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in the course of 30 years, would go on to become an empire with an extensive media network, a full-scale scheduled commercial airline, Air Sahara (sold to Jet Airways in 2006 for over $500 million), acquisitions in the premium hospitality segment (including a controlling stake in New York’s landmark Plaza Hotel and London’s iconic Grosvenor House Hotel) and an IPL team. The group’s high-profile lead sponsorship of the Indian cricket team only ended in December 2013. Now Sahara sponsors the Indian hockey team and owns a stake in Vijay Mallya’s Formula One racing team.
Alongside the growth of Sahara, grew the story of Subrata Roy. His ‘Sahara Shaher’, a fortified 270-acre gated complex in Lucknow where Roy lived amid much luxury, became the talk of the country, and not just for what it featured, but the people it hosted. He organised much-talked-about events, graced by movie stars, politicians and corporates, and left the country stunned with the February 2004 wedding of his two sons at Sahara Shaher. Stars would perform at gigs in his own private auditorium at the Shaher. When Mayawati targeted it when she came to power in 2007, the mini-city’s halo shone even brighter.
At the Sahara headquarters, staff were instructed to greet visitors by putting their right hand to their chest and saying “Sahara Pranam”. On Sahara TV, the anchors would greet the viewers in the same manner — all adding to Roy’s distinctive image. Sahara’s website claims no dividend has been paid to promoters for 34 years and no profit has been taken out of the group.
Over the second half of the last decade, even as the run-ins of Sahara firms with regulators continued, Roy’s heady mix of politics and glamour showed no signs of diminishing. He would mostly be spotted with Samajwadi Party bigwigs Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh (then in the party) and Reliance ADAG chief Anil Ambani, players of the Indian cricket team, as well as the ever-present film stars.
While allegations about Sahara being a parking lot for black money of politicians have been doing the rounds for years, no investigative agency has proved anything to this effect so far. Roy has said, on several occasions, that he has never paid nor received any money from the SP, though he concedes “respect” for Dhirubhai Ambani.
A less known fact is that it was Roy who had a hand in Niira Radia coming to