My old pal Thakur Amar Singh has been unhealthily obsessed with me over the last few months. When the election results were declared and it was clear that all his calculations had come to naught, I pointed this out. This was enough to set Amar Singh off. He appeared on four different channels to call me names, and threatened retribution in conversations with mutual friends.
Fair enough. It’s a free country. And he has every right to his own feelings. But, on the grounds that the best way to handle a bully is to ignore him, I have refrained from giving the angry Thakur too much importance even as he has raved and ranted.
But this week, I am going to make an exception. And I’m going to do something that might even surprise the champion bully of Indian politics: I am going to take his side.
If you’ve read the papers or watched TV over the last few days then you will know that most journos have written Amar Singh off after he announced his resignation from all Samajwadi Party posts. The media have taken the attitude that this resignation is the culmination of a bad period in Amar Singh’s life. They argue that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family hates Amar Singh; that Mulayam’s son believes that Amar Singh was no help in the election where his wife Dimple was defeated by the Congress’s Raj Babbar, and that Mulayam’s brother resents Singh’s influence on Mulayam.
Further, says the Press, it is Amar Singh’s politics that have led the SP to the present crisis: out of power in UP and an irrelevance in Delhi. First, they say, Amar Singh alienated all the party’s mass leaders even though he himself has never won even a municipal election. Second, they argue, he has transformed the SP’s image from the party of the poor to the party of private jets and fat cats.
Third, they say, he has systematically driven the Muslim voters who are the backbone of the SP’s support base into the arms of the Congress. Not only did he get into a fight with Azam Khan, one of the SP’s top Muslim faces (who was subsequently expelled from the party) but he also enlisted the support of Kalyan Singh, a man no Muslim will forgive because of his role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
It is a convincing case and I do not deny that many of the arguments are valid.
But I disagree, nevertheless, with its conclusion. I don’t think Amar Singh will be out for very long. I don’t believe Mulayam Singh Yadav knows how to function without Amar Singh. And only a fool ever writes Amar Singh off — this man has more lives than a cat.
Amar Singh will be back. And it will be far sooner than the media are ready to concede. Whatever his faults — that he is a bully, that he is brazen, that he talks too much, that he is a publicity hound etc. — he has many, many strengths that make him invaluable as an ally to those he chooses to befriend.
There is, first of all, his capacity for friendship. It has become obligatory to sneer at him for his tendency to hang around with the rich and famous. But those who sneer forget that his relationships with the mighty are not based on the traditional mentor-chamcha equation. Instead, his relationships are those of equals. In many cases, it is the rich and famous who appear to be Amar Singh’s chamchas rather than the other way around.
Anyone who has been Amar Singh’s friend will tell you that when he is on your side, he gives you the impression that your interests are his interests; that he will take a bullet for you and that he will stick by you through thick and thin. In some cases — Anil Ambani and Amitabh Bachchan, for instance — he has amply demonstrated the depth of his friendship.
When we see Amar Singh’s relationship with Mulayam only through the prism of politics, we miss the deep, personal involvement. Amar Singh is now so much a part of Mulayam’s world that I suspect the SP leader will have difficulty facing life without Amar Singh by his side. In nearly every aspect of Mulayam’s life — his personal relationships, the SP’s finances, the kind of people he now meets, the way he spends his free time — it is Amar Singh who plays a starring role.
Nor is this relationship one of neta and sidekick. Anyone who knew Mulayam 20 years ago will tell you that he has been transformed under Amar Singh’s tutelage. If there is a dominant partner in the personal relationship, it is Amar Singh, not Mulayam.
Secondly, there is Amar Singh’s enormous capacity to turn adversity to his advantage. Look at the facts. He is the son of a small-time businessman from Calcutta. He had no money while growing up and nor does he have the capacity to sway crowds with his personal charisma. And yet, here he is: one of the best-financed, most powerful opposition leaders in India, deriving his power from a state that he adopted as his own only when he was in his thirties. It is, by any standards, a remarkable achievement.
If you need a more recent example of Amar Singh’s capacity to overcome adversity, look at the last two years. At the start of the first UPA government, Amar Singh was a pariah, a gatecrasher even. Yet, in the last months of the government’s life, he was the man who kept it afloat.
You can argue — as many in the SP do — that their party gained nothing from the alliance. By supporting the India-US nuclear deal, the SP alienated its more fanatical Muslim supporters, it gave the Congress a chance to go to the polls as the party of stable government and neither Mulayam nor Amar Singh got the Cabinet posts many people expected them to.
But equally, you cannot deny that the deal with Manmohan Singh showed that Amar Singh was still a player, that it gave him the right to walk in and out of the PMO and to argue that no matter how deep Sonia Gandhi’s hostility was, he was the Prime Minister’s friend and saviour.
Anybody who can go from being gatecrasher to saviour is capable of the most amazing comeback. I am betting he will do the same in the SP. Mulayam cannot survive without him. Nor does the SP remember how it ran itself in the pre-Amar Singh era; this avatar of the party is Amar Singh’s baby.
He will be back. When it comes to Indian politics, you can’t keep a good man down. Or a bad man, for that matter.
The views expressed by the author are personal