As I sat in his opulently decorated drawing room, Singh spoke at length about political events unfolding in Delhi, with a mixture of bombast and cunning. He made it a point to emphasise the special relationship he shared with PM Manmohan Singh, and also how he was the one who told veteran actor Dev Anand to ask Mrs Gursharan Kaur to release the first copy of his autobiography. She is a huge fan of his, you know, he said with a smile. Knowledge is power, he added, in case I didnt get the point. For a man who traded on knowing the particular foibles of Indias power elite, this was just one feather in his cap.
From there to his lonely state at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, battling kidney disease and the courts over the cash for vote case, has been one swift decline. Far from the power that accrues to a friend of the powerful, he has been stripped, systematically, of even nuisance value. Just how did this happen
Although an MP from a party that was at most a regional offshoot of the larger Janata parivar, his influence in Delhis power circles appeared ubiquitous. He straddled the worlds of politics, cinema and business, making friends and influencing people.
The decline of this influence began after the general elections of 2009. The Congress good performance in those elections meant it needed fewer allies, certainly not the Samajwadi Party which would extract more than its pound of flesh in the bargain. Singhs run-ins with his mentor Mulayam Singh Yadavs close family became more pronounced, as many felt that, rather than be an asset to Yadavs political prospects, Singh had alienated him from the larger socialist family. The SP was out in the political cold, with no alliance with the Congress at the Centre, no power in the state of UP, and the added burden of carting Singhs strong likes and dislikes accumulated over years of cutting deals across Delhi. As he had risen in power and influence, he had become increasingly thin-skinned about his image, earning him as many enemies as friends.
Singh, who was battling severe kidney disease for some time, decided to fly to Singapore for a transplant, but not before very public differences arose between him and the other coterie around Yadav. While in Singapore, he watched helplessly as others took his spot as the man with Yadavs ear. His glamorous and not-so-glamorous friends did not exactly beat a path to his luxuriously furnished flat in the island state, despite lavish accommodations for guests. On his return, he fulminated, hinting darkly at secrets he held in trust for the rich and the powerful. But the threat proved futile, and his fledgling political party, the Akhil Bharatiya Lok Manch, lost steam; his money running out faster than his enthusiasm for the project.
There was clearly a difference between how he perceived himself and how others did. For those who watched him, he was a middleman made good, hopping from the Congress gravy train in the 1980s to that of the SP when the Mandal tornado hit. His acumen in cutting deals and timely interventions in the lives of the powerful in their time of need propelled him centrestage. But that was clearly not how he saw himself.
He saw himself, over the years, as a politician who just happened to have some very powerful friends. Former Union minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi used to recall a conversation he had with Singh in the first term of the UPA. Amar Singh told me that dada you are my guru, dont you remember I was in the Congress district committee in Gariahat when you were a big leader already. And I told him swiftly, no no Amar, you cannot lay that at my door, Dasmunsi would laughingly say.
Quite clearly, if Singh thought his years in the political circuit had made a neta out of him, the political class was quite unwilling to foster that impression. He had clearly overreached. It will be the first time in nearly 16 years that an Assembly election in UP would take place without Amar Singh by Mulayam Singh Yadavs side. More to the point, however, will he be missed