How Amar Singh became a fixer, and why no one wants him now

RK Anand's book on Niira Radia says that Amar Singh was one of the big fixers who arrived on the scene before her. Quoting extensively from Gfiles, a governance magazine, he says that fixers have their uses, but when their work is done, they do not have an alternative future

hidden May 12, 2011 14:58:37 IST
How Amar Singh became a fixer, and why no one wants him now

VK Shashikumar & Tejas Patel

Special to Firstpost from THL Mediagrove

The Supreme Court of India finally lifted the gag order on the publication of Amar Singh’s tapes on Wednesday. The tapped conversations of the former Samajwadi Party leader were compiled in a CD titled Amar Singh Ki Amar Kahani and sent to media outlets a few years back. While some media houses published excerpts, Singh went to court to get them scotched. The CD contained Singh's alleged conversations with top politicians, businessmen, Bollywood stars, and journalists. A lot of the content was sleazy. The Supreme Court’s decision may open an avalanche of salacious stuff for the general public.

Interestingly, top criminal lawyer RK Anand's new book, Close encounters with Niira Radia, which broke first on Firstpost on Wednesday night, mentions Amar Singh as one of the top facilitators for deals before Niira Radia emerged on the Indian scene.

How Amar Singh became a fixer and why no one wants him now

Former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh is in a soup over his taped conversations with infleuential people. Vijay Mathur/Reuters

"This saga of facilitators - much before Niira burst upon the scene - has been peopled by many household and many not-too-household names, among them Rajya Sabha MP and industrialist Amar Singh," Anand writes. Excerpts from his book, which quotes extensively from Gfiles, a monthly magazine on governance:

The fine art of fixing

A recent issue of Gfiles, India’s authoritative monthly magazine on governance, stated that the fixer has now become "a fixture in the shadowy world of Indian governance." I will quote liberally from that prescient piece of writing. Even though this unique position (fixer) finds no mention in the official lexicography of India’s polity, it has come to occupy an institutionalised status in the affairs of state, the article states. The individual occupants, however, have a shelf life. While they are needed, they are larger than life, more powerful than politicians, more omniscient than bureaucrats. Through channels unknown to ministers, by the gift of the gab, through the knowledge of murky financial and personal secrets, through pretensions to gurudom, through cajolery, blackmail and charm, they move mountains that prime ministers, finance ministers, chief ministers once thought unfeasible to budge.

Ultimately, however, these conjurers of the art of the impossible, says Gfiles, live out their life cycles. Some fade away without a whimper. Others, unaware of the ephemeral nature of their proxy-power, try to play for keeps by securing party positions or nominations to Parliament or starting successful businesses. Yet, no matter what garb they don later, they cannot metamorphose. They are like Cain, marked. They are never accepted into the true brotherhood—or oligarchy, if you will - of the very politicians, bureaucrats, and industrialists for whom they performed miracles. Despite his dynamism, brilliance in wile, network of friends, ability to throw upmarket soirées, bevy of glamorous women, when the time of the fixer is up, it is up. Ultimately, he is no more than a facilitator with neither dynastic not grassroots mooring. "He is a dealmaker. And when there are no more deals, or when he sees himself as kingmaker - or (heaven forbid!) king himself - he is dispensable. Like a wad of sullied tissue paper."

This saga of facilitators - much before Niira burst upon the scene - has been peopled by many household and many not-too-household names, among them Rajya Sabha MP and industrialist Amar Singh. Singh’s persona, according to Gfiles, was special - a cut high above the wheelers and dealers who have preceded him on the stage of power. He was, and is, a great listener, feisty, never servile or pusillanimous. "He learned about the importance of the facilitator while working unofficially as a liaison man for KK Birla, (his daughter) Shobhana Bhartia, and her husband Shyam. He learned that even KK, whose family had virtually bankrolled the Congress Party from its inception, and his media-savvy and socially active daughter, Shobhana, could do very little themselves to move the bureaucracy or ministries, whether in matters of newsprint purchase, industrial licensing changes, or achieving price decontrol for molasses in Gajraula (Uttar Pradesh) factories run by KK’s son-in-law, the dashing, Errol-Flynn-moustachioed Shyam, or helping Shobhana get rid of the white elephant Home TV (ultimately purchased by Amar Singh confidant Subrata Roy of Sahara). “They all needed middle men with extraordinary powers of persuasion at every level of government."

It was from late hotelier Lalit Suri, a friend of Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi, and a recipient of land for Bharat Hotels as a real estate boondoggle from the Congress Party, and a monopoly outlet for Maruti cars, that Amar Singh picked up the finer part of durbar politics, and the art of raising and distributing party finances fairly without annoying the top. As he became "dispensable" to the Birla clan with liberalisation picking up, he veered closer to the Thakur brigade that ran Mandal politics, including Amethi Raja Sanjay Singh and Mulayam Singh, who picked up the leadership of Uttar Pradesh’s Yadav politics after Congressman Vir Bahadur Singh’s untimely demise.

Amar Singh’s speciality lay in combining politics with a glamour quotient, Gfiles comments. Some say he picked this up from Subrata Roy, the one-time flamboyant and now somewhat reclusive “Sahara Shree” of the Sahara group whose entire business USP was a combination of low-tomid-income non-banking financial "bhaiyya" depositors from eastern UP and Bihar along with the glamour of the Bachchans, Sushmita Sen, Raj Babbar, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Kapil Dev, Ajay Jadeja, Subhash Ghai, Aishwarya Rai and Swapna Bannerjee.

Others claim that Amar Singh was a fanatical Bollywood buff and star autograph-hunter from childhood. "He could rattle off film dialogue after having seen the movie just once. It was Amar Singh, his friends say, who came to Amitabh Bachchan’s aid, with no strings attached, when the Big B’s ABCL Ltd was in trouble and the superstar was in debt. They claim that "Amar Singh was Subrata Roy’s Bollywood connection, and not the other way around."

Similarly, the Gfiles story goes on, there's debate about who brought the Ambanis into the Mulayam Singh camp. Subrata Roy’s friends say that "Sahara Shree" was greatly admired by the late Dhirubhai Ambani who often sought his advice on how to maintain company discipline as well as on investment matters. Anyway, the story is that UP needed investment and a good image, Mulayam loved Amar Singh, Amar Singh loved Amitabh, Dhirubhai (and later Anil Ambani who set up a power project in Dadri on the Delhi-UP border), Subrata Roy, and Aishwarya Rai like a daughter and Abhishek Bachchan like a son. And they all came together as one big happy family.

Until, one day, Amar Singh found himself dispensed with. Political analysts like Vir Sanghvi then guessed that Amar Singh would be back in the Samajwadi Party, larger than life. "Sanghvi forgets the cardinal lesson that once you suck the pulp off the mango seed, you don’t put the seed back in your mouth. You spit it out. To change the metaphor, it's the shelf life, stupid!” Today this same Sanghvi stands hoisted by his own petard, hopelessly trying to defend his taped conversations with Niira.

“The facilitator emerges, struts about the stage and then, poof! He vanishes like Cinderella’s fairy godmother’s pumpkin carriage,” says Gfiles. In post-Independence Indian politics, the culture of the top wheelerdealer took root in Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s time. She needed personally loyal fixers to ward off and survive the onslaughts of the Congress Old Guard led by stalwarts like Morarji Desai and Jagjivan Ram.

Under Jawaharlal Nehru, none dared even breathe the tainted terms, “dealmakers,” “facilitators” and “fixers.” The leadership was simple, honest and hardworking. Bureaucrats were a conscientious species. Nehru trusted his Chief Ministers and always remained in direct touch with them.

Most nurture no real commitment to any individual, party, ideology or even to the interests of the nation. Money is their be-all and end-all. They are survivors, come what may. Former Cabinet Secretary BG Deshmukh once said that Delhi was a town of "200 influential people."

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