It has been more than two years since Yashwant Sinha quit the BJP, but not only does he remain active as a politician but he is also one of the most vociferous detractors of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government’s policies in India.
Sinha, who was a close confidante of the former prime minister, late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and a very important member of his cabinet, first as the finance minister and then as the external affairs minister, has become a nemesis of sorts for Modi and his trusted lieutenant Amit Shah, the home minister of India.
Modi isn’t fond of him or some of his stalwart colleagues from the Vajpayee era either. “Modi is self-willed and he wants only his views to prevail and he knew that some of us wouldn’t give in so easily. So it was best to set us aside,” quips Sinha.
He also doesn’t believe there is a correlation between Advani’s rath yatra and Supreme Court’s Babri Mosque verdict. A judicial pronouncement came and everyone accepted it, explains Sinha. “There is no tension in India today,” he says, “because the minorities have accepted it with grace"
Ironically, Sinha was the first BJP leader to propose Modi’s name as the PM candidate for 2014 elections — a decision he regrets now — as he claims in his book, India Unmade: How the Modi Government Broke the Economy.
In January this year, Sinha conducted a 22-day long all-India tour — Gandhi Shanti Yatra — to protest the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the Parliament of India in December 2019.
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The yatra was ignored by the largely pro-BJP media. “Media has become a lapdog of the government and it is one of the sorriest spectacles today. The media is not only submitting to the wishes of the government, it is going many steps ahead to set an agenda and anticipate what the government wants,” he says.
Not just the media, Hindutva nationalism seems to have completely overwhelmed powerful institutions including judiciary.
Is India in a grip of fascism? “I would only venture to say that the democratic values in India have been eroded considerably over the last five or six years. But the people of India have the capacity and genius to tackle this,” asserts Sinha.
Modi has undone the Vajpayee legacy
Sinha believes Modi has undone the Vajpayee legacy. Modi and Vajpayee and their respective policies, he says, can’t be even remotely compared. “There is a huge difference — what we call zameen asman ka faraq in Hindi.
Vajpayee followed very moderate policies keeping in mind the long tradition of tolerance in our society and our country,” says Sinha. Had Vajpayee’s policies prevailed, Sinha believes, “we would’ve been much nearer to the resolution of J&K issue than we’re today.”
According to Sinha, Kashmiris hold Vajpayee in great esteem among all the prime ministers of India.
Vajpayee also wanted peace with Pakistan, says Sinha, and rues in the same breath that the latter didn’t respond. He undertook the Lahore Bus service even after the Parliament attack, recalls Sinha.
But wasn’t Musharraf receptive to Vajpayee’s initiatives? He was, echoes Sinha, because “compared to other civilian leaders, he was more effective because he could control the Army,” having been its Commander-in-Chief.
“He could carry the military with him in Pakistan. I’d like to emphasise that the very fact that in the 2006 joint press statement, Pakistan agreed not to allow its territory against India, meant many things,” he recalls.
On the Pakistan angle
On January 6, 2004, President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee issued a joint statement during the SAARC summit in Islamabad in which Musharraf gave an assurance that Pakistan won’t allow its territory to be used against India.
Like most of the Indian liberals and semi-liberals, Sinha puts down the festering Kashmir crisis to “cross-border terrorism” and says “that’s why we were not able to reach any deal with Pakistan.”
But, while India has always been accusing Pakistan of cross-border terrorism, Pakistan also accuses India of using Afghanistan as a breeding ground for terrorism in Pakistan, especially post-9/11.
“India has never promoted any terrorism in Pakistan. That is all total nonsense that Pakistan promotes at the international level in order to create a level playing field between India and Pakistan,” he claims.
Sinha also rubbishes Chuck Hagel’s 2013 statement that “India financed problems for Pakistan in Afghanistan” just after he was nominated to be the US defence secretary under President Obama.
“If you believe the US, then you’ll recall that at the US’ instance, a resolution was passed in the UNSC before US troops went into Iraq. Didn’t they say Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? I don’t trust the US even now,” retorts Sinha.
Sinha, who has closely monitored Afghanistan as the external affairs minister, says the Afghan peace process is still a work in progress and he wouldn’t want to make any predictions.
“I would not want to make any predictions, I mean, knowing Afghanistan a little bit, as I do. I’ve also travelled extensively in Pakistan even after I demitted office.”
Sinha has also been visiting Kashmir regularly over the last few years and he is visibly upset with the abrogation of Article 370.
“I’m pained at the suffering of the Kashmiris. I’d very much like the peace to return to J&K. I’d like our brothers and sisters in Kashmir to lead a normal life like the rest of India. It’s very essential, therefore, that our whole attitude towards J&K issue and people of Jammu and Kashmir should undergo a change,” says Sinha.
While New Delhi’s August 5 move has disillusioned even the very small percentage of pro-India Kashmiris, it has, more importantly, pushed many Kashmiris further close to Pakistan.
But that is something Sinha is unwilling to accept: “I don’t believe Kashmiris are pro-Pakistan. Kashmiris are pro-Kashmir. This is my reading of the Kashmir situation.”
He also doesn’t believe there is a correlation between Advani’s rath yatra and Supreme Court’s Babri Mosque verdict.
A judicial pronouncement came and everyone accepted it, explains Sinha. “There is no tension in India today,” he says, “because the minorities have accepted it with grace.”
Shabir Hussain is a senior journalist based in India