Patna: Surrounded by a bunch of forgotten faces in the Bihar capital, former Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha Saturday announced his intention to form a Third Front in the poll-bound state.
Speaking at a press meet in Patna, Sinha lashed out at the governance of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, stressing that the state needed a change from the NDA government.
“Everybody is welcome to join us. Only they should not impose any condition to join,” said the leader who has remained a staunch critic of the Narendra Modi-led NDA in the last few years.
He declared that he would announce the name of the front soon.
“Sinha has been in Patna for the last three weeks,” said Narendra Singh, a close associate of the 83-year old and former Bihar minister who was present at the event.
He told ThePrint that “our effort” will be to promote “a credible alternative to NDA and RJD”, referring to the major party in Bihar politics.
However, a JD(U) leader who didn’t wish to be named called Sinha’s team — mostly forgotten leaders from the state — a bunch of “losers” who won’t be able to achieve anything.
The state is set to go to polls later this year.
Return to Bihar
Sinha, who has political base in Jharkhand, is looking to make an electoral return to Bihar after nearly two decades.
In the early 1990s, just a few years after his parliamentary debut, Sinha had contested polls from the Patna parliamentary seat from late former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar’s party. However, the Election Commission (EC) had countermanded the election.
He came into prominence after the 1995 assembly polls for his role as leader of the opposition in Bihar assembly — he had won from Hatia assembly seat in Ranchi as a BJP candidate. But he had to quit the post after his name cropped up in the Jain Hawala case.
After 2000, when Bihar was bifurcated, Sinha shifted to Hazaribagh in Jharkhand, from where he won several times. Since then, Sinha has been known in Bihar as a leader of Jharkhand and not Bihar — a state he rarely visited despite having a house in Patna.
The search for relevance
Sinha’s latest move comes as he searches for political relevance again.
The former BJP leader and two other seniors, L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, were sidelined in the party after PM Modi’s victory in 2014. This came even after Sinha supported Modi before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
After the BJP’s debacle in 2015 assembly election in Bihar, these three leaders had issued a joint statement, indirectly attacking the PM and then BJP president Amit Shah, saying that the principal reason for the defeat was the way the party had been “emasculated” and its consensual character had been destroyed.
Sinha gradually went into political oblivion as his son Jayant Sinha became a Union minister under Modi’s first government. Jayant remains a BJP MP from Hazaribagh, but was dropped from the Union cabinet when the government was re-elected.
Sinha, who officially quit the BJP in 2018 citing devaluation of democratic values under Modi, now routinely lashes out at the Union government.
In December 2018, he hailed West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as a “good choice to be Prime Minister”, and was one of the star speakers at her mega rally for the opposition in Kolkata on 19 January last year.
This January, he announced a nationwide tour (yatra) against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens and National Population Register.
In May, he staged a protest at Rajghat in Delhi demanding deployment of the Army to help migrant labourers who were fleeing home amid the Covid lockdown.
“Ever since he quit BJP he has been trying to make space for himself in the opposition. There are flashes of his greatness when he speaks but he remains a fading face in Indian politics and the 80s is not the right age for a new quest,” said a BJP leader who didn’t wish to be named.
‘Team of losers’
This hunt for relevance could prove to be a difficult mission for Sinha at this point with the formation of a Third Front.
Since 1990, Bihar politics has largely remained polarised between RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav supporters and his rival, JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar. However, as several castes deserted the Yadav fold, Kumar and the BJP have become stronger in the state. Currently, they are on much stronger footing in the state.
Moreover, this isn’t the first time a Third Front has sought to be created in Bihar. In 1995, Kumar offered the voters the choice of the Samata Party. The party won only 6 of the 324 assembly seats in Bihar.
In 2015, Samajwadi Party, NCP and Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party formed a loose front to contest all 243 seats. It could not win a single seat and its candidates lost their deposits in most places.
On Saturday, the men who accompanied Sinha on stage were politicians who have been politically irrelevant for long. These included Devendra Prasad Yadav, ex-MP of Jhanjharpur, Arun Kumar, ex-MP of Jehanabad, former Union minister Nagmani, and Renu Kushwaha, ex-BJP leader and MP from Bihar.
“It looks like a team of losers. Yashwant may draw political leaders who are not likely to get tickets either from the NDA or UPA. But nobody who seriously matters,” said a JD(U) minister who didn’t wish to be named.