Sharad Gupta is a political commentator with over 30 years experience of working with publications like The Times of India, The Indian Express, India Today, Hindustan and Dainik Bhaskar. He is presently Senior Editor with Parliamentarian
It was a scoop of the year. An English national daily had on its front page splashed a huge photograph of BJP leaders Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley coming out of Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh’s residence after having dinner.
The year was 1998-99. Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, Jaitley was a member of his cabinet and Modi then BJP’s national general secretary. It was therefore not really done for two political adversaries, who called each other names during the day, every day, to socialise with each other in the dark of the night.
Besides, this was not a social occasion that could justify the super surreptitious supper. Singh hadn’t hosted a birthday or wedding party. It was a party thrown by Singh exclusively for the two individuals who were his political bête noires. A huge uproar followed but died in a whimper after a couple of days. Political cyclones die early. Amar Singh the quintessential political fixer still claims excellent relations with Modi. “I spoke to him to congratulate after he was elected PM. Since my wife belongs to Gujarat, I jokingly call him my brother-in-law”, he claimed.
Similarly, a top BJP leader, who is presently a senior minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet, in fact, has been fond of hosting such parties. He had invited Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad for dinner at his South Delhi home. Lalu had come with one of his acolytes who later on became a Union Minister.
The BJP leader asked them what they would like to have – tea, coffee, soft drink or something else. The BJP leader confided in me once that Lalu demanded the ‘most expensive whisky’ the BJP leader had in his home. The dinner party was rounded off with post-dinner liqueur, again demanded by Lalu, the BJP leader said mimicking Lalu’s dialect.
How could leaders, who bayed for each other’s blood in public, go for the ‘rival’s’ jugular on TV shows in the evening, and with élan party with each other in the night? That is political nexus for you. There are certain leaders cutting across party lines who are part of this nexus. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours: that’s their motto.
It is not like criminal-political nexus. It is much worse than that.
This way they continue to enjoy the fruits of power even after being voted out. They are not only fund-raisers but also crisis-managers. Anybody in trouble may get in touch with them and they will solve the problem in a jiffy.
It was not without reason therefore, that Amar Singh, then national general secretary of Samajwadi Party, had boasted to me during the Vajpayee government in 2001-2002, “Sir, if there is some job which even (Deputy Prime Minister) Lal Krishna Advani and (Union HRD Minister) Murli Manohar Joshi have failed to deliver, bring it to me. I will get it done in this government.”
Although I never tested the genuineness of his boasts, but I knew there was some substance there. Singh was after all, a friend of Ranjan Bhattacharya, foster son-in-law of Vajpayee. Then Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan used to complete the troika. In the now-infamous Ruia-Essar tapes, accessed by Supreme Court advocate Suren Uppal, Amar Singh is heard telling Anil Ambani that he was going to meet Pramod Mahajan, asking how much money he should demand from Mahajan for fielding Samajwadi Party candidates during 2002 Gujarat elections. This move would divide the anti-BJP votes among SP, NCP and Congress, paving the way for the BJP candidates’ victory. Ambani in turn, advices him to raise his price from a mere Rs 10 crore as NCP’s Supriya Sule had already taken Rs 25 crore.
“Is your party bigger than her’s or not?” he asks.
In yet another taped conversation about the same episode, Mukesh Ambani is heard telling Amar Singh to return the money taken from Mahajan.
“You continue taking whatever money is required, from Satish (Seth). We have to take bigger favours from the BJP government”.
Party? Which Party?
This is the political underworld that cuts across parties. They are the go-betweens between different parties. Some people call them power brokers, but they are like contingency services for various political parties. They have become an essential prerequisite for a party. Every party does have at least one ‘Amar Singh’ of their own. Some parties have even outsourced the job to private companies specialising in public relations or corporate communications.
They are the reason why officially no action is taken against Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, despite charges galore levelled against him publicly.
Congress too used to level all kind of allegations against “Damaadji” (as Ranjan Bhattacharya used to be called by them), yet despite being in power for 10 years (2004-2014) no action was initiated to investigate if he had indulged in any wrongdoing, as they had been alleging during the Vajpayee regime.
Similarly, during 2007 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election campaign BSP chief Mayawati had promised to put all SP goons behind bars. But soon after coming to power, she inducted most of them into her own party, bestowing them with lucrative positions in the government.
Five years later, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav vowed to demolish all the statues of Mayawati, Kanshi Ram and convert humongous parks housing these statues in all nooks and corners of the state, into schools. “This elephant eats currency notes”, he used to declare in his public rallies, implying rampant corruption during Mayawati’s five-year regime. However, not a single case of Mayawati’s corruption was investigated, let alone taking them to logical conclusion – conviction by courts. One should not be surprised if the two come together to forge an alliance to fight against a resurgent BJP during 2019 elections. They have already had a couple of secret meetings and the deal is being brokered by RJD chief Lalu Prasad.
Same is the case in Punjab where Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Congress have been bitter political rivals for the past couple of decades with top leaders of both parties – Parkash Singh Badal and Captain Amrinder Singh – accusing each other of indulging in corruption. Initially, they got some cases investigated and Singh sent the Badals behind the bars. But for the past few years, they seem to be having convivial relations.
The investigations have, if not shelved then at least, been put on the proverbial and comfortable backburner. Comfortable for both ‘rivals’.
Badal’s son Sukhbir touches Amrinder’s feet and in a recent media interaction confided that Amrinder used to send Diet Coke for him when he was in jail. Another example of such nexus was narrated by well-known journalist Shekhar Gupta at the launch of a book written by a cricket writer. The function was held when 2014 polling was over but the results were yet to come in. It was attended by both Arun Jaitley of the BJP and Rajiv Shukla of the Congress.
Gupta said, “I don’t know who is going to win in the elections. But, I do know that if Congress regains power at the centre, Jaitley will become chairman of Indian Premier League (IPL), and in case BJP wrests power, Jaitley will become a Union minister and Rajiv Shukla will take over as IPL chairman”.
Both Jaitley and Shukla grinned widely but none of them protested. A week later, after the results came in, Gupta’s words proved to be prophetic.
Stories of Pramod Mahajan’s friendship with Amar Singh and Ranjan Bhattacharya are the stuff folklore is made of. They often used to party together and had many business dealings. It is one such incident of 1999 which might shock a lot of people.
This happened after Vajpayee Government was going to face confidence vote in Lok Sabha – necessitated due to withdrawal of AIADMK’s support. There were many people who were tasked with drumming up support from like-minded parties and independent MPs.
One evening, when one such person reached Prime Minister’s house on Race Course Road, he was shocked to find Amar Singh sitting in the drawing room with Mahajan and Bhattacharya. The shock was compounded when Singh asked him, “How many Samajwadi Party MPs have you weaned away?” The perplexed power broker was comforted by Mahajan who said, “Don’t worry. He is our man. You can talk everything in his presence”.
In another instance, Singh - then SP general secretary – while partying with Natwar Singh and Jitendra Prasada of Congress at hotelier Lalit Suri’s residence, asked for a photograph of the group. He then tried to pull Natwar’s leg, saying he was going to send this photograph to Sonia so that she can see how her biggest acolyte (Natwar) hobnobs with her biggest enemies - Amar Singh and Jitendra Prasada.
Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh a brief while ago had opposed Sonia’s bid for power, saying they could not support a foreign-origin person to lead the country and Prasada had contested election against Sonia Gandhi for Congress presidentship. Unfortunately, Prasada suffered a heart attack shortly after returning from Lalit Suri’s do late that night and passed away on way to hospital.
After Amar Singh finished narrating this story to me, my question was, you have been describing Lalit Suri as “my friend” but wasn’t he Rajiv Gandhi’s classmate in Doon School? Singh answered nonchalantly: “So, why can’t Rajiv Gandhi’s classmate be my friend as well?”
“But, how do you manage to make everybody your friend - from Ambanis and Amitabh Bachchans to Sahara and Clintons?” He was again his affable best - “Because they all know that they can share everything with me and it will not go anywhere. They are aware that Amar Singh can help in overcoming almost all their problems. If he can’t help, at least he will not bring any harm to us. That is why they share their darkest secrets with me”.
On another occasion, Singh claimed that a large number of members of Delhi’s journalistic fraternity had at some or the other time, approached him seeking financial help. “They don’t seek alms. All of them come to me for short-term loan for either treatment of one of their parents, or completing construction of their house or for admission of their child etc. I don’t disappoint any of them, despite knowing full well that not a single penny of this amount is going to come back to me. But, I will never reveal any names.”
The success tasted by the likes of Amar Singh’s brand of politics has spawned a number of wannabe power brokers. They also want to climb up the socio-political ladder by cutting deals. Many of them have succeeded in brokering various deals big and small, made lot of money, earned some political capital as well, but no one has been able to match the level of Amar Singh, Rajiv Shukla, Pramod Mahajan or Arun Jaitley. The reason being they could not forge relations across the political spectrum. It becomes easier after bagging a party position or becoming elected representative of a party. That provides him greater credibility and accessibility as well. He can promise anything on behalf of his political bosses.
Ensuring the delivery of those promises adds to his aura. Politicians too need such people to tide over the times of crisis. Thus, a Prem Chandra Gupta can negotiate on behalf of Lalu Yadav, with BJP leaders better than Lalu himself. That is why even a mass leader like Mamata Banerjee needs a KD Singh, Dinesh Trivedi or a Mukul Roy and a Dalit Mayawati appoints a Brahmin Satish Chandra Mishra her party general secretary!
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