Sitting in his study, surrounded by books and under the watchful gaze of JP, Yashwant Sinha, who was the Union Finance Minister twice and the External Affairs Minister once, appears to be a lonely man in his party, the BJP. But, this octogenarian, who launched the National Forum for like-minded leaders unhappy about the present state of affairs in the country to come together, believes that the current situation in the BJP is fleeting. Sinha, who was a career bureaucrat, was inspired by Jayaprakash Narayan’s socialist movement of the mid-seventies. He eventually joined politics in 1984 as a member of the Janata Party, after quitting the Indian Administrative Service.
In an interview with National Herald, Sinha questions the RSS brand of nationalism and asks why the Congress has not been fulfilling its role as a responsible opposition party.
Q. You are one of the most senior leaders in the BJP, you have handled key portfolios in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Then, why do you criticise your own party? What are your grievances against those in power?
A. We came to power in 2014 because of promises we made in our manifesto. I was a member of the manifesto committee and let me tell you that every promise we made was considered, discussed, and then included. It was not on a whim that we included something in the manifesto.
We knew that we were going to form the government. And therefore, it assumed more seriousness. Narendra Modi was announced as the Prime Ministerial candidate and he analysed the manifesto personally too. So, I believed that his going through the manifesto seriously was to ensure that we were making promises which could be implemented.
It was not a process alienated from him, as he was the final approver of the draft of the manifesto. Three years have passed and promises made to the people have not been implemented yet. I have started getting the sinking feeling that we will not be adhering to the promises made in the manifesto. And that most of it was only talk. Then I felt that I should bring it to the notice of the leadership of the party, including Mr Modi himself.
Media asks why I have not raised these issues at the party forum. The only party forum of which I am a member is the National Executive. I have been told that no worthwhile discussion takes place there as well. The leadership talks to members and the members rarely get an opportunity to voice their views.
Q. You have criticised Modi and his government’s policies; you formed the National Forum. You have been participating in rallies organised against the BJP government. So, is this the only way you can be heard?
A. It is not me alone in the party. I find that a number of the people who are considered senior in the party such as LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi have also been cast aside. It means that those in power believe that they no longer need our experience or advice. Now, many people, on social media especially, think that I am looking for a job and one senior minister said that I am a job applicant and a job seeker. I can only look at them with sympathy. There is nothing to suggest that I have been looking for a post. The important thing is that we are people with experience.
Who will remember, other than Advaniji and I, what had happened when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister for six years? Advani ji and I are the only members of the Cabinet Committee on Security who are still around as George and Atal are not well. We know what happened when we dealt with Pakistan. We know what was the thinking then on other important issues.
Governments are continuous institutions. You may have heard the saying ‘The King is dead, long live the King’. So, the state never dies. It is a continuous process. There are certain conventions which must always be upheld.
I am not the only one who is being treated this way. Some have accepted their situation and maybe they do not want to speak about it. But, I am aware of many within the party who are active or will remain active in the future too, because they are still young. These people are dismayed with the government and the party and the way both are conducting their affairs.
Q. What is your plan in national politics?
A. We founded National Forum with the objective to raise the real issues ignored by other political parties. A lot of people have expressed their wish to join our forum. But, it will be a non-political entity. It is a mass-movement where you do not need to take any membership. We have identified some of the issues and with these issues we will go to the people of this country.
Q. The PM had said in Parliament that had Sardar Patel been the first PM of the country, entire Kashmir would have been ours. What is your understanding of the Kashmir issue? I am asking this question because you had visited the Valley to understand the situation on the ground.
A. Those who know the history or understand the issue would agree that what PM Modi had said in Parliament is not true. Those who know the history would acknowledge that (in pursuit of peace) Patel was even ready to handover entire Kashmir to Pakistan in lieu of East Bangladesh.
Sudheendra Kulkarni, who was political advisor to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and later to Advaniji, has written an article in which he has mentioned all these facts.
The Indian Express published an article on February 12 in which similar views were expressed. Patel had denied any conflict with Nehru on many occasions. What Modiji has said about Kashmir in Parliament is factually as incorrect as is him saying that Taxila (also known as Takshashila) was in Bihar. (Modi had in the run up to the 2014 election stated that Taxila, which is in Pakistan, was in Bihar.)
Q. The RSS, known as the paternal organisation of the BJP, claims to be a nationalist cultural organisation but there are numerous examples which suggest that the RSS dictates the politics of the BJP. What role of the RSS do you see in society or in politics?
A. I do not work closely with the RSS. I have never been an RSS Swayamsevak. When I joined BJP in 1993, people asked me the same question about the RSS. That time too I had clarified that I am going to be a member of the BJP, a political organisation, and not the RSS. There are many in the government and in the party, who enjoy close bonding with the RSS, but not me.
RSS claims to be a hard core nationalist organisation, which is not a bad thing in my opinion. But my experience with the RSS suggests that their opinions on many issues are very regressive and redundant.
There were occasions when an RSS activist (who was a clerk in the electricity department of Jharkhand government) would deliver a bauddhik lecture on the economy in front of me when I was the Finance Minister of the country. Being a member of the ruling party, I had to listen to him. Similarly, when I was the Foreign Minister, an RSS activist gave a lecture on foreign policy in front of me.
My impression of the RSS is that many of them (RSS) are still living in a bygone era. It will not come again. With time they have changed their uniform – half pants to full pants — but not their thoughts.
Q. There is a section in society which believes that the RSS brand of nationalism is not good for the country because it promotes hatred. What do you think?
A. What is being done in the name of nationalism is not acceptable. Generally, there is an atmosphere of intolerance in our society. I would not comment whether this government promotes such criminal elements, but it is also true that such elements think that there is a conducive atmosphere for them to flourish in society today. If a government fails to implement law and order, it means it has failed its basic duty. You can say that economic policies or foreign policies of a government are not good but if law and order is not good, it is a reason to worry. It will take a lot of time to restore people’s faith in law enforcement agencies.
Q. How many meetings of the National Executive has the BJP convened in the last four years?
A. I do not know how many meetings have been convened because I have not attended them. They do inform me about the meetings, but I have not attended because it is of no use to go there simply to show your face unless there is fruitful participation in the meetings. Then I thought I should bring this to the notice of the PM. So, I wrote him letters on some issues. I remember, particularly, a letter which I wrote on rural development. I wrote letters to the Finance Minister on Krishi Sinchayi Yojana but unfortunately, I did not get even an acknowledgement of the letters.
Q. Did you ever try to meet the PM in person?
A. I sought a meeting with the PM in 2016. So far, there is no response from the office of the PM. There is a system and they must have brought it to his notice repeatedly. I have indicated to him on more than one occasion that I would like to meet him. But, he hasn’t found time yet to meet me.
So, what does that mean then? It suggests that the doors are closed for you. That the PM and the party feels that there is no need for your views or suggestions. After that, when I realised that the economic situation was deteriorating, and rural distress was magnifying, I decided that I will go public with my opinion. And that is when I wrote a piece in The Indian Express in September last year which created a bit of a hue and cry.
Even after that there was no response. I continued to press my views on a number of issues. Then, I talked to a few like-minded people within the party and outside. There are good people in every political party. Many of us felt that we should come together. That is how we formed the National Forum of like-minded people to go to the citizens of the country.
Q. Critics of Modi say that he has dictatorial tendencies. What has been your experience of dealing with him?
A. I would say that I haven’t dealt with Modi very closely, either when he was the general secretary of the party here or when he became the Chief Minister of Gujarat. I couldn’t understand many traits of his character when I met him several times when he was the CM of Gujarat. In 2014, when the Lok Sabha elections were due, I decided that I wouldn’t contest. In fact, there was pressure to the contrary. Leaders in the party wanted me to contest for one last time. It was maybe because of the reasons you just mentioned or maybe because it would have been difficult to work in any manner.
Q. But, it is said that you didn’t get a ticket because your son Jayant Sinha wanted to contest the polls. What would you say about that?
A. No, Jayant wasn’t in the picture then. He came into the picture much later. He was working in a corporation. When he expressed desire to contest elections, the party readily awarded him a ticket and he went on to win. The only thing I said was that I didn’t want to remain in electoral politics anymore.
And I must explain this to you since I want you to understand these electoral nuances. This is electoral politics. People belonging to different political parties participate in it. Even those who don’t belong to political parties often contest as independents. So, electoral politics is a part of our democracy. Then, there is party politics. People belonging to different parties may or may not contest elections, but they still belong to different political parties. Then there were people like JP, who advocated party-less politics. Even Mahatma Gandhi wanted a party-less democracy. Then there is public life of the country. Public life consists of everyone who is in the public domain. There are intellectuals, non-party people, who contribute in their own way to the public life of the country. So, I opted to walk out of electoral politics and I will have to take a call if I want to be in party politics. I may even give up party politics. At some point of time, I will have to take a decision.
Q. What changes do you see in your party under Modi-Shah Raj?
A. We should not invest much time debating such issues. In the history of BJP or in long political history of this country, these are all fleeting issues.
Q. Your criticism of the government seems to have more emphasis on the economic policies. What are the policy flaws that you would like to mention, especially in terms of economic policies?
A. First of all, I would say no one in the government understands economic policies. There are a few in the bureaucracy who understand, but no one listens to them. The way they have handled the economy in the last three-and-a-half years, is enough to suggest that they have failed miserably to understand the driving forces of the economy and the impending crisis.
Q. You have stated that the economy is in bad shape, but the present government claims otherwise. They claim demonetisation killed corruption and will help the economy in the long run. Being a former Finance Minister, what is your opinion about demonetisation?
A. As far as black money is concerned, the counting is still on. No one knows how much black money was recovered during the so-called ‘surgical strike’ on black money. RBI says they are still counting demonetised currency as they had not counted demonetised currency deposited in Indian banks in Nepal. Why is RBI not telling us the truth? Because, the government does not want it to. The government does not want us to know the real data.
What was the benefit of demonetisation is the question for which I do not have any answer. PM claims demonetisation helped the poor but he cannot explain how. I hope the time will come when poor people will understand that they were deceived.
Q. What is your opinion about the Goods and Services Tax? The government has claimed that it is the biggest tax reform since Independence.
A. Everyone knows that Modiji as the Chief Minister of Gujarat had opposed the GST. I was chairperson of the Finance Committee which was discussing the issue, and I remember representatives of the Gujarat government had opposed the bill. Now, they are touting it as the biggest economic reform of post-Independence India.
Q. But, FM claimed BJP never opposed GST…
A. He is telling a lie. Ask them how many leaders of the BJP have shown interest in GST when BJP was in Opposition. I was the chairperson of the committee, which was given the responsibility to draft laws on GST. No one then had ever asked me anything about GST.
Q. What is your analysis of the Congress’ role as the main Opposition party?
All I would like to say about the Congress is that its role as the main Opposition party is more disappointing than its performance as a ruling party. The Congress party has not fulfilled its duty as the main Opposition party. Had Congress party fulfilled its duties with honesty, people of this country would have been more aware of the problems bothering us. They have neither utilised the parliamentary space to raise the issues, nor the space outside Parliament. Of late, we have seen a growing disenchantment, and, of course, the Congress will gain from it, but they have not performed their duties. I have told my friends in the Congress that they have not fulfilled their duties.
I went to Akola in Maharastra and staged a dharna for three days in support of the farmers’ protest there. Everyone came together. I wonder why the Congress party did not do so. I went to Narsimhapur in Madhya Pradesh to protest the BJP’s policies, but the Congress party did not come forward. They want their names on the front pages of all newspapers and on prime-time news without breaking into a sweat. But that is not how leaders are made. Sitting in the living room, you cannot hope to bring change into politics or society. Our great leaders could bring changes only because they worked hard on the ground.
Credit: National Herald