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  Opinion   Columnists  14 Oct 2022  Shobhaa De | Farewell ‘Netaji’: The akhada is now empty

Shobhaa De | Farewell ‘Netaji’: The akhada is now empty

Irreverent, provocative, opinionated... Shobhaa De has been challenging status quo for four decades... and is at her best when she punctures inflated egoes. Readers can send feedback to
Published : Oct 14, 2022, 11:18 pm IST
Updated : Oct 15, 2022, 9:36 am IST

That’s the thing about people in the political akhada — nobody gives a damn once they’re out of power

Mulayam Singh Yadav (PTI)
 Mulayam Singh Yadav (PTI)

I was in rain-soaked Jaipur, attending a posh royal polo event organised by the super luxe Leela Group, when the news of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s passing flashed. Sadly, not a single person I met expressed an opinion, one way or the other. Nobody cared! The responses ranged from an indifferent “Oh really? Didn’t know he was alive or ailing…” to a casual shrug with the comment: “Who? Mulayam what? Politician? Sorry… never heard of him…”

The atmosphere at the Rajasthan Polo Grounds was heady and exciting. An exhibition match was about to begin. Our host’s polo team was captained by Maharaja Padmanabh Singh, the dashing 24-year-old “king” of Jaipur, popularly known as “Pacho”. There was a buzz about his dense beard — should he keep it or knock it off? “He must have grown it to look more mature…”, an awestruck journalist commented, as Pacho stylishly scored a goal. I was more fascinated by businessman-politician Ashok Chandna, 38, Rajasthan’s sports minister and an accomplished polo player himself. He scored two more goals, and soon it was time for a very extravagant prize distribution ceremony, complete with caparisoned elephants, camels, musicians, dancers, a horse-drawn carriage, vintage car and liveried footmen. Not for nothing is the uber glam polo called the “sport of kings” — for centuries, it has attracted royalty and aristocrats. No wonder it was invented in Persia (Iran) in the sixth century. Who else can afford to maintain the horses? I felt I was on the sets of The Far Pavilions as high tea with champagne and crumpets was announced. Around me were glamorous ladies clad in polo couture, with mustachioed locals in perfectly-cut jodhpurs. Royal Jaipur was represented inside the pavilion, as Pacho sportingly lined up for selfies with adoring fans. This was definitely not the time to bring up Mulayam Singh Yadav’s legacy.

I read the headlines the next morning and regretted I had not spent more time with the man who was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh three times, and a former defence minister of our country, also a 10-time MLA, and a seven-term MP. For four decades of his 55 years in politics, the 82-year-old dominated the heartland and inspired millions to whom he was simply “Netaji”. It is believed he stopped Sonia Gandhi from becoming Prime Minister in 1998. Thereby doing the nation a favour! The sole time I met him was at a glittering wedding in Bengaluru when the late Jayant Malhotra’s son was getting married to Vijay Mallya’s step-sister. Malhotra, himself a pretty controversial figure and a Rajya Sabha MP, and the man who allegedly bailed out Kanshi Ram, was busy looking after his guests, when his wife, the irrepressible Barota, came over to our table and asked whether Mulayam Singh Yadav could join us. I recall a diminutive, stocky man in starched white, politely asking the wait staff to get him a simple daal-chawaal in a thali. The ex-pehelwan ate a frugal meal and left after making light conversation with others at the table. No fuss. No nakhras.

I also remember a historic and telling photograph of Mulayam Singh Yadav, flanked by top industrialists and corporate heads from Mumbai, who had flown to Uttar Pradesh with ambitious investment proposals. Personalities like Adi Godrej, Vindi Banga, Anil Ambani along with Amitabh Bachchan were friends with the all-powerful UP-walla, with the late Amar Singh acting as a broker and efficient “event manager”.

That’s the thing about people in the political akhada — nobody gives a damn once they’re out of power. Nobody cares whether they are dead or alive once they vacate the gaddi. Amar Singh used to be a fixture on Mumbai’s social circuit, boasting he had two brothers there — Amitabh Bachchan, his elder brother, and Anil Ambani, his younger. “I have two permanent homes in Mumbai — one in Juhu and the other in Cuffe Parade,” he’d proudly repeat. Those family ties didn’t really work out for anyone. And Amar Singh died in ignominy, forgotten by the many people he had helped at the zenith of his power. It was supposedly his clout that “managed” the tragic and mysterious death of superstar Sridevi in Dubai.

It’s a good thing that Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan along with her actor son Abhishek Bachchan attended the funeral of “Netaji” in Saifai. Correct and sensitive political signalling is important in these opportunistic times, where optics have overtaken analysis. I am waiting for a biopic of the man whose life was marinated in politics and nothing but politics. By popularising the ideals of Jayaprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia, he succeeded in creating a new political order that challenged the Gandhi family’s supremacy and broke the myth of their invincibility.

Today’s “fast track” generation in politics is far more savvy and unsentimental. Of course, “matlab” is and will always be the main glue, but even within its savage circle of insiders, nobody can afford an exposed back! Looking at the shenanigans of “symbol politics” in Maharashtra, I wonder if the person on those potholed roads really cares a damn who gets the torch and who the shield. They are all cut from the same cloth at the end of the day, and the main agenda remains the same for both: to grab precious land and mint money while the going is good. Living in South Mumbai has become a nightmare, with both Eknath Shinde and Devendra Fadnavis shifting residence to tony Malabar Hill. The narrow road which connects SoBo to the rest of Mumbai is almost permanently closed with far too many police vans on VVIP duty, which greatly inconveniences citizens. Ambulances and school kids in buses are the worst hit. But who cares?

It’s been an interesting week with celebrations galore to mark the eightieth birthday of Amitabh Bachchan, who graciously gave his adoring, steadfast fans a wonderful “janamdin darshan”. His remarkable career is an ode to discipline and staying power in the fickle film industry that lives from one Friday to the next. It requires the heft of someone like Amitabh Bachchan to lift the status of showbiz from the mundane and frivolous to the unforgettable and inspirational. Over a career that has seen many challenges, including a life-threatening accident on the sets of Çoolie (1983), Amitabh Bachchan has pretty much seen it all and done it all. He is the Roger Federer of filmdom. The Big B has moved beyond being a mere “movie legend”. He is his own republic. Jugg Jugg Jiyo!

Tags: mulayam singh yadav, amar singh