeated requests. But that hasn't stopped people from wondering why Singh chose to remain silent all these years, considering Bachchan claimed in court that the land was allotted to him by the UP government in November 1982!
What explains Bachchan's desperation for a plot of land in a nondescript UP village? The agricultural land he and son Abhishek bought in Lonavla, Pune, in 2000-01, it would seem. Land laws in Maharashtra permit only a farmer, either by prior ownership of land, or by profession, to buy farmland. So when his Lonavla property in came into dispute in 2005, Bachchan had to produce documentary proof that he owned agricultural land prior to his land acquisition. This was perhaps where his friends in the Samajawadi Party, then in power in UP, came to his aid. Land records were manipulated to show the actor was allotted a plot in Daulatpur in 1982. The gameplan worked fine till the district magistrate of Barabanki instituted an inquiry which concluded that the land records of Plot 702 were tampered with to include the star's name.
What about the other loose end—the Shukla brothers? Amitabh alleges it was Vijay Shukla, a fan, who told him about his "inheritance" in Daulatpur. And that he immediately granted Shukla a general power of attorney to handle his land interests in Barabanki.
The next we know Bachchan had filed a complaint with R.R. Patil, duly forwarded to the Juhu police station. Interestingly, just five days before the said letter (dated Jul 18, '07), Bachchan had bought a piece of land for Rs 8 lakh in Daulatpur through the Shukla brothers. The duo insists there is no dispute between them and Bachchan. The actor's complaint was clearly a clever afterthought to project the brothers as the offenders and Amitabh as innocent.
Bachchan has now given a new special power of attorney to one Hrishikesh Yadav. An old zamindar, an uncle who may never have been, the mysterious Shukla brothers.... Wonder what the plot will throw up next!
By Sharat Pradhan and Saikat Datta in Lucknow