Amar Singh’s death mourned across parties
Amar Singh is widely credited with having played a role in saving the Congress-led United Progress Alliance government in 2008, by convincing Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party to support it.Updated: Aug 02, 2020 05:25 IST
Almost everyone in New Delhi has an Amar Singh story (usually told to them by the man himself), an indication of the kind of connections across party lines that he had in the country’s political capital and also a reflection of the 1990s and the 2000s (his prime years), when coalitions ruled Delhi.
Singh is widely credited with having played a role in saving the Congress-led United Progress Alliance government in 2008, by convincing Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party to support it.
The messages of condolence that followed his death on Saturday, in Singapore, at the relatively young age of 64, reflect this — from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to President Ram Nath Kovind, from Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath to Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav (whose father was Singh’s long-time mentor , although Yadav Jr and he did not see eye to eye), and from Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad to Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
“Amar Singh Ji was an energetic public figure. In the last few decades, he witnessed some of the major political developments from close quarters. He was known for his friendships across many spheres of life. Saddened by his demise. Condolences to his friends & family. Om Shanti,” the Prime Minister tweeted on Saturday.
Singh was a Rajya Sabha MP at the time of his death, but he wasn’t well for much of the past decade — he underwent a kidney transplant in 2011. In the decade before that, sometimes it seemed he was everywhere — in New Delhi but also in Mumbai, India’s business hub and home to Bollywood, where Singh’s connections extended to top businessmen (he was very close to Anil Ambani at one time and also to the Sahara Group’s Subrata Roy) and actors including Amitabh Bachchan, whom he used to refer to as his brother, but with whom he had a falling out, reportedly because the actor didn’t visit him in jail.
Singh’s family traces its roots back to Azamgarh, but he was born in Aligarh, in 1956; he grew up in Kolkata’s Burrabazar (his family was in the locks business) and studied law. He entered politics, like many in India do, through the Congress, but his fortunes changed in the early 1990s when his path crossed that of a man who would go on to become his friend and mentor — Mulayam Singh Yadav. By 1996, Singh was in the Rajya Sabha, a nominee of the Samajwadi Party.
On Saturday, Akhilesh Yadav tweeted out a photograph that shows Amar Singh with him and Mulayam Singh Yadav and said: “On being deprived of Amar Singhji’s affection, care, my heartfelt condolences and tributes.”
Singh’s latest stint in the Rajya Sabha was also facilitated by the party — he won as an independent, but supported by the party (he was expelled from it in 2010, but made up with Mulayam Singh Yadav in 2015). He was named the party’s national general secretary in 2016, but was again expelled from the party in early 2017. He flirted with the Bharatiya Janata Party after that.
In 2018, after a period of exile from the public eye following his second expulsion but also partly on account of his failing health, he appeared on stage during a meeting addressed by PM Modi. At the meeting, while lashing out at his political opponents for their nexus with industrialists, PM Modi referred to Singh and said he could disclose the details.
Clearly enjoying the attention, Singh later told mediapersons that he would give out the names when the time was ripe. “Lab khulenge to utar jayenge chehre saare…” (people will regret it when I open my mouth) he said to a television channel.
But he never joined the party.
Singh also worked his way into the good books of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological parent; not only did he support the demand for a Ram temple at Ayodhya, but also donated his ancestral house in Azamgarh to the Sangh.
He also supported the BJP on both demonetisation and the abrogation of Article 370.
While speaking during the debate on the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in the Rajya Sabha on August 5 last year, he said he could not be called a “dal badloo” or a party hopper. “I did not leave the party, though I was expelled twice,” he said on the floor of the House and proceeded to support the BJP.
Ironically, it was the same party which he worked against during the 2008 trust vote that the UPA won. Indeed, some would say the story of how the high-profile right-hand man of Mulayam Singh Yadav and friend of Amitabh Bachchan ended up in jail (albeit for just four days) is also the story of how the UPA government won the trust vote in 2008. That stay in jail came after his arrest in a case over allegations that three Bharatiya Janata Party lawmakers were bribed to vote for the UPA in the 2008 trust vote. Singh was acquitted for want of evidence.
Singh claimed (and this was subsequently confirmed by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in an interview to Karan Thapar) the UPA got in touch with him when the Left parties threatened to cease supporting the UPA over signing the India-US nuclear deal. The best option for Singh’s government was to have Mulayam Singh Yadav and his 39 MPs on its side, but this was tricky because the SP’s socialist credentials could be hurt if they were seen getting close to the Americans.
Singh said that at the time, the SP actually enjoyed a better relationship with the Left parties than it did with the Congress. But the Congress’s floor managers knew if there was anyone who could convince Netaji (as Mulayam Singh Yadav is called), it was the flamboyant Singh himself. But for that, Singh would have to forget an old hurt — how Congress president Sonia Gandhi ignored him at a meeting she called for potential allies in 2004 at the time of the formation of the UPA. Singh did — and some believe that he helped save the government of the day. The UPA would go on to win again in 2009.
The return of a dominant party after nearly three decades may have dimmed Singh’s political relevance, but this also came at a time when his health was failing.
Over the past few months, the always-friendly Singh was ready to forgive. Tweeting from his hospital bed in Singapore in February, while being treated for his long-standing kidney ailment, he said, of his relationship with Bachchan: “Today is my father’s death anniversary and I got a message for the same from @SrBachchan ji. At this stage of life when I am fighting a battle of life and death, I regret for my over reaction against Amit ji and family. God bless them all.”
On Saturday, Bachchan took to his blog to express his grief: “Struck with grief, bowed head, only prayers are left. Close life, close relationship, the soul is no more.”