Rajya Sabha MP and former Samajwadi Party leader, Amar Singh passed away yesterday; just two years before completing his tenure. He had undergone a kidney transplant in 2011 and was battling with chronic illness for quite a long time. In March 2020, in a video message to all, he remarked “Tiger Zinda Hai.” Unfortunately, once the tallest and the most influential leader in the Samajwadi Party succumbed to his acute illness at a Singapore hospital yesterday. Having lived an influential political life for 64 years, Amar Singh’s journey through politics, Bollywood and corporate houses would make for a remarkable coffee-table read.
Amar Singh was one of the few politicians remaining in the political landscape of India sharing friendships across the spectrum. With Amar Singh though, matters were always grand. Not only was the man known for his friendships across party lines, but he also shared extremely cordial relations with Bollywood, not to mention Mumbai’s top corporates and India’s biggest industrialists. He shared a cordial relation with the Bachchan family, especially his ‘bade bhaiya’ Amitabh Bachchan. It was his connection with the country’s top industrialists and Bollywood stars that had intrigued and also impressed Mulayam Singh Yadav in the ’90s. As a Chief Minister, Mulayam couldn’t fathom how with one call from Amar Singh’s side, industrialists and film stars would land in Lucknow.
Regarded as a man with fingers in every pie, Amar Singh was a quintessential politician, despite having much more on his plate than politics. Singh understood politics better than many of his colleagues. He was born in Aligarh district of Uttar Pradesh on 27 January 1956. He was still a child when his family moved to Kolkata. He went on to study LLB at the University of Calcutta and reportedly made his political start as a member of the Youth Congress; being introduced to the party by the late MP Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi. It was in the ’90s when he came across Mulayam Singh Yadav through Purvanchali leader Veer Bahadur Singh and was introduced to the world of hardcore politics.
Amar Singh was first elected to the Rajya Sabha as a nominee of the Samajwadi Party. Subsequently, he was re-elected to the upper house in 2002 and 2008. However, in 2010, he was expelled from the Samajwadi Party as few ‘socialist’ leaders of the states, including Ram Gopal, Azam Khan and Akhilesh Yadav grew wary of Singh’s growing influence in party and state matters. His growing influence on the Samajwadi patriarch – Mulayam Singh, soon became a cause of worry for the second-generation leaders, who saw their political careers dwindling if Amar Singh’s meteoric rise was left to continue without opposition. While in 2010, anti-Amar faction prevailed, the Yadav clan was in for a rude shock in 2017.
At the peak of 2017’s election season in Uttar Pradesh, an unprecedented family feud broke out in the Samajwadi Party with the father and son fighting among themselves. The feud was based on-who should have a greater say in matters related to ticket distribution for the Assembly polls- the older guard, or the new leaders blossoming with youthfulness. While the old guard was represented by Mulayam Singh himself, his son Akhilesh carried the flambeau for the younger Samajwadi faction.
Having been expelled in 2010, it was not much of an uphill task for Amar Singh to gain back the confidence of Mulayam Singh in 2016 and get himself elected to the Rajya Sabha with the SP’s support. For a man, who in 2008 had saved the UPA-I government from an absolute collapse following the Left’s withdrawal of support due to the Manmohan Singh-led government signing the Nuclear deal with the US, winning a Rajya Sabha seat from UP was not a contest.
It must be noted that Amar Singh’s election to the Rajya Sabha came at a time when Akhilesh and his faction were dead opposed to the idea of the Amar Singh being re-inducted in the party. That he won despite such opposition is a glaring indicator of the influence he commanded in politics. As a matter of fact, Akhilesh Yadav was sacked from the position of the state chief of SP in September 2016, despite him being the Chief Minister of UP at the same time. Akhilesh had alleged that his ousting as state chief was the doing of Amar Singh and had put the blame squarely on him for influencing Mulayam Singh. In 2016, it was Amar Singh who had set the Yadav cauldron boiling. By 2017, all knots were broken loose in the family.
With the top two leaders of the party- Mulayam and Akhilesh fighting each other, intense factionalism broke out in the Samajwadi Party. While Akhilesh Yadav triumphed in the party, BJP swept the state clean; while the Congress-SP alliance failed abruptly. Azam Khan, the notorious man known for making repeated indecent remarks, left no mile unturned in stating that it was no other than Amar Singh who had scripted the massive family and party feud within the SP. “Whatever has happened today, there is only one name (Amar Singh) behind it. It is that evil force because of which the family and the party have split. I had explained this to the whole party — Netaji (Mulayam Singh) and Shivpal — at that time that this was wrong. But they didn’t listen to me. I have had a long association with the party,” Khan said in an interview to Economic Times.
India yesterday lost a master kingmaker, who despite having a prodigious career marred with controversies and complemented with all the ups and downs, was widely recognised as the keeper of many secrets – political and otherwise. People would land at his residence often in search of some tea they had never heard of earlier, and rest assured, the soft-spoken Amar Singh would always impress them.