Subrata Roy enjoyed a larger-than-life image and was feted like God by his employees, who would touch his feet as a mark of respect. The salutation, Sahara pranaam, has been a way of life for them.
Roy was shunned by industry peers, but sought out by politicians, film stars and cricketers. In his heyday, Roy formed a powerful quartet with former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh, actor Amitabh Bachchan and industrialist Anil Ambani. “They would be present at every function and did everything together,” said a Samajwadi Party leader. Amar Singh was the glue that kept them together. But Singh’s exit from the party in 2009 broke up the group.
Between 2003 and 2007, Roy’s business flourished because of his proximity to UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. But he had friends in all parties. He attended Narendra Modi’s swearing-in as Gujarat chief minister in December 2012. Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Sheila Dikshit, Pratibha Patil, Meira Kumar, Digvijaya Singh and Farooq Abdullah attended the last big party Roy hosted at a Delhi hotel in March 2013.
Only Congress president Sonia Gandhi remained out of reach. Feelers sent out to 10 Janpath were rebuffed. Late in 2013, Roy said raising questions on Sonia's citizenship in 2004 had cost him. “I said an Indian citizen should be the PM… That percolated down to the RBI action,” he said.
Sources said Mulayam and former Congress minister Rajeev Shukla had tried to help Roy and sent emissaries to Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram and Ahmed Patel. But the Congress high command quashed all pleas. Roy would get no help.
His most famous Bollywood friend, Amitabh Bachchan, has kept away from him. Only a modest group of Bollywood celebrities, Ramesh Sippy, Fardeen Khan, Nitin Mukesh and Johnny Lever, came out to publicly support Roy last year. “I have helped people for my satisfaction,” Roy told a close associate recently. “But people in our country are cowards. They are scared of the Supreme Court, scared of contempt of court. I wish they remain happy.”