In UP, blue boards of Sahara stand testimony to rise and fall of Subrata Roy

It is in these countless one-room offices that Sahara's chit-fund business was born

PEOPLE-SAHARA/ Sahara Group chairman Subrata Roy | PTI

Across small cities and smaller villages in Uttar Pradesh, there is one blue board that you will invariably come across with the word 'Sahara' in Hindi and English printed across it. This is Subrata Roy’s greatest legacy and his biggest shame. 

It is in these countless one-room offices that the chit-fund business of the group was born. It would later branch into media, real estate, infrastructure, housing, entertainment, hospitality, airlines and tourism. 

Run by a man who affixed Sahara to his name, and introduced a greeting that went 'Sahara Pranam', it was through these offices that countless ordinary Indians - from pushcart vendors to rickshaw pullers plunged their money into the group's promised income scheme. 

Ultimately some 10 crore investors would put their money into four cooperative societies of the Sahara group. The pyramid scheme modus operandi that yielded money for the group was as simple as they came. And many investors were too tied in real-life struggles to chase repayments.  

In March 2023, the Supreme Court of India allowed the setting around of Rs 5,000 crores to pay these duped investors, within nine months. Many are unlikely to ever be traced. The sum is to come from the Rs 24,000 crores that the group paid to the Securities and Exchange Board of India in a long and complicated case. One of the case’s many interesting turns was the group sending 127 trucks filled with vouchers from depositors.

Subrata Roy was a man- the likes of whom Lucknow had never seen. Born in Araria (Bihar), he joined a company called Sahara Finance sometime in the mid-1970s and turned it into a repository of very low-amount deposits. 


As the company, he later took over, grew, Roy built its head office in Lucknow’s Kapoorthala area- two white and blue buildings. One with a helipad. In Gomtinagar came up something called the Sahara Sheher- a wonderland of monstrous proportions built without requisite permissions. And because permissions were not granted, the maverick businessman found a via media- putting up structures that were technically not permanent, and thus not in violation of any law. 

Forget the fact that the city in a city had encroached land meant for public roads. The duplicity of it all was mind-boggling as a proud version of a figure best described as a cross between Goddess Durga and Mother India stood at its entrance. Its boundaries were barb-wired and the only time common folk would walk beyond its gates was either during the Durga puja celebrations or during mass weddings which Sahara ‘shree’ conducted often. 

This was a man who brought film stars to dance on the streets- leading to Sahara Sheher where else when his sons were married. Amitabh Bachchan drove a car- with politician Amar Singh sitting next to him, as part of the procession. Some estimates put the cost of the 2004 weddings at Rs 500 crores plus. Forget Bollywood, even Shiv Sena chief, the late Bala Saheb Thackeray, was in attendance. And yes, it was preceded by a mass wedding of 101 underprivileged couples and a lavish meal for one lakh plus beggars. 

First ordered to be detained in 2014 by the Supreme Court of India, Roy remained, for the large part, out of jail. 

Among the many talents that Roy attributed to himself was writing. Think with Me and Life Mantras were two of his efforts- which his company’s own over-enthusiastic public relations department described as 'thought-provoking'. Forget the fact that in the 'conglomerate' which he referred to as a 'Parivar' (family), salaries remain unpaid. 

On November 14, Roy breathed his last in Mumbai. For years speculations had been rife about the illnesses he suffered from. The most wild of which was that it was actually a look-alike duplicate who had started to stand in for him at public gatherings.

In the days to come, much will be written about Roy’s business acumen. It is ill to talk poorly of the deceased. But across UP, those blue boards will remain a reminder of one of the greatest cons in modern times.  

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