Yashwant Sinha, former finance India minister during an interview in Dubai. Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: In recent years, India’s former finance minister Yashwant Sinha has emerged as the most vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Sinha, who until recently was part of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, last month filed a petition in Supreme Court accusing the Prime Minister of “criminal misconduct” in a $8 billion deal between India and France to purchase Rafale fighter aircraft.

Sinha was the country’s finance minister from 1998 to 2002 and also held the foreign portfolio from 2002 to 2004 in the Vajpayee Cabinet.

Since 2014, Sinha has attacked Modi for what he describes as “mishandling” of the economy, stifling democratic institutions and media. He has sought to puncture government claims of high growth rate and once said Indian economy was heading towards a hard landing under Modi.

Last week, he was in Dubai to attend alumni celebrations of Aligarh Muslim University’s foundation day. In an exclusive interview, Sinha predicted Modi will be ousted in parliamentary elections due early next year.

Below are the excerpts:

Gulf News: You recently said Modi will not be re-elected in 2019. What makes you so confident?

Sinha: If you look at the results of 2014, the BJP did extremely well in the Hindi heartland. If you take four of the largest states, Uttar Pradesh, I am counting Bihar-Jharkhand as one state and the fourth state is Maharashtra, these return the largest number of seats – 182 – and the BJP had a score of 145. They did extremely well and it was a better strike rate than ever.

Yashwant Sinha, former finance India minister during an interview in Dubai. Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

That is the reason why the BJP, which was non-existent in many states, was able to get many seats on account of a better strike rate in the four states. Then, in the second category I will put states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Delhi where they scored hundred per cent.

So, in all these states if the Opposition parties get together then, as the by-polls have shown, it is going to be very different kind of results. My confidence is borne out of the fact that 2014 will not be repeated, the atmosphere today is very different than it was in 2014, people are disappointed… frustrated and angry. They will get far less number and won’t be able to form the government.

2014 will not be repeated, the atmosphere today is very different than it was in 2014, people are disappointed… frustrated and angry. They will get far less number and won’t be able to form the government.

- India’s former finance minister Yashwant Sinha

GN: There is one assessment that Modi himself may not be able to become the Prime Minister but someone else from the BJP will.

Sinha: I will tell you from my experience of the BJP, that’s a very misleading theory in the sense that the kind of grip that Modi and Amit Shah have over the party, it is impossible for anyone else to be elected even if the BJP goes down to 150 seats.

GN: What about RSS? RSS has no control over Modi?

Sinha: RSS has no control over Modi. Modi has complete control over the RSS and the RSS will do as told by him.

GN: In the eventuality of Modi losing 2019, what are the three things his successor should do?

Sinha: The crisis in India today is the crisis of democracy. What has happened in the last four-and-a-half years is that the institutions of democracy, the conventions of democracy, traditions of democracy have been completely given a go by.

Yashwant Sinha, former finance India minister during an interview at the Royal Merien, Dubai. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Therefore, like it was in 1977, the first task of the new government should be to restore democracy in the country, the primacy of democratic institutions and ensure…

GN: Can you be more specific?

Sinha: I will be more specific. When I am talking about the institutions, let me begin with the Cabinet. Collective decision making has to be restored. In today’s government, it is one person who is making the decisions and most important decisions are not even shared with the minister in charge.

The senior-most ministers are unaware of decisions being taken relating to their own ministry! For instance, the Finance Minister — who is supposed to be very in with Modi and Shah — didn’t know about demonetisation.

The senior-most ministers are unaware of decisions being taken relating to their own ministry! For instance, the Finance Minister — who is supposed to be very in with Modi and Shah — didn’t know about demonetisation.

- India’s former finance minister Yashwant Sinha

The then defence minister Mr Parrikar did not know about the Rafale deal, he learnt about it from the media. I can talk about home and external affairs ministries where they are not kept in the loop and [when] decisions are taken they get to know about it from the media.

So, the collective decision making of the Cabinet and collective responsibility of the Cabinet doesn’t exist. Parliament has been taken for a ride! The budget this year was passed without one minute of discussion, vote of no confidence was not taken up… the government in violation of all the conventions made Aadhaar a money bill.

Yashwant Sinha, former finance India minister during an interview at the Royal Merien, Dubai. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Then you take the Supreme Court… in Sabrimala case, the ruling party of the country led by its president is opposing [the court order], openly and calling people to revolt. The Election Commission, look at what is happening to Reserve Bank of India, look at what’s happening to the CBI? So, institutions which have played a vital role and most of all the media… the media has become completely pliant.

GN: But in many cases by choice… it appears they are willing participants?

Sinha: They [media] might be because they are also greedy for the loaves and fishes but why should the media be made pliant? You know it, anyone who dared to oppose, not only oppose, be fare, be frank have been thrown out. Your namesake in the Hindustan Times… he had to go.

GN: Media talks about Modi and his government in favourable terms. They say his government has been largely corruption free. What is your view about this perception?

Sinha: Since 2014, he has not addressed a single press conference. Does the press in India raise it? Does somebody demand that he must face the media and answer questions? He has his ‘Man Ki Baat’. Then he gives one-one-interviews to anchors who are prepared to prostrate themselves before him.

With Modi, it is just a one way [communication] and anyone in the media who dares to challenge him or bring some inconvenient facts to the notice of the people is immediately dismissed, his job is taken away.

- India’s former finance minister Yashwant Sinha

It appears as if ‘Huzoor, Maalik if you permit, may I ask a question’. Why hasn’t he addressed the media or answered questions? That in itself exposes him completely. It shows that he is not willing to take a difficult question.

With Modi, it is just a one way [communication] and anyone in the media who dares to challenge him or bring some inconvenient facts to the notice of the people is immediately dismissed, his job is taken away. Therefore, the perception that his government is entirely free of corruption is because the incidents of corruption have not come into public domain. Even Rafale has taken three years come into public domain.

GN: Don’t you think the eagerness that media showed in exposing alleged instances of corruption during the UPA is not there?

Sinha: There is absolutely no desire on part of the media. When Arun Shourie, Prashant Bhushan and I addressed the first press conference on Rafale at Press Club, I said: “I don’t know how many of you will report what we are saying.” After the press conference, one media person walked up to me aggressively and told me: “If I lose my job tomorrow, will you give me a job?” I had absolutely no answer to this question.

GN: Do you think the Supreme Court will order an investigation into Rafale?

Sinha: We felt that there is a prima facie case for registration of FIR [first information report] and further investigation by the CBI. We first filed a complaint with the CBI. When we found that the CBI is not taking a decision after many day had passed, only then we approached the Supreme Court. The matter has been heard and we are waiting or an order.

GN: People take extreme positions on Modi. Some say he is the best prime minister in recent decades and he cannot do anything wrong. There is another extreme view that he is a threat to democracy. Do you support this view?

Sinha: That’s exactly what I have been trying to explain to you. I watched the situation, listened to what people had to say and then I myself came to the conclusion that he is a threat to the democracy.

That’s exactly what I have been trying to explain to you. I watched the situation, listened to what people had to say and then I myself came to the conclusion that he is a threat to the democracy.

- India’s former finance minister Yashwant Sinha

At that point of time, I decide to raise my voice despite the fact that I was in the same party. [Modi] thinks he is right and nobody else matters in the system. It was not like this during Vajpayee’s time.

GN: Are you disappointed that other senior BJP leaders, including Mr Advani have not spoken up.

Sinha: They should have spoken up, I am very surprised and shocked… that is a disappointment. I must confess to my disappointment because he [Advani] was a strong voice against Indira Gandhi’s emergency and everybody else who is part of the government has not spoken up.

Yashwant Sinha, former finance India minister during an interview at the Royal Merien, Dubai. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

GN: What is your opinion about Congress president Rahul Gandhi as potential prime ministerial candidate?

Sinha: Obviously, he has been elected president… members of the Congress party believe that he is the best person to be the president and many believe he is the best person to be the prime minister. But that is not settled yet, that issue is not settled.

GN: Within the party also?

Yashwant Sinha, former finance India minister during an interview at the Royal Merien, Dubai. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Sinha: I won’t say within the party but outside that issue is not yet settled and that is how it should be because… it is not a presidential election. We are a parliamentary democracy… and it is the right of the elected members to choose their leader.

GN: Some say Rahul is not match for Modi. What is assessment?

Sinha: I will not answer that question because, one, it’s not fair, two, it's entirely premature to talk about it. That means you and I feel that he is the next prime minister and therefore we should discuss it. As I said, this question [of prime minister] is wide open as far as the opposition parties is concerned.

GN: Do you think Rahul is capable of taking the Opposition along? Do you think he has the same kind of acumen and maturity as Sonia Gandhi who had put together the UPA?

I think that he (Rahul Gandhi) is still to be tested, he has just taken over as the Congress president and future events will decide if he has the same or greater capabilities or not.

- India’s former finance minister Yashwant Sinha

Sinha: I think that he is still to be tested, he has just taken over as the Congress president and future events will decide if he has the same or greater capabilities or not.

GN: I am sure you have an opinion about him?

Sinha: Why should I share that with you?

Yashwant Sinha, former finance India minister during an interview at the Royal Merien, Dubai. Photo: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

GN: Are you planning to join any party?

Sinha: I made an announcement on April 21 this year. One, that I am leaving the BJP;l two, that I will not join any political party and, three, that I stand by my decision taken in 2014 that I will not contest elections.

GN: So, Mr Sinha is going to remain a strong voice of dissent against Modi but will not fight elections, join any party or any alliance even after 2019?

Sinha: On the basis of the present circumstances, I have explained by decision but, as somebody said, if the facts change, what do you do.