Amar Singh is known as a deal maker who crashed onto India’s political scene in the mid-1990s, and ruled for over a decade, stitching up alliances even between once-hostile political parties. Singh also has the dubious distinction of being at the centre of the country’s most famous feuds, both in political as well as high-profile business families – from the Ambanis to, more recently, the Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh. After dropping out of public life for over five years, from 2009 to 2016, Singh returned. He landing on his feet, bagging a precious Rajya Sabha seat, as well as new political friends – none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Singh is candid about the unseemly Yadav family affair, his relations with Mulayam Singh Yadav, his past encounters with the BJP, and even his future as a deal broker.
Excerpts from an interview:
You are known as the man who knows too much. What was the Samajwadi Party imbroglio all about?
This is a matter of great complexity, but there’s a lot of confusion too. Let me explain the genesis of the problem: Mulayam Singh Yadav was the undisputed leader of the party and, to be fair to him, it was his sweat and blood. He is an earthy, pragmatic politician who lives and sleeps politics. I met him in the mid-’90s and we were very, very close, inseparable until we parted in 2009. What I lacked, he had in him, and vice versa…
You complemented each other?
Yes, but in the process, the SP [Samajwadi Party], being a family party where every other member of the family is somebody, there were bound to be clashes. There is a popular saying in politics: “Enemies are enemies, but friends are jealous.” So a lot of family members, particularly Ram Gopal Yadav [Mulayam Singh Yadav’s first cousin], who was supposed to handle the party’s affairs in Delhi, was very unhappy, but because of Mulayam’s humongous influence plus delivery he was forced to stay mum. For, whether Mulayam Singh was in power or not, he always remained a factor in national politics. All non-Congress and non-BJP governments were formed because of his active participation. But Ram Gopal, who believed he was learned, scholarly, polished and honest, began to feel left out, and the conspiracy to get rid of me started way back in 2009.
But that is expected right?
No, this would not have happened if he did not have the blessing of the late Jnaneshwar Mishra, who was also unhappy because of the influence I was wielding on Mulayam Singh Yadav. And of the late Mohan Singh and Brij Bhushan Tiwari, all hardcore socialists who didn’t want the socialist movement to get embroiled with the glitterati of Delhi. You see, Mulayam Singh’s family loved Bollywood and became very fond of the glamour and glitz. They started the annual Saifai festival where film stars, socialites and tycoons came every year. So, their [socialist leaders’] opposition to me was ideological because they were hardcore Lohiaites, and they disliked the glitz and glamour, even at the cost of being non-pragmatic.
What happened in 2009?
The opposition was brewing, Ram Gopal added fuel to this fire and in 2009, all of them ganged up and forced Mulayam Singh to expel me.
But you both were inseparable, how did they succeed?
Only recently, Mulayam Singh told me that “the difference between you and me is that you do personalised politics. First of all, you are in politics because you consider me a friend, and so, for the sake of friendship you can sacrifice politics. But I am into hardcore politics,” he said, “and for the sake of political gain I will sacrifice friendship. This is the difference between us”.
Ram Gopal Yadav and his faction in the Samajwadi Party say you are a BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh agent?
This is absolute nonsense, it is actually Ram Gopal who is hobnobbing with the BJP, and the recent example is the botched mahagathbandhan [grand alliance] in Bihar. The alliance was born in the house of Mulayam Singh, everyone accepted Mulayam Singh as the undisputed leader and was ready to contest on a common symbol. But Ram Gopal came out with the statement that it is like “signing my own death warrant”.
This is because there’s a corrupt Noida engineer called Yadav Singh, also Mayawati’s Man Friday, who had a special delivery vehicle called Vinod Shah to run his corrupt practices. [Yadav Singh, former Noida engineer-in-chief without an engineering degree, and who has served six chief ministers, is now lodged in Dasna jail, Ghaziabad, after being arrested early last year in a multi-crore scam]. Shah created a company for Ram Gopal’s son and daughter-in-law – Akshay Yadav [a Samajwadi Party MP] and Richa Ahulwalia – and became a director. Vinod Shah is a common director for Ram Gopal’s family and Mayawati’s family, her brother Anand [Kumar]. Yadav Singh is equally close to Ram Gopal’s set up and Mayawati’s set up. Rama Raman, CEO of Noida [who was also shunted out of the post under a cloud of corruption but later reinstated] was equally close to Ram Gopal and Akhilesh Yadav. Navneet Sehgal [a powerful bureaucrat] was equally close to Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav.
But where is the RSS connection?
There is ample proof. First, Ram Gopal broke the alliance in Bihar, and this time too, in UP [Uttar Pradesh], he is responsible for splitting the party.
Are you suggesting it is to protect his alleged business interests?
Akshay Yadav bought shares in a company, NM Buildwell, from RK Manocha, an associate of Yadav Singh and a former business partner of his [Yadav Singh’s] wife, Kusumlata. The company is under a probe for suspected money laundering. The chief justice of Allahabad High Court had ordered a CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] inquiry [in 2015]. Even the Supreme Court appointed an SIT [Special Investigation Team] headed by Justice Shah and Justice Prasad to enquire into NM Buildwell Pvt Ltd. I don’t know why Narendra Modi gives a statement on corruption every day, but they are sleeping over it. So, Ram Gopal wanted to favour the BJP by creating this family feud, maybe out of a fear psychosis, or maybe to stop the initiation of a CBI probe into NM Buildwell Pvt Ltd. It is the trigger point for Ram Gopal for the feud.
You are also said to have very close relations with the BJP?
Atalji [Atal Bihari Vajpayee] was very fond of me, I was also close to him, and I’m privileged for it. I also hold Vishnu Kant Shastri, an ardent RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] man and former governor of UP [Uttar Pradesh], with reverence. He was a dear friend of my father, I used to call him “uncle” as a child. Yes, you can say, I definitely had a role in installing Mulayam Singh as chief minister in 2003 [when the Bahujan Samaj Party-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in Uttar Pradesh collapsed. Chief Minister Mayawati expected President’s Rule after the split, but governor Vishnu Kant Shastri invited the Samajwadi Party to form the government].
So you colluded with BJP then?
The BJP’s late Pramod Mahajan, a dear friend, had requested me that though the Speaker is supposed to be non-political, please don’t touch Kesrinath Tripathi [who belonged to the BJP and was the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Speaker from 2002 to 2004]. I didn’t touch Kesrinath. If you call it a deal, then the deal was done by me. If this is hobnobbing with BJP then I’ve done it…As for friends in the BJP, I am a very, very close friend of Arun Jaitley, I don’t deny it. I have known Arun as lawyer and family friend.
What’s your relationship with Narendra Modi?
As long as he was chief minister of Gujarat, we were very close. I am also married to a Gujarati princess from Bhavnagar. I’ve known Modi since he came to Delhi in the mid-nineties. He was nice and warm then, he is warm and cordial today. I have barely met him after he became PM.
So, how did you get back with Mulayam Singh?
I think a vacuum was created by my absence in Mulayam’s life, I had always acted as his shield and he felt that my absence had become a catalyst in allowing many cactuses to grow around him, and they are thorny!
What changed between him and his son?
I think the generation gap and the greed to not wait…it happens in any family. He wanted to tell his son, “Hey, I am not tired and retired, I am still around”. He wanted to reprimand his son by bringing us [Amar Singh] and tightening his screw [sic], but his son took it very seriously and treated Mulayam Singh as a rival and took him on with all his political might.
You have said the Yadav family feud was staged to make Akhilesh Yadav’s succession easy?
Yes, Mulayam Singh staged it to sideline Akhilesh’s rivals, to ensure that he remains absolutely unchallenged when Mulayam is no longer there.
How can you be so sure?
The first time when we all went to the Election Commission on the question of who should get the party symbol – I must have spoken to three to four [former] chief election commissioners, and they all said that if there is a dispute, and even if the numbers are in favour of one side, the process of verifying the numbers of legislators will take at least two to three months. So, Akhilesh may have had the numbers, but the party symbol would have been frozen until such time of verification. But the very fact that Mulayam Singh did not take me the second time round to the EC [Election Commission], because he wanted to clandestinely give the party symbol to his son, is a charge I make. Also, he told me not to visit his house again because it upsets [Samajwadi Party leader] Azam Khan. The problem with Mulayam Singh is that he does politics with everyone including his son, so his idea was not to eliminate him [the son] but to teach him a lesson. Instead, the son turned out to be cleverer and taught his father a lesson. The father also willingly accepted it because he wants a slice of the cake, he doesn’t want to demolish the cake altogether.
Are you going to join the BJP? You had said, maybe?
I have not said that. Some people asked me if I will join the BJP, I did not reply and I am still not replying, because I am not in talks with anybody. Why build castles in the air?
But you’ve got a lot of favours from the Modi government? The paramilitary forces for your security returned after the Yadav family drama.
If Nitish Kumar supported notebandi, would you call him a BJP agent? It was after Ram Gopal threatened me on national television that “you’ll not go back home safely” that the forces were sent to protect me.
What is your assessment of the ongoing elections in Uttar Pradesh?
The SP [Samajwadi Party] is a divided house and the way Akhilesh has openly shown hatred and contempt against his official nominee and uncle, Shivpal Yadav, is not done. The message will go a long way.
What do you think of Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav coming together?
I think it is a loss for both – first, the SP [Samajwadi Party] has given away seats to Congress and [its] members are angry. Two, the SP’s backward voters and the Congress’ forward voters are always at loggerheads. As far as Muslims go, after years of accusing the Congress of demolishing the Babri mosque, today the inheritor of that legacy, and the defender of the faith, are coming together. Akhilesh and Rahul are two banks of a river that can never meet.
Why do Muslims trust the Samajwadi Party despite the Muzaffarnagar riots?
Yes, the SP’s [Samajwadi Party’s] record was not clean, and I must add that if people talk about the killing of Muslims in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, they must talk about killings of Muslims in Muzaffarnagar. One cannot discriminate – if in Modi’s Gujarat Muslims are killed it is communal but in Muzaffarnagar, Mulayam is not communal. In fact there is a grave charge that when Muzaffarnagar was burning, Mulayam and family were busy watching Madhuri Dixt, Salman Khan and Mallika Sherawat perform in Saifai.
You worked very closely with Manmohan Singh, how do you compare MMS and Modi?
Manmohan Singh was not a natural leader of his party, Sonia Gandhi’s stature was far greater than that of Manmohan Singh. Even Ahmed bhai [Patel] was big enough to drive the PMO’s [Prime Minister’s Office] car.
Did you feel betrayed by the Congress for going to jail on the cash-for-votes scam?
It became very murky, they took my support first and then to save themselves, they chargesheeted me because I was expelled by the SP [Samajwadi Party] and I had no MPs to support the government.
You mean they got you because they believed you were weakened?
Like in the 2G case, Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee [members of the Cabinet during the previous United Progressive Alliance government] could not have been caught but its soft targets were Kanhimozhi and Raja.
In CWG [Commonwealth Games], what was the role of Suresh Kalmadi [in the scam related to the games] except distributing seats? If there was any irregularity, it should have fallen on Sheelaji [Sheila Dikshit, the former Delhi chief minister]. I’m not calling her corrupt, but Kalmadi was picked to be sacrificed. Kanimozhi, Raja, Kalmadi and Amar Singhs of the world were soft targets, easy to be slaughtered.
Where do you see yourself today? Would a deal maker like you still have a role in politics?
I leave it to destiny, circumstances and opportunity. If these three support me, then I will take a decision. I am 61, I’m now saturated. I don’t want to be super saturated. If that level comes, I will run away. I am not a saint.