Newsmaker | Yashwant Sinha: Ex-IAS, former minister, BJP rebel, now Opp joint candidate for President


Announcing Yashwant Sinha‘s induction into the BJP at a press conference in 1993, senior leader L K Advani had described it as a “Diwali gift” for the party. The former bureaucrat has travelled a long distance since, as has the party which he joined and where he thrived for a long time.

Nurtured by Advani, picked to head the prestigious Finance and External Affairs Ministries in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government of 1999 to 2004, Sinha who has reshaped his political profile since leaving the BJP under Narendra Modi has now emerged as the Opposition’s consensus candidate for the presidential elections.

While the NDA is not expected to face more than a few hiccups in the polls, Sinha’s candidature carries huge symbolism for both his former party as well as the Opposition, that is looking for a moral stand against the Modi government.

Announcing his resignation from the Trinamool Congress Tuesday, Sinha tweeted: “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’s first stop after resignation from the IAS in 1984 had been the Janata Dal, and he became a Rajya Sabha member in 1988. After glory days in the BJP, his sidelining started post-2005, when he joined the voices demanding his mentor Advani’s discontinuation as Leader of Opposition over his praise of Mohammad Ali Jinnah during a visit to Pakistan. The 10 long years of the BJP in the Opposition, with Advani himself rendered irrelevant by his inability to capture power, saw Sinha recede further into the shadows.

The final rupture had come following Modi’s ascendance in the BJP, with Sinha taking him on publicly, before eventually leaving the party in 2018 saying that in its present form, it was “a threat to democracy”. Since then, Sinha, 84, a three-time Lok Sabha MP from Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh constituency, has been unsuccessfully trying to revive his political career, taking up causes such as Kashmir as part of a ‘Rashtra Manch’ with like-minded leaders, and writing an autobiography Relentless in 2019, before finally finding refuge in the Trinamool Congress.

It was TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee’s lead in rallying the Opposition around a joint candidate that finally led to Sinha being picked. While he might have been the fallback choice, after Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah and Gopalkrishna Gandhi declined, Sinha will welcome this new breath of life.

Sinha was born into relative affluence, with his father Bipin Bihari Sharan having a flourishing law practice. He obtained a Masters Degree in Political Science in 1958 and subsequently taught Political Science at Patna University from 1958 to 1960, before joining the IAS.

He served long years in Bihar in various capacities, as well as a representative of the government abroad, before finding himself in the Union government. Between 1971 and 1973, he was First Secretary (Commercial) in the Indian Embassy, Bonn, Germany. Subsequently, he worked as Consul General of India in Frankfurt from 1973 to 1974. Prior to resigning from the IAS, he served as a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Surface Transport.

In the Janata Party, Sinha served as all-India general secretary, and was named Minister of Finance in the short-lived Cabinet of Chandra Shekhar, between November 1990 and June 1991. While he moved on to other parties, Sinha refers to Chandra Shekhar as his “political guru”.

It was against Chandra Shekhar’s advice though that he joined the BJP, Sinha writes in his autobiography. He says the stalwart leader warned him that the BJP was likely to “use and discard” him as he did not have an RSS background. Sinha adds: “I was never a member of the RSS. I have never, even out of curiosity, worn the khaki half pants or black cap or gone to a shakha. So, I cannot even lay a tenuous claim to this paternity that is the hallmark of the BJP.”

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Further distancing himself from a party he served in for 25 years, Sinha goes on to call Jawaharlal Nehru a big influence, having met him as a young IAS probationer. “Many of my decisions and responses later in life were based on what he (Nehru) had said that day in Delhi.”

His aborted political career apart, even rival leaders acknowledge Sinha as a proficient minister. Former President Pranab Mukherjee once said that had the Chandra Shekhar government not fallen, Sinha could have become “the first reformist finance minister, but he was prevented from presenting a Budget that could have changed the economic landscape of the country”.

In the Vajpayee Cabinet, Sinha had two terms as Finance Minister between 1998 and 2002. In 2002, he exchanged portfolios with External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh. Incidentally, Sinha’s father had named him after Rajput warrior Jaswant Singh Marwar.

Talking about his stint, Sinha often refers to his good rapport with former US secretary of state Colin Powell, and in a column for The Indian Express, wrote that he remains the only Indian foreign minister to have been invited to meet a US president (then George Bush) in the Oval Office.

While Sinha may have moved on from the BJP and active politics, his son Jayant remains a part of the party and is an MP from his father’s former constituency Hazaribagh. In the last Modi government, Jayant was a Union minister of state.

So what could Sinha be aiming for with this latest political leap? As he writes in Relentless, “This habit of taking calculated risks survives till date.”





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