The Telegraph
Saturday , March 1 , 2014
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Party no bar, all welcome to Sahara party
Some didn’t make eye contact

New Delhi, Feb. 28: Subrata Roy “Saharasri” hosted his last big bash in March 2013, picking a Delhi hotel as the venue instead of the sprawling township on the Gomti’s banks in Lucknow that he calls “Sahara Shaher”.

The legal case over two of his investment schemes had begun to sting him by then but Roy smiled his way through the event — the annaprashan of granddaughter Roshna. He had good reason.

The hotel was packed with the capital’s crème de la crème, from BJP Opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley to former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit and ex-President Pratibha Patil, from Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to Digvijaya Singh of the Congress and Union minister Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference.

Old friend Mulayam Singh Yadav was there from beginning to end; so was the Amitabh Bachchan clan. Even Press Council of India head and former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju was present.

Two prominent faces, however, could not be seen. Sonia Gandhi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had stayed away.

The Congress president has consistently spurned Roy’s repeated attempts to reach out to her. At a time the industrialist would loan his aircraft to politicians for pre-election forays, Sonia chose to use the national carrier to make a point.

Insiders say that if there’s a blip on Roy’s career graph, it’s his failure to coax even a glance out of Sonia and P. Chidambaram, so firm have the duo been about not even making eye contact with him.

During a trip to Calcutta last November, Roy had linked his group’s troubles with financial regulators like the Reserve Bank and Sebi to a comment he had passed on “Indian citizenship” after the Congress came to power in 2004.

“I said an Indian citizen should be the Prime Minister…. That percolated down to RBI action,” he had said, stopping short of blaming Sonia personally and trying to point a finger at her “subordinates”.

Akhilesh apparently lacks his father’s enthusiasm for the Sahara chief. According to the Lucknow grapevine, Akhilesh was unhappy when Mulayam celebrated the son’s elevation as chief minister in March 2012 by ferrying his friends to Roy’s ostentatious township. Akhilesh has since avoided being seen publicly with Roy.

In the ’80s, Roy had found in Congress chief minister Vir Bahadur Singh a patron who promoted his business and blinked at small investors’ complaints of irregularities.

When Mulayam took over as chief minister for a second time in 1993, he unleashed his police on protesters who were demanding action against the Sahara group for alleged embezzlement.

Roy has had amicable relations with the BJP brass, with the lone exception of Kalyan Singh. During Kalyan’s second stint as chief minister in 1997, a part of Roy’s township was demolished for alleged encroachment.

Roy’s pleas didn’t move Kalyan but the industrialist was bailed out by another minister who had “good relations” with the Sahara “parivar”.

The jolt, however, forced the realisation on Roy that not every Uttar Pradesh politician could be counted on as a friend. He began looking for commercial pastures outside the state and built an upscale residential settlement outside Mumbai.

Roy had better luck with two other former BJP chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Rajnath Singh (now party president) and Ram Prakash Gupta.

When the BJP launched an operation in 1998 to poach on MLAs from various parties in Uttar Pradesh, Rajnath was the prime strategist. A Sahara copter was used to ferry the MLAs and ministers to Delhi for a “save democracy” protest before Rashtrapati Bhavan — a ploy to pressure the United Front government into installing a BJP ministry in Lucknow.

Even in December 2012, Roy made it a point to be seen at Narendra Modi’s oath-taking in Gandhinagar.

After the BJP lost Uttar Pradesh, good times visited Roy again when the Samajwadi Party came to power in 2003. He showcased his proximity to Mulayam by turning up at the swearing-in along with the Bachchans, Amar Singh and Anil and Tina Ambani.

When his two sons got married in Lucknow, Aishwarya Rai (still to become a Bachchan) arrived in a gossamer sari and travelled the length and breadth of Sahara Shaher in an open SUV with Roy.

The arrival of Mayawati as chief minister brought a bad patch for Roy. The Bahujan Samaj Party leader targeted Sahara.

Roy quickly instructed his media house to carry only positive news about Mayawati and for a while avoided Mulayam and his cabal. It didn’t help much but at least ensured that he kept his head above water.

Many Lucknovites feel that by defying the Supreme Court’s summons, Roy has now bitten off more than he could chew. So far the political establishment hasn’t distanced itself — BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar’s sanitised response was “the law must take its course”— but the idea is gaining ground that even his best political friends mightn’t be able to help him this time.

Most of these friends have received his hospitality not only at home but on foreign soil too — in the two hotels he recently acquired: New York’s Plaza and London’s Grosvenor House. The buzz is that nobody is out to shun him yet.