New Delhi: Amar and Akbar are together again but without Anthony sharing the frame.
Six years after being thrown out of the Samajwadi Party, Amar Singh was back home with his friend Mulayam Singh Yadav.
The "homecoming" was heralded with a nomination to a Rajya Sabha seat, something a section of the party led by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had resisted.
The friendship among Amar, Mulayam and Amitabh Bachchan was once part of the political lore in the country. They were then known as Amar, Akbar, Anthony, named after the Manmohan Desai blockbuster in which Amitabh played Anthony and in recognition of Mulayam's efforts to play protector to the minority community.
Then Amar fell afoul of Amitabh - the bitterness of the parting has apparently not lost any of its edge even now. Amitabh and Mulayam remained friends. Amitabh's wife Jaya is a Samajwadi MP and is considered close to Ram Gopal Yadav, one of the Samajwadi veterans who had opposed Amar's re-entry into the party.
But Mulayam appears to have overlooked the reservations of friends as well as family, choosing to bring Amar back. Mulayam, the party's founder and Akhilesh's father, had his way as he seeks to fortify his hold over the party ahead of the Assembly elections early next year. His grip had loosened just a little on the eve of the last Assembly elections after the exit of old associates Amar and Beni Prasad Verma.
Verma, a founder member of the party who had crossed over to the Congress and until recently was one of Rahul Gandhi's favourites, returned home like Amar and was similarly rewarded with a Rajya Sabha nomination.
Another old friend, Reoti Raman Singh, also got a Rajya Sabha seat. Unlike Amar and Verma, the former Allahabad MP who lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election has never left Mulayam. Known as a V.P. Singh loyalist to start with, he has been faithful to Mulayam ever since he joined the Samajwadis after the decline of VP's Janata Dal.
But it was the "prize" for Amar that set the party abuzz on Tuesday.
"He was always there in the heart of Netaji (Mulayam). There was no dispute on his name," Shivpal, a younger brother of Mulayam, said today while announcing the nomination.
An Akhilesh associate said "our worst fear is Amar will have a big say in ticket distribution".
In the last Uttar Pradesh elections, Akhilesh had used the "youth" card to ensure he had the freedom to give away tickets to his team members. Mulayam was reportedly not happy but sniffing the party's return, did not impair things for his son
When Mulayam and Amar started getting together again in 2015, Akhilesh moved quickly with the help of uncle Ram Gopal to try to scuttle any comeback. Akhilesh and Ram Gopal, who is Mulayam's cousin besides being a party general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP, found a useful ally in Azam Khan, a Samajwadi founder member and its "Muslim face".
When Amar's clout had peaked in the party before he was expelled in February 2010, Azam had quit in a fit of pique. His departure had caused the party's Muslim base to shift to the Congress in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Amar's expulsion was followed by Azam's return, which brought back the Muslim votes and catalysed the party's spectacular victory in 2012.
Samajwadi sources said once Akhilesh realised his father had resolved to bring Amar back, he gave up his resistance and distanced himself from Ram Gopal and Azam.
In his bring-Amar-back project, Mulayam had coaxed the backing of his younger brother and minister Shivpal. A strong organisation hand, Shivpal wields far more hold over the party than Ram Gopal.
A sign of Akhilesh's waning power came in December last year when two of his closest associates, Sunil Singh Sajan and Anand Bhadauriya, were expelled for no ostensible reason.
The chief minister retaliated by staying away from the "Safai cultural festival", a glitzy assemblage of Bollywood stars hosted annually at Mulayam's home village near Etawah. Mulayam revoked the expulsion and was forced to nominate the duo to the Uttar Pradesh legislative council against his wishes, sources said.
Another angle in the Samajwadi power tangle is Mulayam's younger daughter-in-law Aparna, married to Prateek, his son by his second wife, Sadhana Gupta. Aparna has made it clear she harbours political ambitions for herself and her husband.