New Delhi: Some would remember him as Inspector Amar Khanna from Amar Akbar Anthony, others would recall the menacing Jabbar Singh from Mera Gaon Mera Desh. But actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna, who passed away after a battle with cancer on Thursday, was a man who donned many hats in real life too. In 1997, he began a new innings, that of a politician.
Khanna joined the Bharatiya Janata Party and a year later, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Punjab’s Gurdaspur constituency. Gurdaspur would eventually send Khanna to the Lok Sabha four times. News18 spoke to his political colleagues, juniors and rivals about the Vinod Khanna they knew.
He represented India on the world stage: Yashwant Sinha
In July 2002, Khanna was made the minister for culture and tourism in the Atal Behari Vajpayee Cabinet. Six months later, he was made the minister of state (MoS) for external affairs. Yashwant Sinha, who was the senior Minister for External Affairs, recalls how Khanna was a fast learner.
“I worked closely with him when I was at MEA. I had a habit of giving more responsibility to my junior ministers. I remember that during the first session of Parliament, he was a little reluctant to speak because he wanted to acquaint himself properly. But he was a fast learner. After that first session, he went on to do a stellar job speaking in Parliament,” Sinha said.
When asked how he would rate Khanna’s work as a minister, the BJP veteran said, “I would definitely rate it as Grade 1 work. During his time in MEA, he had to travel abroad a lot to represent India on the world stage. He was an able representative of India’s interests.”
When Congress’s Pratap Singh Bajwa fought against his childhood hero
As a schoolboy, former Punjab Congress chief Pratap Singh Bajwa had a clear favorite actor. He would go to the theater after school hours to catch the latest Vinod Khanna release. It came as a surprise to him when, in 2009, he was asked by the Congress to contest from Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat against his childhood hero.
“He was my favorite actor. Besides, it was a tough election because Vinod Khanna had never lost from that seat and he was the joint nominee of the BJP and Akali Dal. Eventually, I won the election. A few weeks later, a mutual friend invited both of us to a wedding in Pathankot. The elections were passé as we sat and chatted for hours like old friends. I found him to be a very kind-hearted and gracious man,” Bajwa said.
It was Khanna’s ability to reach out across the aisle, Bajwa said, that won him respect from across party lines. “In 2003, I was the minister of public works in Captain Amarinder Singh’s first government and he was the MP of Gurdaspur. He wanted some road work to be done in his constituency and he invited me for lunch. We sat and he told me that he could have asked Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was Prime Minister at the time, to intervene but he wanted to work in tandem with the state government. It won my heart.”
Bajwa recalled, “He once told me that irrespective of his affiliation with BJP, he had more friends in Congress."
Khanna brought his art to politicsVani Tripathi Tikoo, actor and BJP leader who worked closely with Khanna, said, “He understood politics and loved the people. In 2014, during the Lok Sabha campaign, he wanted to campaign in a creative way. He called me and said he wanted me to produce a street play in Punjabi. He asked me if we could make it happen, and we did it. Even today, people remember that street play. I guess you can say he brought a little bit of his art to politics.”