Five years ago, to be precise, on 12 May, 2011, I wrote a profile of Amar Singh in Governance Now and predicted that a phenomenon like him would be gasping for a breath and would become irrelevant sooner than later.
Those were the times when the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare was at its peak. People were thronging in hordes at Delhi’s Janpath and Ramlila Maidan to root out corruption and politicians remotely associated with it. Amar Singh was cast away from Mulayam’s bandwagon before the state assembly polls and he had no takers in national parties in view of his reputation, which he so proudly defends.
I thought that things would change for the better. With Amar Singh back in the reckoning and becoming a critical figure in the ongoing tussle within the Mulayam Singh Yadav household, I realised how wrong I was in underestimating the seamier side of politics. The script once again runs on the maxim "the more things change, the more they stay the same". The eternal relevance of the Amar Singh phenomenon could only be undermined at one’s own risk, so long as a seamier side of political underworld exists. For the readers’ benefit, here is the profile that I wrote then (reproduced with permission from Governance Now):
Some visuals simply refuse to fade away despite their apparent obnoxiousness. One such visual, if you remember, relates to Amar Singh dropping his pants at a press conference and obscenely gesticulating before television cameras how he was being treated since his exit from the Samajwadi Party (SP).
Despite the ugliness of his endeavour, the event hogged the limelight. Is there any parallel to Amar Singh’s antics? More recently, in the entertainment world, a lesser-known model Poonam Pandey suddenly stole the limelight when she declared that she would bare it all for the Indian cricket team, should it win the world cup. Though she could not fulfill her promise due to various constraints, she later performed a symbolic striptease that once again became hot news. Yet, Pandey remained a lot more decent, civilised and cultured than her uncouth political counterpart.
In politics, Amar Singh defies description. For the past 15 years, he ran the affairs of the SP and its supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav like a despot, despite the fact that his politics repelled the party’s second-rung leadership and cadres. Mulayam Singh, however, was not the only to have been bowled over by him. He endeared himself to two successive prime ministers — Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh — both of whom claimed to have impeccable credentials in public life. He had unhindered access to the PMO during Vajpayee’s time and he continued to enjoy that privilege when Manmohan Singh took over.
Singh's attributes that qualify him to be a man-always-in-the-reckoning have always been debatable. Perhaps, he is too aware of the fact that every demigod in politics has feet of clay. If one goes by his own utterances, he seems to represent the darker or seamier side of politics.
He proclaimed of late that he acted as a "dalal (broker) and supplier" for Mulayam Singh Yadav. Then, by way of explanation, he said that he had procured and bought support of legislators for his erstwhile netaji (Mulayam Singh). But the hidden threat to disclose all has been conveyed unambiguously to the SP supremo who is cautious enough to avoid a verbal duel with his former lieutenant.
What is indeed surprising is the fact that an increasing number of top politicians get intimidated by Amar Singh's nuisance value. In some cases, they owe him a favour or two. For instance, the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj had time and again proclaimed her liking for Amar Singh. The leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, introduced him to Narendra Modi, way back in the late 1990s during the NDA regime. He threw in his lot with Pramod Mahajan when there were insinuations about his possible involvement in journalist Shivani Bhatnagar’s murder. He vehemently defended Yashwant Sinha when his role as the finance minister was under the scanner on the UTI scam.
Few would know that Amar Singh was party to the anti-UPA axis which was formed on the Indo-US nuclear deal. In late evening parties attended by late Digvijay Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Sitaram Yechury, this idea started taking shape. Sinha convinced LK Advani about the efficacy of this new anti-UPA axis on the issue of the nuclear deal. With the Left parties taking an ideological position on the issue, the BJP changed its earlier stance in order to hasten the government’s downfall. But the anti-UPA axis fractured when Amar Singh crossed over to the UPA side and virtually played the "biggest political broker ever" capable of subverting parliamentary democracy. The rest is history.
Singh's attributes that qualify him to be a man-always-in-the-reckoning have always been debatable. Perhaps, he is too aware of the fact that every demigod in politics has feet of clay
There is little doubt that Amar Singh as a political phenomenon was sustained and nursed by a political class wedded to economic liberalisation. Until the 1990s, he acted as an "errand boy" for politicians ranging from former UP Chief Minister Vir Bahadur Singh to Madhavrao Scindia. But Singh’s metamorphosis from a brief-holder of industrial houses to a policymaker was not sudden. He graduated to that role with the help of those in politics and industry who had nothing but contempt for scruples and ethics.
Against this background, it was hardly surprising when Amar Singh came to the defence of the beleaguered Manmohan Singh government on the Lokpal bill and launched an attack on former law minister Shanti Bhushan and his son Prashant Bhushan, who are part of the five-member team representing civil society to draft the bill. He is doing everything to lend credence to suspicion that Shanti Bhushan, an eminent lawyer of the 1970s, was involved in irregularity and unethical practices.
The moot question is: Why did Amar Singh get involved in such a face off with civil society? Those who have monitored his campaign in eastern UP would endorse that Amar Singh has been fighting a desperate and last battle to maintain his relevance in today’s scenario. After his exit from the SP, he tried to revive his political fortunes by raising the issue of creation of Poorvanchal, a state carved out of the districts of eastern UP. But all his shows proved to be brazen exhibitions of lumpen politics. That he is unacceptable to the mainstream political parties because of political filth and stench surrounding his personality has gradually dawned on him.
While the Amar Singh phenomenon was on the verge of atrophy and gasping for breath, the Anna Hazare agitation happened. Though the government was initially dismissive, it was rattled by the groundswell of anger against corruption and support to the agitation. It would not have been a prudent political strategy to take on the unblemished Anna and his colleagues either by the government or by the Congress. In such a scenario, Amar Singh emerged as a saviour for both and at last found his calling — to run down the Anna agitation by targeting the Bhushans. But he once again seems to have overplayed his hand ignoring the serious crisis of credibility he faces.
Anna Hazare and his colleagues treated his allegations against the Bhushans with the contempt they deserved. By all indications, the Amar Singh phenomenon in Indian politics has outlived its utility. There may be occasional attempts by Amar Singh to gain relevance through ugly "bare-all" shows in future. But posterity will remember him as the lead figure in a tragicomedy that subverted Indian democracy for over a decade.
Published Date: Oct 25, 2016 11:21 am | Updated Date: Oct 25, 2016 12:59 pm