New Delhi: Former finance minister Yashwant Sinha broke ranks with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) earlier this year. He has now come out with a stinging critique of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government titled, India unmade—How the Modi government broke the economy’ co-authored with Aditya Sinha.
In an interview, neither did Sinha, 81, rule out the possibility of contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, nor on joining the opposition. Besides, he was aware that the political line he has taken in speaking against the BJP could jeopardize his son, Union minister Jayant Sinha’s political career, but despite that he took the risk, as he “felt strongly" about it. Edited excerpts:
Your criticism on the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s decision-making came a bit too late in the day. Many accuse you of opportunism. What do you say?
This is a very natural question that will arise in the minds of people. People will answer it in their own way, irrespective of what I say. Those who remain convinced that I am an opportunist, will continue to be so. If social media is any mirror of this, it is very sharply divided. When I first raised my voice after 40 months (of NDA rule), many including some seniors in the government said that I did it because I did not get a job. Even today, some in social media say, “give him some crumbs so that his mouth is shut". But those people do not know my background.
I had spent 24 years in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and I left it when I had 12 years of service left. My promotions were on time and there was no issue with respect to my career. I was doing well in the service when I plunged into something completely unknown. In 1984, I could have contested on a Congress party ticket and won, but I joined the opposition Janata Party.
If I was looking for loaves and fishes, I would not have left the IAS and, secondly, I would have joined the ruling party instead of the opposition party. Later, once I joined the BJP, I stayed there until recently. I deliberately did not contest the 2014 elections although the party insisted till the last moment. If I had any desire for public office, I would have contested the last Lok Sabha polls, which was a cakewalk. It appears quite curious to me that someone should accuse me of running after a job. A job is not the most important thing in my political career.
Considering your grooming in the elite civil services, did it not make sense for you to stay within the organization and contribute to the decision-making process rather than criticizing from outside?
When one is a civil servant, one has no choice. One has to remain part of the system. There are some very good traits in the civil services which I could not shake off even in my political career. I am happy I did not as these are virtues worthwhile to have. Being inside and influencing is possible only when one is some sort of a cog in the wheel. A minor cog can also influence. But if you are completely out, then you cannot.
I wrote letters to the Prime Minister about issues, including certain things in the manifesto, which needed attention. It is not that I did not try. I kept trying. Once I requested time from the prime minister to update him of what I have found in Jammu and Kashmir, and how the matter could have possibly be tackled. He did not give me time. I wrote a letter on the issue, which was not even acknowledged. If the other side is not prepared to respond, how does one influence from inside? Then I did what I thought was right.
When I went public with a newspaper article after 40 months (of the NDA rule), my son who is a minister in the NDA government (Jayant Sinha, minister of state for civil aviation), wrote an article challenging my statements. Others called me a job applicant. I read it like this: The BJP wanted to make the issues that I had raised as a father-and-son issue, and a personal one. The issues were not personal. It is not a question of ego clash. There are issues which I raised and I would like the people in the government to respond to. Let us have a debate on issues rather than personalizing it.
Do you think your attack on the NDA can jeopardize your son’s political career?
Of course, I am aware of that. If I take the line that I have taken, it is not very good for the political health of my son. I am aware of that. In a way, I am taking a big risk. I could be allowed to take risk as far as I am concerned, but I know I am also putting his political career in jeopardy by doing what I am doing. But then, if I had not felt strongly about it, I would not have done it. We must treat two individuals as two individuals. It is not for the first time that two members of the same family are holding two different opinions. That is not unusual. At dinner table, we discuss all but politics.
Whatever happened in your case, was it symptomatic of the national parties like the BJP and Congress, which are unable to maintain a balance between veterans and young blood?
It is not about problems between the seniors and the juniors. I don’t think anyone of us was looking for a job. At the same time, I did not become brain dead after 2014. I had a lot of experience in government as a civil servant and as a Union minister. I spent 10 years in Parliament during United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime heading committees. All that you need to do is to create an ecosystem where seniors could be consulted on issues which are important.
Do you see yourself contesting 2019 elections?
On the basis of the facts, as they exist today, I don’t propose to.
Do you see yourself joining any opposition party?
Again, on the basis of the facts as they exist today, no.
So, you are not ruling out contesting Lok Sabha elections?
I believe when the facts change, you also change your opinion.
What is your reading of 2019 outcome?
If the opposition parties can have an electoral alliance and can put one candidate against the BJP’s candidate on each seat then the BJP’s tally will be below 200. If that does not happen, then it’s an open question.
You had recently said that the Congress should not declare itself as the leader of the opposition.
I am saying it generally, not only for Congress but for any aspirant to the post of PM in the opposition. They should lie low for the time being and let us see if the people return a verdict which was in favour of the Opposition.
Do you think Rahul Gandhi’s leadership may not be acceptable to all opposition parties?
I don’t have to say anything. (Look at) the kind of response when M.K.Stalin made that remark, and what other parties in the opposition said. I personally very seriously believe that no one should project himself/herself as a candidate for prime ministership at this point in time.
Why do you think a state like Bihar has given so many dissenting leaders to the BJP? Whether it is you, Shatrughan Sinha or Kirti Jha Azad.
Bihar is a very political state. Look at Upendra Kushwaha resigning or Jitan Ram Manjhi resigning. It is a very politically conscious state and I suppose we all look at politics very, very closely.