When Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said on Wednesday that “people from outside the household” keep interfering in the Samajwadi Party’s affairs, no one had any doubt who he meant. Once the public face of the party, then ousted, Amar Singh has returned to an SP that is very different from how he used to know it. Seen as party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s closest aide in those days, when he had the ear of ‘Netaji’, Amar Singh today finds Akhilesh older and more assertive, his own influence on party affairs far reduced.
On Tuesday, Amar Singh had told the media that Akhilesh hadn’t meant him when he used the term ‘outsider’; Akhilesh was like a son to him and Mulayam like a brother.
When the “son” had cracked the whip, it had appeared to be indirectly against Amar Singh. On September 11, Amar Singh had hosted a party for independent Rajya Sabha MP Subhash Chandra, the guests including Mulayam and his brother Shivpal Yadav.
When Mulayam replaced Akhilesh as the party’s UP chief, rivals in the SP accused Amar Singh of having influenced Mulayam. And Akhilesh removed chief secretary Deepak Singhal, who too had attended the meeting, while divesting Shivpal of his portfolios.
Amar Singh’s discomfiture with the new environment showed when he issued a statement last month that those close to Mulayam were being “insulted” in the party and he is being made to sit on back benches in the Rajya Sabha. He alleged he was being insulted, kept on “mute” and sidelined.
“What Amar Singh failed to realise is that he cannot take liberties like he did when Mulayam was the sole leader and Akhilesh was a child,” an SP insider said. In contrast, Rajya Sabha member Beni Prasad Verma, also reinducted in the SP, has kept a low profile. Asked about the controversy, he declined to go into a “family issue” other than expressing concern.
Amar Singh has become close to Shivpal, who has defended him amid the attack on “outsiders”. But he has found baiters both inside and outside the family. “Cadres are demanding action against outsiders taking advantage of Netaji,” said SP general secretary Ram Gopal Yadav, who had opposed Amar Singh’s re-induction.
Cabinet Minister Azam Khan said, “If the chief minister is saying it then he must be right. We had such apprehensions and that is why we had strongly opposed the return of such people… Their only job is to make recordings and blackmail.” This was a reference to the CD titled ‘Amar Singh Ki Amar Kahani’, the taped conversations that had hit the headlines a few years ago.
During his first stint of 14 years from 1996 to 2010, Amar Singh networked extensively for the party and was frequently seen with celebrities from Anil Ambani to Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, from Sanjay Dutt to Subrata Roy. One rival leader used the expression “Corporate Thakur” to describe the man who brought in professionals to man the SP office in Delhi.
When he was sidelined, one celebrity that did stand by him was Jaya Prada, expelled along with him. There were reports about his joining the Congress but one Congressman said he was “too hot to handle”. Eventually, he floated his own Rashtriya Lok Manch in 2011 and fielded over 300 candidates in the 2012 UP polls but won none. He briefly joined the Rashtriya Lok Dal and contested the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from Fatehpur Sikri, and lost.
Six years after his expulsion, the SP mended fences and nominated him to the Rajya Sabha in May this year. The dividing lines were drawn — Azam Khan and Ram Gopal opposed his re-entry, Shivpal backed him and Akhilesh did not oppose it in public. Until now.
Those backing him cite his managerial skills, connections and fund-raising abilities, his credentials as a Thakur who could counter Lucknow MP Rajnath Singh’s influence, and chiefly the suave, urban face he gives a party whose base is essentially rural.
“Amar Singh still has a role in the SP. He has got a Rajya Sabha nomination; Mulayam has honoured the old friendship. Unlike in the past, however, Amar Singh cannot aspire to have a say in governance matters in UP,” a party insider said.