It was about 15 years ago that for the first time I met veteran actor and politician Vinod Khanna, who passed away today at the age of 70 after battling cancer for many years.
He was a Union minister of state for tourism and culture in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, and I was a principal correspondent with Hindustan Times in Bhopal.
Khanna was on a visit to Bhopal in December 2002. He was a first-term BJP Lok Sabha MP from Gurdaspur in Punjab. The BJP was one of my news beats then. Hence, I went to meet him and elicit his views on several issues.
With Digvijaya Singh as the chief minister, the Congress was in power in Madhya Pradesh back then. The roads were in a pathetic state. The condition of electricity supply was also much to be desired for. Moreover, as he was the minister of state for tourism and culture, I planned to ask a few questions about tourism.
Before meeting Khanna, I had done my home work well.
Vinod Khanna with Osho in 1979. (Photo: India Today)
I knew he was a strong follower of "Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh", better known as Osho. I also knew that Osho was born in Madhya Pradesh, in a small village called Kuchwada in Udaipura tehsil of Raisen district. I was aware that the controversial guru had completed his higher studies in Jabalpur and had also taught philosophy in Jabalpur University. Hence, I thought to ask a couple of questions about Osho too.
I was bustling with excitement when I reached Madhya Pradesh government’s Hotel Ashoka Lake View, where he had put up. I was much before time. I was informed that he had gone to visit Kuchwada and would be back in a while.
When he returned, driving the car himself, he was dressed in maroon robes in the avatar of "Swami Vinod Bharti". He was wearing a necklace with an Osho pendant. He headed for his room and very soon appeared before us waiting journalists.
The most significant part of Vinod Khanna’s personality which we noticed was that he was always pleasant and humble. Despite being a successful actor and a Union minister in his first stint as an MP, he did not betray arrogance.
The ever-smiling actor-politician got down to replying all my questions. Despite being busy — as some MP Tourism officials and several local BJP leaders were waiting to meet him — Khanna did not show any hurry.
I asked him about his plans for Osho’s birthplace at Kuchwada. He said he was planning to set up an archive of Osho in Kuchwada. The sanyasis had bought the property and started restoration work of the house in which Osho was born on December 11, 1931. Osho’s Japanese disciples had constructed an ashram, which could house about 400 people, he said.
My next question was about Osho’s ashram in Pune, better known as Osho Commune. It was in the news then because of the internal feud among the Osho disciples.
Khanna regretted that two foreigners, an Englishman and a Canadian, had taken over the ashram and had driven out the inner circle of 21 members appointed by Osho. He feared they would bring down the Buddha Hall. He said one group, to which he belonged, wanted the ashram to be a pilgrimage and heritage site.
Secondly, he said, the disciples would be cautious about the copyrights on Osho’s discourses, which are recorded in books, and audio and video cassettes. He said it was a matter of shame that their copyrights were with foreigners and anyone wanting to publish them had to pay royalty in dollars.
Khanna said Osho’s books were like Bible and Gita to his disciples.
Besides places associated with Osho, I also asked Khanna about his plans for other tourist places. For the first time, I learnt about circuits and that the government was planning to set up tourist circuits. While circuits is a common word now, it was a new concept then.
A file photo of Vinod Khanna with BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prashad, JP Nadda and Shatrughan Sinha at Parliament House. (Credit: PTI photo)
He said the Centre would develop 36 pilgrimage circuits all over India in the next six years, by completing six circuits each year. Each circuit, he said, would involve a few states. For instance, the Buddhist circuit would include Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Sanchi in Bihar, UP and MP respectively.
Asked how did it feel to be a politician, Khanna smiled and said he was enjoying it. “I am very comfortable. This is probably because I am a satisfied man,” he said.
During those years, most of the Hindi films were flops at the box office. Khanna held poor scripts and piracy responsible for it. He said even before films were released, their VCDs were out in the market. He revealed that he had recommended to the information and broadcasting ministry to make piracy a non-bailable offence.
Talking about underworld funding of films, Khanna expressed satisfaction that the film sector had been recognised as an industry and banks were financing viable projects. He also said till then banks had financed Rs 300 crore in filmmaking. “We are looking for cheaper interest rates,” he said as his last reply to my final question.
Subsequently, I met Khanna in Parliament on several occasions. He was a four-term MP, consecutively elected from Gurdaspur itself. He was equally friendly and amiable as he was during our first meeting. But I never knew the ever-smiling actor-politician would leave the world so early in life.