New Delhi: In an interview in 2019, Yashwant Sinha told The Telegraph that he had one complaint about fate: “Fate has never made available the low lying fruit for me. I’ve always had to struggle hard to pluck the fruit right at the top.” Three years down the line, he has just entered a contest to reach the very top — Rashtrapati Bhavan.
On Tuesday, Sinha — an IAS officer-turned-politician who was once close to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and held the finance and external affairs portfolios in his ministry — emerged as the consensus candidate of a group of opposition parties for the upcoming presidential election.
The first hint of Sinha’s candidature came out when he tweeted earlier in the day announcing that he would “step aside” from the Trinamool Congress (TMC). After falling out with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and leaving the party in 2018 — saying he was taking ‘sanyas‘ from politics and that “democracy in India is in great danger,” — Sinha had joined the TMC last year and was made its national vice president.
“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 [TMC chief and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee] approves of the step,” the 84-year-old 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.
— Yashwant Sinha (@YashwantSinha) June 21, 2022
Sinha’s name came into contention after Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah and former West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi all declined the nomination.
Announcing the decision Tuesday, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)chief Sharad Pawar said that the nomination would be filed on 27 June at 11:30 am. The aim will be to rally as much support as possible behind Sinha, Pawar said.
After the announcement, Mamata Banerjee congratulated Sinha for getting the support of like-minded allies. “A man of great honour and acumen, who would surely uphold the values that represent our great nation!” the TMC supremo tweeted.`
Abhishek Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, Randeep Surjewala of the Congress, Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), D. Raja of the Communist Party of India, Imtiaz Jaleel of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Manoj Jha of the RJD, and Praful Patel of the NCP were among the opposition leaders who attended the meeting chaired by Pawar .
Pawar added that he had also spoken to Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal (of the Aam Aadmi Party), K. Chandrashekar Rao (of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi) and Tejashwi Yadav (of the Rashtriya Janata Dal) about backing Sinha as the presidential candidate.
He said that he was yet to reach out to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and YSR Congress Party chief Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy.
The presidential election is due on 18 July. The counting of votes, if necessary, will be held on 21 July. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance also declared its candidate Tuesday — former Jharkhand governor Draupadi Murmu.
Sinha joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1960 and served in various capacities before taking voluntary retirement in 1984. When he was a deputy commissioner in 1966 in Bihar, Sinha was berated by the then chief minister and revenue minister, who were touring one of the tribal districts. Sinha had retorted: “Please don’t shout at me. I can become a minister but you can’t become an IAS officer.”
After quitting the bureaucracy, Sinha began his political career by joining the Janata Party in 1984, and was a Rajya Sabha MP from 1988 to 1994. He went on to serve as Union finance minister in the Chandra Shekhar administration from 1990 to 1991 as a member of the Janata Dal.
He then joined the BJP in 1992. In his more than 25 years of association with the party, Sinha rose up the ranks swiftly as the protege of veterans L. K. Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He was made national spokesperson in 1996 and won a Lok Sabha election for the first time from Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh constituency in 1998.
Sinha served again as finance minister(1998-2002) as well as external affairs minister (2002-2004) under Vajpayee. As finance minister, Sinha was often referred to as the ‘rollback minister’ for reversing hikes on fuel prices.
Crossing the party line
In 2012, Sinha went against the BJP’s line to extend his support for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate Pranab Mukherjee in the presidential election. The BJP had supported former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma against Mukherjee.
Sinha gave his Hazaribagh parliamentary seat to his son, Jayant Sinha, in 2014 after the BJP denied him a ticket as part of its policy to phase out leaders above the age of 75 years.
Before his exit in 2018, the BJP veteran made his displeasure with the new leadership in the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi known through various statements — including that they had declared party leaders above 75 “brain dead” in 2015.
Sinha announced his decision to leave the party four years later on his son Jayant’s birthday. He also then announced the formation of the ‘Rashtra Manch’, a political action group, with other like-minded leaders.
In 2021, Sinha made a comeback to active politics to join the Trinamool Congress ahead of the crucial West Bengal assembly election. “I have worked with Mamataji in Vajpayeeji’s government, and we will again work together to save democracy,” he said at the time.
(Edited by Tony Rai)