Yashwant Sinha’s name emerged after Sharad Pawar, Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah all bowed out of contention and just hours after the former Union minister said he would ‘step aside’ from the Trinamool Congress to work for the larger national cause of greater Opposition unity
After much back and forth, the Opposition has finally followed through on its resolution to put forth a joint candidate for the upcoming presidential polls – with former Union minister Yashwant Sinha emerging as the consensus pick.
The name of Sinha, a fierce critic of the Narendra Modi government, emerged after Sharad Pawar, Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah all bowed out of contention.
This, hours after Sinha said that he will “step aside” from the Trinamool Congress to work for the larger national cause of greater Opposition unity.
“I am grateful to Mamataji for the honour and prestige she bestowed on me in the TMC. Now a time has come when for a larger national cause I must step aside from the party to work for greater opposition unity. I am sure she approves of the step,” Sinha tweeted.
Let’s take a closer look at Sinha’s life and career:
A bureaucrat-turned politician, Sinha was born on 6 November 6, 1937 in Patna.
Raised in a middle-class family, Sinha completed his MA in political science from Patna University in 1958 and stayed at the university to teach that discipline for two years, as per Britannica.
Sinha became an IAS officer in 1960 and held several important administrative posts in Bihar, Delhi as well as overseas during his 24-year tenure.
Among those ere two in what was then West Germany—as first secretary (commercial) in the Indian embassy in Bonn (1971–73) and then as Indian consul general in Frankfurt am Main (1973–74)—and, back in India, joint secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Shipping (1980–84), as per Britannica.
He served as Principal Secretary to former Bihar chief m inister Karpoori Thakur in 1977.
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Taking the political plunge
Influenced by Loknayak Jayprakash Narayan, Sinha resigned from the IAS in 1984 and joined active politics as a member of the Janta Party. He was appointed All-India General Secretary of the party in 1986 and was elected member of the Rajya Sabha in 1988.
When the Janta Dal was formed in 1989, he was appointed its general secretary. He worked as Minister of Finance from November 1990 to June 1991 in the Chandra Shekhar Cabinet.
Following a split in the JD, Sinha shifted to the BJP and became its national spokesperson in June 1996.
He served as Union Finance and External Affairs minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
As per Business Standard, Sinha is credited with breaking the colonial-era tradition of presenting Union Budgets in evenings. Sinha’s 1998-99 Budget was the first to have been presented in the morning, a practice that has been followed since.
He is also credited with boosting the funding of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) through a petroleum cess. That helped push the construction of highways across India, and kick-start the ambitious Golden Quadrilateral project.
During his tenure as finance minister, he deregularised the petroleum industry and helped the telecom industry expand. He has written extensively about his stint as the finance ministry in his book Confessions of a Swadeshi Reformer.
As per Moneycontrol, in 2002, when he was the then finance minister, Sinha presented what many called a tough Budget.
Sinha increased the prices of liquefied petroleum gas, kerosene and sugar sold through the public distribution system. He also made a modest increase in postal rate while cutting interest rates for small savings, the subsidy on fertilisers and income-tax rebate for higher income groups. Sinha also levied a 5 percent national security surcharge on income tax, while abolishing the 2 percent Gujarat earthquake surcharge imposed the previous year.
But when as many as 70 BJP MPs suggested Sinha to roll back the tough measures, Sinha obliged. His subsequent decision to take a step back on numerous announcements made in the Budget earned him the name ‘Rollback Sinha’, as per the report.
Pushed to margins
As per Britannica, Sinha by 2009 found himself at the margins of the party’s affairs. Following the party’s overall poor showing in the Lok Sabha elections that year, he resigned from the post of BJP’s vice president, a post he had held for two years.
Considered close to BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani, Sinha was sidelined by the party president Nitin Gadkari. In 2012, in a sign of rebellion, Sinha supported Pranab Mukherjee, the candidate of the Indian National Congress (Congress Party) for the post of the country’s president.
Sinha found himself missing from the BJP’s core team in 2013, although he continued to be a member of BJP’s 80-member National Executive Committee.
Sinha did not contest 2014 Parliamentary poll. His son Jayant won from the Hazaribagh seat in Jharkhand, Sinha’s old constituency, on a BJP ticket.
Breaking away from BJP
In April 2018, Sinha, who had been at loggerheads with BJP leadership on several issues such as demonetisation, GST, Kashmir issue and farm distress, announced that he was severing ties with the party and said he would work for “saving democracy in the country”.
“I have had a long association with the BJP. Today I am severing my ties with the BJP,” the leader announced at a meeting attended by Opposition leaders.
“I am announcing from the land of Patna that I would no longer be the part of any ‘party-politics’ as I am taking retirement from it. And I am not going to join any party,” Yashwant Sinha said while addressing a meeting of his newly launched apolitical outfit “Rashtra Manch” (National Forum).
“I took retirement from electoral politics four years ago… I am severing all my ties with BJP…I will not be the contender for any post in future,” Sinha said and added in lighter vein that Shatrughan Sinha always says that those who have stature don’t aspire for any post.
The BJP said it was not surprised and was “happy” with his decision as it was clear from his actions that he had been acting at the “behest of the Congress”.
“Even as the finance minister in the NDA government, he proved to be once again a disaster. We are actually happy that he has called it quits and will look for his next employment in the party he seems to be great admirer of, which is the Congress party. So we wish him good luck,” BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said.
In a newspaper article, Sinha had criticised Arun Jaitley over what he called the mess the finance minister has made of the economy after which Jaitley hit back calling him “a job applicant at 80 years”.
Everybody in the BJP is living in fear. We are not, Sinha had said launching the Manch on 30 January after publicly raising a banner of revolt.
The democracy “is under threat again,” the former finance minister claimed.
He claimed the situation is not good in the country, adding “Parliament session was curtailed, four senior most judges of the apex court held a press conference, Election Commission disqualified the membership of 20 AAP MLAs without giving them an opportunity to put forward their case”.
Parliament session was shortened keeping in mind Gujarat elections, Sinha alleged.
The central agencies are working at the instance of the central government, Sinha alleged and added that they were “going after some particular individuals”.
“If there are problems on economic front or foreign policy, then the next government can bring it on track but if the democracy or democratic institutions die, then it will be difficult for any other government to revive these institutions and that’s why we all have come together to save democracy,” he said.
Explaining why he quit the BJP-led NDA, he told The Tribune, “There is a world of difference between the BJP of Atal Behari Vajpayee’s times and today’s. Atalji believed in consensus. Today, the party believes in crushing everyone. Atalji courted people, these people are capturing people. Atal Bihari ji’s coalition had Akali Dal in Punjab, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, TDP in Andhra Pradesh, AIADMK and DMK at separate times in Tamil Nadu, BJD in Odisha, TMC in Bengal, AGP in Assam, JDU in Bihar. Atal ji formed a truly national coalition. He never believed in crushing parties and occupying the vacuum hence created.”
Sinha, alleging that democracy was under threat under the then government, vowed not to join any other political party.
That didn’t last.
In March 2021, Sinha joined Trinamool Congress days ahead of the high-octane West Bengal Assembly polls.
“The country is passing through a strange situation. Our values and principles are in danger. The strength of democracy lies in the robustness of its institutions, and all the institutions have been weakened systematically,” Sinha said.
The octogenarian leader pledged support to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee in her fight against the BJP:
“We welcome Yashwant Sinha to our party. His participation would strengthen our fight against the BJP in the elections,” TMC Lok Sabha party leader Sudip Bandopadhyay said at the time.
Now, entering the race for president as the Opposition candidate, Sinha has the chance to script an new chapter to his career.
With inputs from agencies
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