Subrata Roy is a man of many parts, but he flourished as a seller of dreams.
Old timers from Roy's early days in Gorakhpur recall him supplying biscuits and 'namkeen' on his Lambretta scooter. The scooter now stands in a glass cubicle at the company's headquarters 'Sahara Bhawan' in Lucknow's Aliganj area as a reminder of the humble beginnings of the 'Saharashri'.
Ironically, the man whom the State Bank in Gorakhpur at that time did not consider worthy of a Rs 5,000 loan to start his business, went on to build an empire whose networth today runs into thousands of crores.
Roy, who has assumed the designation of 'managing worker' instead of managing director or chairman of the Sahara Group, started a small chit-fund business in partnership with a Sardar friend in Gorakhpur. The business focused on small investors, such as paan walas and rickshaw-pullers, who would save a rupee or two to put in the Sahara kitty. Roy's spiel was that small investments made today would grow into big amounts in the future.
The concept worked wonders for Roy and his Sahara Group. Even though his business grew by leaps and bounds in the 80s, Roy continued the schemes of collecting as little as Rs 5 and Rs 10 per day from investors. Though the amounts appeared insignificant, they added up to a huge corpus, as there were thousands of investors and, due to the ease of investment, they grew at a phenomenal pace.
Roy's heady cocktail of politics and glamour added as much to his stature as it did to his flamboyance as a showman. He could as easily be spotted with Amar Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Rajnath Singh and Anil Ambani as he could with Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachhan, who would perform during gigs at his private auditorium at 'Sahara Shahar' in Lucknow.
In fact, it is claimed that Bollywood in Bombay and politics in Delhi came to a standstill for almost a week in February 2004 as the country's who's who – except for the Gandhis – were at 'Sahara Shahar' for the wedding of Roy's two sons. Then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee also attended the twin weddings, estimated to have cost over Rs 500 crore. Roy hosted over 10,000 guests, most of whom were flown in on chartered flights.
A little known fact to many is that it was Roy who brought high-profile liaisoner Neera Radia to India from London. She is said to have been instrumental in getting the licence for Sahara Airlines during the Narasimha Rao regime.
Those who know Roy closely say he trusts either his family members or people whom he has known over the years. Thus, his old-time friend OP Srivastava and younger brother JB Roy continue to be his most trusted lieutenants. Roy has made many of his old friends, who didn't even have a job, rich by giving them prominent posts in the Sahara Group.
He also has a strong fetish for gems and astrology. Sahara insiders say he always consults a certain Pandit Mishra from Gorakhpur before starting any new task. He wears a large Opal in a ring on his right index finger as advised by the pandit. The stone is said to bring him good luck. But it remains to be seen if it helps out 'Saharashri' this time around.