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Yashwant Sinha, the opposition parties’ joint candidate for the upcoming presidential elections, is making the most of what appears to be a losing battle, insisting that he has the numbers to win.
He says that while the three others who were offered the post before him – Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, J&K National Conference (NC) chief Farooq Abdullah and former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi – refused to accept it, he didn’t because he has “more confidence” than them.
Former Union minister Sinha also said that while Droupadi Murmu, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) presidential candidate, may be a tribal and he a civil servant, but going by both their track records, it is clear that he has “vastly more experience of governance and various affairs of state then she has”.
He even added that he has done more for tribals, despite not being born one.
The following are edited excerpts from Yashwant Sinha’s interview with Meetu Jain:
The opposition does not have the numbers. So why are you contesting this election?
Why do you think the opposition doesn’t have the numbers? We are fully confident that numbers are in our favour and that is why I am contesting this election.
But the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has already extended support to the BJP. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS) and others are not on board either. The math is not adding up.
Your information is completely incorrect. I would not like to name the parties as it is not proper at this stage for me to disclose the goings on. But I can only repeat that your facts are totally wrong. You named a number of parties; keep a list of those parties. Preserve it. And we will talk after the elections.
You were not the first choice; you were the fourth choice. What should one make of this?
The interpretation is very clear. The first three refused; I accepted. That’s why I am in the fray. I have more confidence then they had. They had their own reasons to opt out, and I have nothing against them. But when the offer was made to me, I accepted it.
So the others didn’t have confidence?
I don’t know. You’ll have to ask them why they said no. But it doesn’t matter whether you were the first choice or the second choice or the fourth choice. The important thing is that I am in the fray on behalf of the political parties that sponsored me. That is the most important thing.
The other way of looking at it, presuming you don’t have the numbers, is that this is an ideological battle, like you said the other day.
It is. It is an ideological battle, not one of identity. And the country today is sharply divided, whether you like it or not, into one ideology and another.
The ideology of the ruling party is to destroy the Constitution, its values and bring about complete authoritarian rule in the country. Did you ever hear of bulldozers playing a role in public life before? So what does the bulldozer represent? Authoritarianism.
Those are the trends that we are determined to fight against together and that’s why the political parties in the opposition came together in order to put up a joint candidate. Ultimately, the choice fell on me and I accepted it because I was fighting that ideological battle on my own even earlier, and that is why I left the BJP in 2018, four years ago.
But you were in the BJP. You followed the same ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP and now if there is criticism against you by the BJP, the criticism would be against the policies and ideology of the BJP headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. So this is a Vajpayee versus Modi fight in a way?
I wouldn’t like to put it in such stark terms. I’d like to tell you that the BJP that I joined at the end of 1993 under Mr Advani and Mr Vajpayee was a completely different party. This BJP, under Mr Modi and Mr Shah, is completely unrecognisable from that party; it is a completely different government from Mr Vajpayee’s government.
The starkest difference is in the approach of the two governments where the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is concerned. Mr Vajpayee talked of insaniyat, jamuriyat; He talked of kashmiriyat; of dialogue. He even talked to the Hurriyat leaders here in Delhi. Before the government demitted office, Mr Vajpayee had got Mr Advani to talk to the Hurriyat leaders in Delhi.
That was one approach. This is a completely different approach and it is not only Jammu and Kashmir; it is on every other issue that this government is poles apart from the ideology of that government. That was a government of consensus, this is a government of confrontation.
What do you think of Dr0upadi Murmu as a candidate?
I have known her as the governor of Jharkhand. But as far as her personality is concerned, my personality is also concerned. Her life is concerned, my life is concerned. I would suggest that you study the two and come to your own conclusions with regards to my experience in government and governance in general, and her experience.
Anyone who will compare the two personalities can only come to one conclusion: that I have far more, vast experience of governance and various affairs of state then she has.
One can accuse you of being an elite civil servant from the IAS; one who might have experience, but who is also an elitist. In this ideological battle, the battle is also of the downtrodden; the tribals who have no voice. She’s going to be the voice of invisible India, as compared to you.
It is very colourful language (that you are using). She was a minister in the Orissa government. She was the governor of Jharkhand. You look at her track record. I will say with complete confidence that if you studied the five budgets that I presented under Mr Vajpayee. I have done much more for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and weaker sections of society in terms of policies and the implementation of those policies than anybody else.
It’s just that I don’t have that identity. I can’t claim that I am a tribal because God did not give me birth in a Scheduled Tribe. Birth is something that nobody controls. Nobody determines which family you will be born into. So that is an accident. I have the fullest sympathy and support for the cause of the downtrodden and of the tribal and scheduled caste communities in this country and whenever one had opportunity, one tried to do one’s best.
For example, in Mr Vajpayee’s cabinet, we created a separate ministry of Northeastern affairs – we have the largest concentration of tribal population in the Northeast. We created a separate ministry under Arun Shourie for the Northeast and I came out with special measures for the tribal community; for scheduled tribes and scheduled castes, in my budget. My only fault is that I was not born into a tribal community.
But there is another ideological conflict where your son is concerned. He was a minister in the Modi cabinet, which you say is autocratic. How do you look at that?
Father and son are two different creatures, aren’t they? Who says they are the same? You don’t punish the father for an offence the son has committed and you don’t punish the son for an offence the father has committed. So he is an independent personality, getting on to be 60 years of age. He has his own mind, I have my own mind. And it’s a sign of my upbringing that I have not forced my children, not only Jayant Sinha, but anyone to follow whatever I said. I gave them the best training and that included developing a mind of their own and taking their own decisions.
If you were elected President, what would you do? Notwithstanding the fact that the President acts on the aid and advice of the council of ministers, what would you do to get justice for the downtrodden?
Within the powers that are bestowed on the President of India, under the Constitution, whatever advice I can give to the government, I will give for the upliftment of not only the tribal communities, but all weaker sections, women particularly.
That is the role of the President. He is supposed to work on the aid and advice of the council of ministers but in turn, it is within his powers to advise the government on the kind of policies they should frame and follow.