After scripting acts, Amar now acts on a script
By M J Akbar
Which required better acting from the irrepressible Amar Singh: a 14-year association with Mulayam Singh Yadav or his role as husband of Dimple Kapadia in a Malayalam movie?
Politics is carbon-dated by events, not time. Partnerships need tensile strength to survive misunderstandings when suspicion warps a relationship into a tangential curve. Mercury rather than blood flows through the vein of public life; politics is very human and turbulent, and ego floats beyond the reach of rational discourse.
The best politicians are very talented, but often that blessing is flecked with problems characteristic of a maverick. The big chiefs like talent in their subordinates, but squirm at its attendant frailties. Bright sparks tend to possess an implacable desire to place a mirror before stupidity. The reverse mirror, however, displays a more provocative facet. Jealousy and intrigue are companions of ambition; if the talented were not ambitious, they would not be in politics.
Any institution, whether party or government, demands the stability of an uncontroversial script, or the comfort of silence from geniuses who can never find an equitable balance between their self-estimation and the role they have been given in what is essentially a Brechtian beggar's opera. Jairam Ramesh is a sharp and well-read politician, except when his tongue goes to his head. He has been a good environment minister, willing to stand his ground and even take a risk or two. But collective responsibility demands caution: you have to keep space between your blow-drier and your brain. Jairam Ramesh may even have been right on China, but he was wrong to say what was right.
Despite his penchant for the unusual, Amar Singh has been a far more careful politician, sticking to his responsibilities at some cost to his individuality. Happy memories are the first casualty of an unpleasant divorce, but it would be unfair to forget Amar Singh's mastery of the craft of first-past-the-post democracy. Mulayam Singh Yadav got the votes, but the real point in our system is to get winning votes. Backroom strategy can turn the first into the second in a difficult election. The conversion of Jayaprada into a Begum of Rampur who became more real than the real Begum deserves a chapter in any analysis of Indian democracy. Amar Singh has now taken on a more formidable challenge, the reinvention of Amar Singh.
Actors slip easily into politics because they have MBAs in the management of adulation. They have studied the arts of froth and the science of glamour, most notably the cruel fact that it has an early sell-by date. Madhubala remains an ageless icon because she died in her Thirties; death interrupted decline. A Dimple Kapadia is a rare phenomenon: she will be forever 16 thanks to 'Bobby' and a personality that is incompatible with domesticity. Women actors generally choose marriage as their retirement home. For a very few, 40 is too old for cinema and too young for oblivion, and they shift careers. Men get a few more years if they live in a gym. Politicians, however, do not possess the courage to become actors. Amar Singh has the élan to act a script after so many years of scripting an act.
The problem in both professions, of course, is finding an audience, without which you are not in business. An alliance with Mulayam Singh was ideal because he could guarantee a minimum box office in the worst of seasons. Nor were they involved in a multi-starrer like Congress, where great battles seethe beneath surface discipline. It was a two-star act, with Amar Singh the perfect alter ego to his leader. Perhaps a midlife crisis was inevitable, leading to a parting of ways. Mulayam Singh still has an audience, but can he turn it into a winning proposition? Amar Singh knows how to win, but does he have an audience?
When such questions set out in search of answers, they can lose their way in the by lanes of paradox. The definitive replies will be available only in the next assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh. If Amar Singh picks up, to give an example, the votes of his fellow Thakurs, it will hurt Congress rather more than Mulayam Singh's socialists because Congress is counting on a mobilization of upper castes and Muslims. And the greater the fragmentation the better it will suit Mayawati, whose core support remains consistent even if her supplementary vote is drifting.
If dancing has been described as the vertical expression of a horizontal desire, then there is a similar divergence between position and intention in politics. Subtle histrionics mix basic instinct with populist promise; rhetoric carries the message. The voter plays along, suspending disbelief en route to a polling booth.
Amar Singh is good before any camera, either in a studio or on the street.
Times of India Column