Kolkata: Former IAS officer Jawhar Sircar’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha from West Bengal may have come as a surprise for many, but it appears to be a calculated move by the Trinamool Congress that is counting on him to “glorify” the party in Parliament and effectively counter the Narendra Modi government.
The 69-year-old former Prasar Bharati CEO has been an open critic of the prime minister, and has also been helping build support for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee among other civil servants, especially when she took on the Centre over the disciplinary action initiated against the state’s former chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay.
“Jawhar Sircar will not only glorify Trinamool Congress in the House, but will immensely contribute to the daily proceedings and strengthen the party in its fight against the Modi-Shah regime. He is a prolific author and speaker, a historian with adequate knowledge in India’s diverse culture that Modi-Shah is trying to destroy systematically,” said Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, Trinamool’s chief whip in the Rajya Sabha.
Trinamool leaders ThePrint spoke to noted that as the “influence of the party” grows nationally, it needs a “wise and erudite Bengali”, who is also a good orator, in the Upper House. To meet that need, Sircar is expected to take his “sharp and fact-based criticism of the Modi regime” from Twitter to the floor of the House.
Trinamool currently has 11 members in the Rajya Sabha after veteran Parliamentarian and former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi vacated his seat. He quit the party early this year and is now with the BJP.
Political experts said Mamata’s choice indicates the Trinamool is “forward looking”, in an attempt to “come out of Bengal closet”.
However, the BJP, the Trinamool’s primary opposition in the state, dismissed Sircar as someone who “spreads negativity”.
“Trinamool Congress is a party of people who spread just negativity. Sircar is one of them. He always speaks against the government, and Mamata Banerjee loves this. They do not have any constructive opinion or policy. The country has seen what one of their members did in Rajya Sabha (referring to Santanu Sen snatching papers from IT minister Ashwini Vaishanw) and got suspended. More than one Trinamool’s RS member went to jail. So, these people are brought to the fore just to do some drama and defame Bengal,” said BJP MP and state president Dilip Ghosh.
ThePrint tried to reach Sircar through phone calls and a text message for a comment, but did not receive a response until the time of publishing this report.
However, in a Facebook post late Saturday, Sircar said he had accepted the nomination since he would be “able to carry on my battle against demonic suppression of human rights, communalism and Modi’s disastrous handling of administrative issues like Corona, inflation, nation’s economy and joblessness”.
He said: “The only 2 other parties who have seats in the WB Legislative Assembly are the BJP (that had 77 seats) and the ISF (1 seat) and I don’t think they like me.”
Referring to him resigning as Prasar Bharati’s CEO in 2016, he went on to say: “As you know, I resigned … before my fixed term of 5 years ended — as I could not carry on with PM Modi’s Hindutva, his autocratic style of functioning and the economic mess he was creating. After that my campaign against the NDA has been sharp, relentless but analytical.”
A surprise choice
Despite having a choice of several former MPs and central ministers, who joined the party amid this year’s state assembly election, ‘Didi’, as Mamata is referred to by party members, chose Sircar. He is yet to join Trinamool Congress formally.
The announcement of his nomination came a day after Banerjee was elected the chairman of Trinamool’s Parliamentary party, which is rare for a non-MP politician. That both developments happened over the weekend seems significant, especially coming ahead of Mamata’s scheduled visit to Delhi where she is expected to meet Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and other opposition leaders about strengthening the anti-BJP coalition.
Delhi politics will now get Didi‘s “undivided attention”, a top Trinamool leader told ThePrint, as her home-turf is stronger and more secure than it was in 2019.
Sircar had served as the cultural secretary in the Union government between 2008 and 2012 and then became the CEO of Prasar Bharati in 2012. He resigned from Prasar Bharati in October 2016, four months before his retirement.
In a recent post on Twitter and also on Facebook, Sircar mentioned why he resigned even though his Prasar Bharati post “was legally-protected”. “…no point working if boss (PM Modi) was against,” he posted.
Pl connect this to earlier Manmohan Cameron pic🔹Beijing 2015: PM Modi sees me sign Indo Chinese Coop Treaty, as CEO Prasar Bharati 🔹Face shows his dislike but I carried on for 2 more years — then resigned 🔹Tho post was legally-protected, no point working if boss was against. pic.twitter.com/puRqmKBGlv
— Jawhar Sircar (@jawharsircar) July 20, 2021
In another post, he also sought to draw a comparison between Modi and former PM Manmohan Singh, recalling a specific incident.
Good education shows. See how warmly our past PM introduced me to British PM David Cameron.
Contrast this with the photo of the present PM glaring at me in Beijing — posted two days ago. pic.twitter.com/bEE9yadLqb
— Jawhar Sircar (@jawharsircar) July 19, 2021
As a former civil servant, Sircar knows the functioning of the government well and impressed Mamata through his oratory skills, said another top Trinamool Congress leader.
He had also organised an anti-Modi lobby of civil servants, known as the Constitutional Conduct Group, which backed Banerjee during her anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests in January 2020, said the leader.
Talking to ThePrint, a senior leader of the party said Mamata was “moved by his (Sircar’s) sharpness”.
“If one follows Sircar’s statements and his actions in the past three-four years closely, it can be noticed that he never minced words against Modi. He has always been very vocal against Modi’s policies. In fact, he suffered a lot for this as bureaucrat’s post retirement files are handled by the central government. But he never bowed down. Didi liked this attitude. This is the reason Didi chose him over many veteran leaders and former MPs,” the leader said.
“Didi has been regularly speaking with him for his advice in relevant bureaucratic matters and in terms of dealing with the Modi government. He, specifically, was very supportive when the central government initiated disciplinary action against our former chief secretary Alapan Banerjee,” added the leader.
Sircar’s Twitter timeline is also peppered with his criticism of the PM and his government.
In April, when the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic had driven up cases exponentially, he posted this:
China offers tech support. Germany offers oxygen generation plants, Pakistan offers ambulances. Now if New Zealand offers their prime minister, we’ll get through this crisis quickly.
— Jawhar Sircar (@jawharsircar) April 24, 2021
This tweet is currently pinned to the top of his timeline.
In January last year, he had also mobilised a group of 106 signatories, mostly former IAS officers, to condemn the Modi government’s decision to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Dola Sen, a Rajya Sabha MP known to be close to Mamata, said: “Didi‘s decision is best for the party and it is not different in this case. We need to have a strong team in Rajya Sabha. Jawhar da‘s nomination will enrich us.”
Political analyst Prof Samir Das noted that choosing Sircar was also a move towards Trinamool shaking off its regional party tag.
“Sircar is a nationally known scholar, who is also very articulate and is capable of contributing to any political or social debate in Parliament. At a time when Mamata Banerjee is desperate to shrug off the tag of a regional party, she needs more such faces in the Parliament,” Das said.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.