Obituary | Amar Singh, man for all parties

Tumultuous career saw the RS MP’s close ties with Mulayam Singh Yadav and actors Amitabh Bachhan and Jaya Prada

Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh passed away in Singapore on Saturday after ailing for sometime. He had been under treatment at a hospital in Singapore for the last seven months after having suffered a kidney failure in 2013. He is survived by his wife, Pankaja Singh, and daughters Disha and Drishti.

Mr Singh, 64, was born in Aligarh in 1956, educated in Kolkata, with an early political career in the West Bengal Congress. As a Youth Congress member in the 1980s, he came into the orbit of then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Vir Bahadur Singh but it was a chance encounter with Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1996 on board a plane that changed his fortunes.

The SP had just been formed and Mr Yadav was defence minister in the Deve Gowda government. In the era of coalition politics, Mandal, Mandir and a liberalising economy, Mr Singh’s talents to help finance political ambitions and forge friendships across the political spectrum found full play. He was soon made a general secretary of the fledgling Samajwadi Party, and also rewarded with a Rajya Sabha berth in 1996.

He was not only said to be instrumental in bringing Mr. Yadav out of his cul de sac of Uttar Pradesh and the trajectory of a provincial politician to being a real player in Delhi, but also injected Bollywood glamour into the proceedings with his friendship with superstar Amitabh Bachchan.

The apogee of his career and its denouement was the 2008 trust vote faced by the Manmohan Singh-led UPA I government after its Left Front allies pulled out support over the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal.

The SP’s 39 MPs were pledged to support the government after the party had a “change of heart” over the nuclear deal. Dr Manmohan Singh himself claimed that he asked Mr.Yadav and Mr. Amar Singh to speak to former president Kalam on the issue, and were persuaded to support his government after that.

The scene in Parliament on the day of voting in July, 2008, however, was completely unprecedented with currency notes amounting to crores being displayed in the Well of the House and the BJP accusing the Congress and its allies of trying to buy MPs to shore up support.

While the government survived, Mr. Amar Singh was implicated in a legal case on the matter and even served some time in jail (though he was not convicted) in 2010.

The rise of Mr. Yadav’s son Akhilesh, and the resentment of a section of the SP saw Mr Amar Singh give up all party posts in 2011. The only party leader to walk away with him was actress and MP Jaya Prada to whom he had been a mentor in her political career.

The former high-profile leader was forced into political wilderness for a while, during which he formed his own party with Ms. Jaya Prada, and later joined the Rashtriya Lok Dal and lost in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. During the period he also suffered great ill health, with kidney failure and long months of treatment in 2013.

In 2016 he had a second wind and was partially reconciled with Mr. Yadav, who supported his Rajya Sabha election. It was clear, however, with the successive election of two full majority governments headed by Prime Minister Modi, that the coalition era or political deal making was done, and with it, Mr Singh’s unique talents had had their day.

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