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Shuttling in Sultanpur

 | March 21, 2014

Some whodunits remain whodunits.

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IndiaMonitor_Banner01-436x3001-300x2061Sometimes, life plays out like an Agatha Christie novel. At other times, like an Arthur Conan Doyle mystery. However, not all of life’s puzzles can be solved – unlike in a Christie or a Doyle story.

For, not everybody has a Hercule Poirot or a Miss Jane Marple (who helped find the culprits for Christie) or a Sherlock Holmes, Doyle’s pipe-smoking, cocaine-snorting, guitar-playing protagonist, to help.

So, some whodunits remain whodunits.

The case of India’s ace badminton champion, Syed Modi, remains a riddle till this day. On July 28 1988, Modi was shot dead as he was walking to his car after a routine practice session in a Lucknow stadium. Modi was only 26.

It was not just any ordinary murder. There was a salacious scandal around it. The seven people accused of the crime included Modi’s widow, Ameeta, and her future husband, Sanjay Singh, who is part of the royalty in the state of Uttar Pradesh and a leading political figure.

It was then alleged that Ameeta and Singh were having an affair, and the “plot’ seemed all the more poignant because the young couple had got married in Singh’s house.

If the life of a champion sportsman was snuffed out, Ameeta’s stint also a remarkable badminton player ground to a halt. Singh – who was already married then – also suffered. His political career hit a road block.

Many years later, the cases against Ameeta and Singh were dropped. One man was charged with the murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The others had either died or were not found guilty.

Ameeta went on to marry Singh. He was already married and had children.

Twenty-five years after that black July evening, the controversy around the killing of Modi may continue to bother Ameeta, but she displays little sign of it outwardly.

Ameeta is a transformed woman today. She is no longer that carefree Mumbai girl she once was. Now, she is a chiffon-clad Queen of Amethi (in Uttar Pradesh that she represents as a member of the Legislative Assembly).

But the change came after years of struggle and pain. Not many today remember her as the “other” woman in Singh’s life. She is truly a maharani now: a bright red bindi on her forehead and her head covered, she walks demurely.

Life could not have been easy for her. After all learning the ropes of Machiavellian politics could never have been the same thing as chasing the shuttle-cock on the court.

But Singh was an expert in politics. He was an aide to Sanjay Gandhi (one of the two sons of India’s former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi), and after his death, Singh helped the other son, Rajiv Gandhi, win the seat at Amethi.

Singh helped a tottering Ameeta to get a grip over her life and statecraft. In 2007, she was voted as the Congress member of the Legislative Assembly from Amethi.

This time, she is contesting the federal elections from nearby Sultanpur and is out to protect her husband, Singh’s territory that he had held sway over for 35 years.

Ameeta is up against formidable opponents: Sanjay Gandhi’s son Varun is one, and he is out to reclaim his father’s legacy.

Ameeta has a clever line to woo voters. “Outsiders come here to build their own political careers. We live here. We care. We don’t run away from previously won constituencies in search for legacies,” she quipped to the media the other day.

However, what appears like a greater impediment (than the rumours about the Modi murder) to Ameeta’s prospects is the disturbing gossip of Singh’s son, Anant Vikram (from his earlier marriage), fighting the polls. But this could also be just a revival of old family disputes.

Whatever the truth may be, Ameeta is a tough fighter. We have seen that in her on the playing field. We saw that when she was embroiled in a bitter indignity after Modi was shot dead. She came out unscathed. Sultanpur and Varun may well be an easy match for Ameeta.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at[email protected]


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