New Delhi: A successful commercial pilot with Air India — then Indian Airlines — Captain Satish Sharma gave up his booming career in 1983 at the age of 36 to join hands with his former airlines academy batchmate Rajiv Gandhi to help with the latter’s political pursuits.
Just a year later, Rajiv became the prime minister after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, and Satish Sharma remained one of his closest aides.
Sharma would eventually become a Lok Sabha MP from Rajiv Gandhi’s constituency Amethi after his death in 1991, and then also represent Rae Bareli in 1999.
But Sharma, who passed away Wednesday at the age of 73, has had a political life marred with controversies and scandals. He is described by his colleagues as someone who “put the reputation of Gandhi family first”, and someone who continued to be a Congress loyalist till his last breath.
In a tweet Thursday, Rahul Gandhi posted: “We will miss him.”
I’m very sad to hear of the demise of Captain Satish Sharma.
My love and condolences to his family & friends.
We will miss him. pic.twitter.com/Ja3FgCoCwp
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) February 18, 2021
While Sharma put his head down and worked in a rather low-key profile with Rajiv for some years, a spate of allegations in 1987 against Sharma and a few others who were part of the PM’s team began to make life difficult for him.
Questions over Sharma’s sudden ‘opulence’ and luxurious lifestyle began doing the rounds, after he got a private swimming pool constructed at his home.
Then, one after another, like a pack of falling dominoes, allegations of corruption and questionable land deals surfaced, including the purchase of a 10-acre land on the Delhi-Haryana border for money that was far less than its market price.
Sharma, however, continued to maintain that all these allegations were merely a “tactic to weaken Rajiv Gandhi”.
In an interview to the India Today magazine, days after the allegations surfaced, Sharma defended his expenses: “For one thing, I was never exactly poor.”
“My grandfather, who reared me, was a millionaire in the 1950s and we still have family wealth. My wife is a designer of children’s clothes and runs two successful boutiques,” Sharma had said, without flinching.
Sharma made an attempt to explain every single of his expenses, but was in no way apologetic about them.
“Yes, we are building a family-size pool. And why not? Aside from my family property in Hyderabad, this is the only home we will own. This is my only piece of rock,” he had said.
Won from Amethi, Rae Bareli
The controversies eventually withered away, even as the country witnessed another Gandhi assassination when Rajiv Gandhi was killed in 1991.
Months later, in a bypoll election, Sharma was fielded by the party as the Amethi candidate, and he won. He was then inducted into the P.V. Narasimha Rao cabinet as the Union minister of petroleum and natural gas, a portfolio that remained with him from 1993 to 1996.
He was then elected to the Lok Sabha from Amethi again in 1996, but lost the seat in 1998. He made a comeback by getting elected from Rae Bareli in 1999.
“He tried to strengthen the workers during his stint as petroleum minister. He is also credited for bringing industrialisation in a big way in Amethi,” said a party leader.
Sharma is also said to be the brain behind the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi — a pilot training institute established in 1985 at Fursatganj Airfield in Amethi.
Sharma then went on to represent the Congress party in the Rajya Sabha from 2004 to 2016 from Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and UP.
“He was like an extension to the Gandhi family, he was that close to them,” said Kishori Lal Sharma, Sonia Gandhi’s close aide in Rae Bareli.
He said he wouldn’t be acquainted to Sonia Gandhi today, if it weren’t for late Captain Satish.
“If today, I am affiliated to Sonia ji in such a close capacity, it is because of him. He always encouraged younger talent to join politics and enter congress,” Sharma told ThePrint.
Another UP Congress leader said Captain Sharma’s rise was due to his proximity to Rajiv Gandhi, something he was acutely aware of.
“He knew his primary job is to serve the Gandhi family, and to shield them from any criticism. All the elections he won after Rajiv ji’s death was also in a way votes he got due to his proximity to the late PM, and he knew that,” a UP Congress leader who did not wish to be named said.
UP Congress leader Jitin Prasada tweeted that Sharma was “always warm and encouraging towards his younger colleagues”.
Sad to hear about the passing away of Captain Satish Sharma. Always warm and encouraging towards his younger colleagues. He will be missed.
May he rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/hbiJMvAG7h
— Jitin Prasada जितिन प्रसाद (@JitinPrasada) February 17, 2021
Despite the controversies, Sharma continued to rise in politics until he wasn’t re-nominated in the Rajya Sabha by the party, after which he began to distance himself from public life.
“He remained as active as he could till 2016. After that, his illness and general fatigue began tiring him and he became reclusive,” another leader said.
Sharma had been residing in Goa for the past few years and passed away there on Wednesday night. His body will now be brought to Delhi, where the last rites will be conducted on Friday, his son Samir Sharma told PTI.