Rise And Fall Of Amar Singh
For decades Amar Singh strode like a colossus on the Indian political stage. He was the man everyone loved to hate but at the same time, most people would push and manoeuver to attend his well-attended parties and be seen with the man who became best friends with the likes of Amitabh Bachchan and Anil Ambani, two of the icons of modern India.
On September 6, he was seen being pushed and jostled on television screens as the court sentenced him to a spell in Tihar Jail, found to be involved in the cash-for-vote scam. A scam that saved the government of Dr Manmohan Singh in July 2007 after the left parties pulled the rug from under the feet of the UPA government leading to the Congress-led government being plunged into a minority.
The irony of the entire episode is that on the face of it, Amar Singh got little or nothing out of the entire exercise. He was in the USA when the government was tottering. Before the confidence vote in the house, Amar Singh returned to the country and drove straight from the airport to the 7 Race Course Road of the Prime Minister where he met Dr Singh. Coming out of the meeting he pledged the support of the Samajwadi Party to the UPA government as well as to the Indo-US nuclear deal.
The speculation at that time was intense. Had Amar Singh been approached by the US establishment to ensure that Manmohan Singh’s government did not fall? Had a huge amount of money exchanged hands for the support? Had Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav been promised plum posts in the government in exchange for their vote and their support? Or was there something more which had not been spelled out. The buzz was strong and Amar Singh’s backing of the government even stronger.
As luck and a lot-of behind-the-scenes actions would have it, the Manmohan Singh’s government survived the nuclear explosion triggered by the left but Amar Singh’s and Mulayam Singh’s desire to join the UPA government could not materialise. The Congress leadership strung him along and finally the move to bring them into the government fizzled out mainly because Sonia Gandhi was not inclined even though the Prime Minister was pushing for it, having established more than a working relationship with Amar Singh.
The question now doing the rounds is whether Amar Singh would sing or has he come to some understanding with the Congress party? It is no secret that Amar Singh worked hard to save the Congress-led government of Manmohan Singh and the end beneficiary was the PM, the Congress and the UPA.
But not a single Congress leader or worker has been implicated in the cash-for-vote scam. The others who have been arrested along with him are ex-BJP MPs who were found taking the bribe and who have since been expelled from the party. Amar Singh’s former secretary is already in jail while the BJP ideologue Sudheendra Kulkarni who was then the political advisor to LK Advani and the man who supposedly organised the entire sting operation is also in trouble on the same issue. He is in USA at the moment and has not answered the summons but the day he does, he could also be joining Amar Singh in Tihar. There is however speculation that Kulkarni has taken anticipatory bail from a court in Tripura even though he is also an accused.
After Amar Singh parted ways with Mulayam Singh Yadav and later lost the friendship of his two best friends Amitabh Bachchan and Anil Ambani, the bad spell continued as he needed to be operated to have a kidney replacement in Singapore after both his kidneys failed. He then turned towards the Congress once again, hoping to be find a place in their midst but the mother-son duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi found no reason to strike up a friendship with him. Digvijay Singh tried to arrange a meeting between Rahul and Amar Singh at Bhatta Parsaul but Rahul turned his back and wanted no deal with Amar Singh.
On Septmebr 8, Amar Singh’s hearing for a medical bail would come up. He needs extreme care in medicine, food and lifestyle otherwise health wise he could be in trouble. The judge has so far refused his bail application and he would be spending the next couple of days in Tihar Jail with A-listers like Raja, Kalmadi, Kanimozhi, corporate honchos and senior employees of Anil Ambani’s Reliance company, whom he goes to meet to tell them all is well and that their families are being looked after.
Apart from Jayaprada, how many of Amar Singh’s well-heeled industrialists, cine stars, political big wigs and others go to meet him in jail will be watched with avid curiousity. Having started his career with the Birlas and as a director in Shobhana Bhartia’s Hindustan Times, Amar Singh became close to Madhavrao Scindia but finally left the Congress after he failed to get an appointment to meet Sonia Gandhi. He tried four times but was met with a rejection every time, despite Scindia putting in a word for him.
Having joined Mulayam Singh Yadav he became an MP and from there began his meteoric rise when he tried to put Mulayam Singh on the national political stage and at the same time befriended from Parmeshwar Godrej to Jaya Bachchan, had a bedroom in the house of Amitabh Bachchan and became chief mentor and guide to Subrata Sahara Roy. He was the advisor to the CPI(M)’s Harkishan Singh Surjeet and gate-crashed a dinner at 10 Janpath with Surjeet even though he was not invited. It was something he could not live down for a long time to come.
He was known to be extremely close to the former UP Chief Minister Bir Bahadur Singh, a man who breathed politics but whose death left his children peniless. His money was said to have been parked with Subrata Roy Sahara as well as Amar Singh, both of whom launched their respective careers with much of that money. He later became close to another industrialist Lalit Suri who had also fallen out with the Congress after the Rajiv Gandhi days.
He became close to Prime Minister Chandrashekhar. It was during this time that he bailed out Amitabh Bachchan on a foreign exchange case foisted on him by VP Singh. Subramaniam Swamy was the law minister and the case was put aside by him.
Later, Amar Singh had an equally close relationship with Deve Gowda when he became the Prime Minister. It was at that time he set up a power plant in Karnataka where Amitabh Bachchan was also a partner in the enterprise.
For years, Amar Singh had a continuing friendship with Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan. His company ABCL was in trouble, he owed a lot of money to Doordarshan and it was Amar Singh who settled all these issues for the cine star with Amitabh doing a series of three ads for Doordarshan.
He was instrumental in bringing Jaya Bachchan to the Rajya Sabha on the Samajwadi Party ticket just as he did with Anil Ambani but sources say that the falling out with the Bachchans came after he objected to Jaya Bachchan agreeing to a renomination to the Rajya Sabha “behind his back” after he had been virtually kicked out of the Samajwadi Party.
For years he was seen as the most influential power peddler in Indian politics with cine stars like Dimple Kapadia queueing up at his door along with a host of others. He was known to use his network to get their work done or fix their problems. But over the years, as he grew in power and position he distanced himself from his old friends who may have helped him in the older days, men like Somen Mitra and other friends in Kolkatta and Delhi.
Today Amar Singh stands at the crossroads of his political career, having seen the dizzying heights of power and fame, not to mention unlimited money power and access to the corridors of power and pelf. Known to have the gift of the gab and a sharp rhetoric, Amar Singh has been lying low for some time both inside and outside Parliament. His arrest is unlikely to help him win back old friends but much will depend on how he handles this case and whether he decides to keep mum or speak and sing as was characteristic of the old Amar Singh.
By Renu Mittal