Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh, the maverick businessman-politician who wielded remarkable influence at different points of time over a wide variety of people, across parties and fields as diverse as Bollywood and business, died in a Singapore hospital on Saturday of kidney failure. He was 64.
Till the end, family and friends hoped Singh would bounce back, as he had done numerous times — from political debacles, scandals, broken friendships and near-death experiences. Having undergone a kidney transplant in 2011, he was hospitalised in Singapore for the past eight months. Early this year, following rumours that he had passed away, Singh put out a video of himself saying “Tiger zinda hai”.
Singh, who is survived by his wife and two daughters, remained active till the very end. On Saturday morning, he posted a tweet paying tributes to Bal Gangadhar Tilak on his 100th death anniversary and sent out Eid greetings.
If he had one regret, it was over an “overreaction”, which he blamed for his parting of ways with Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan.
Singh’s rise in politics was itself the stuff of Bollywood potboilers, his strength being the ability to pull a rabbit out of a hat when someone was in trouble. But, when a journalist once described him as a “political fixer”, he dragged him to court for defamation, filing suits in Kolkata, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi courts, before finally making peace.
In his heyday, his clout was impressive. Singh was said to have bailed out Bachchan from near bankruptcy when his business venture ABCL went bust. During the short tenure of Chandra Shekhar as prime minister, Singh was also believed to have secured ABCL relief from hefty tax liabilities. When the Left pulled out of the Manmohan Singh government over the signing of the civil nuclear deal with the US in 2008, Singh persuaded Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav to see the Congress government through a trust vote.
He was accused of bribing three BJP MPs in 2008 and a case filed against him. He spent a brief time in judicial custody but was acquitted, with no concrete evidence found.
When Mulayam faced trouble for allegedly billing huge sums to the ministry for trips to home village Saifai as defence minister, it was Singh who sought legal advice from the late Arun Jaitley. The latter advised that Mulayam should make the case that since many ex-servicemen lived in his constituency, he had flown there as part of his duties.
Singh’s resourcefulness was seen at work in getting former US president Bill Clinton to visit Lucknow to meet Mulayam. Australian Sports TV entertainer Kerry Packer once flew down to Delhi to discuss a cricket deal.
Singh’s downfall was partly due to his high-flying, a hubris that led to bitter parting with good friends.
Though Singh proudly proclaimed his origins as a “Thakur from UP”, specifically Azamgarh, he grew up in Kolkata. His father was a shopkeeper dealing in locks, and he graduated in law before joining the Youth Congress and moving to Delhi. In the Capital, he first came close to then UP CM Vir Bahadur Singh, a fellow Thakur. A leading UP chemical company later hired Singh to serve on its board. Another friend he picked up in Delhi was the late Madhavrao Scindia.
However, after the Congress didn’t give him a ticket, Singh gravitated towards Mulayam, who was then a state-level Yadav leader. Singh used to boast that he repackaged Mulayam into a national figure. Singh himself at the time was often seen in the company of celebrities such as Bachchan, Anil Ambani and Sahara’s Subrata Roy.
Not all Singh’s claims were necessarily true, especially on the Bachchan affair. Apart from claiming to have got the superstar back on his feet after a financial debacle, he boasted of introducing Jaya Bachchan to politics through Mulayam. For some years, Singh and his “Bada Bhai” Bachchan were inseparable.
Early this year, he expressed deep regret on his Facebook account over the bitter split with the star. The actor was learnt to have sent a peace feeler on Singh’s father’s death anniversary.
Eventually, while Jaya remained with the Samajwadi Party and got a Rajya Sabha ticket, Singh was expelled from the party in 2010. Mulayam’s son Akhilesh Yadav reportedly did not like Singh’s influence over his father, and believed he fuelled a family rift. Incidentally, the Ambanis too blamed Singh for the feud within their family. Despite that, Mulayam continued to nurse a soft corner for Singh, and in 2016, Singh returned to the Rajya Sabha for the second time with the help of SP votes.
However, he later alienated Akhilesh again by joining forces with uncle Shivpal Yadav. At one point, he also joined Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal along with his protégé Jaya Prada, who alone remained loyal to him till the end. In his last years, Singh had come close to the BJP.
If there was one politician who always remained suspicious of him it was Congress president Sonia Gandhi. She once famously kept him waiting in the verandah as other UPA allies met in a room for talks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among those who expressed condolences over Singh’s passing on Saturday, describing him as a man who had witnessed major political developments from close quarters.
Akhilesh tweeted a photo of Singh with Mulayam and him.
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