Amar Singh and the Bharatiya Janata Party – so near and yet so far

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Shortly after demonetization in November 2016, a video purportedly showing him smiling at a derogatory comment against Prime Minister Narendra Modi by an unidentified person fetched Amar Singh an FIR at the City Kotwali police station in Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh. The Samajwadi party leader wasted no time to file a counter complaint against the person uttering the comments and went on to dub demonetization as a courageous move.

Contrary to his party’s stand, Singh who had been re-elected to the Rajya Sabha in May that year, went ahead to praise the policy decision, although with a footnote about the weakness in its implementation. While his party colleagues trained their guns on the PM, Singh went around declaiming how “proud” he was to have Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.

These statements marked the beginning of Amar Singh’s outreach towards the PM and the Bharatiya Janata Party with which he had a turbulent past. In 2008, Singh was accused of conspiring and masterminding the cash-for-vote scam to bribe some MPs to cross vote ahead of a confidence vote in the Lok Sabha.

The politically expedient Singh, known as a power-broker in political circles, was unperturbed when he breached the Samajwadi Party line to support the BJP on a host of issues from the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya to the abrogation of Article 370 that gave Jammu and Kashmir its special status.

By 2017, when signs of estrangement between him and his mentor Mulayam Singh Yadav were evident, he seemed to make the most of the speculation about his joining the BJP.

Singh’s warming up to the BJP was visible after the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2017, when he lashed out at Akhilesh Yadav for aligning with the Congress, accusing him of corruption and failing to offer development in the state.

His public outburst against the Yadav scion led to a second expulsion from the party, which was announced at the national convention. He was earlier expelled for anti-party activities in 2010.

In 2018, a period of exile from the public eye, partly on account of his failing health, ended when his presence at PM Modi’s event became the talking point. While lashing out at his political opponents for secretly kowtowing with industrialists, PM Modi referred to Singh and how he could disclose the details of those meetings.

Basking in the attention, Singh later told mediapersons that he will give out the names when the time is ripe. “Lab khulenge to utar jayegen chehre saare…” (Masks will slip when I open my mouth), he said to a television channel.

The PM’s comment reignited speculation of Singh’s entry into the party fold. But Singh kept up the guessing game, neither denying nor giving cues about his next move. In 2019, a BJP ally, the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) even offered him a ticket to contest from Azamgarh, a borough of the Yadavs and a seat then represented in the Lok Sabha by Mulayam Singh.

Singh, declined. He would reply to posers about his joining date by claiming he was only a “supporter of PM Modi”.

“There was a lot of speculation about him joining the BJP and it was usually triggered by his presence at BJP events. When he was seen at the three-day lecture series by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, the rumour gained strength,” said a BJP functionary not wishing to be quoted. When asked if his role in the 2008 cash for votes scandal was a reason for the party to keep a distance, the functionary said, “There are many reasons …” but did not elucidate.

Singh also found a way to worm his way into the good books of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh; not only did he support the demand for a Ram Temple at Ayodhya, but also donated his ancestral house in Azamgarh to the RSS.

Aware of the many sobriquets he earned during his political innings, Singh while speaking during the debate on the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in Rajya Sabha on August 5 last year said, he could not be called a “dal badloo” or a party hopper.

“I did not leave the party, though I was expelled twice,” he said on the floor of the House and proceeded to support to the BJP.

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