“If You Differ You Are Anti-National"

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The former finance minister and a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not hesitate to speak his mind, but he does it in a thoughtful manner, and gives reasons to back his views. In a scathing interview with Parliamentarian, Sinha analyses today’s stressful political and economic situation with clarity. Excerpts from the interview Yashwant Sinha gave to Parliamentarian’s Senior Editor Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr:

What is it that makes you sort of an angry man in the BJP of today for the last couple of years?

It is not that I have been angry only recently. Many things which appear disagreeable to me make me angry or unsettled. That has been my character throughout my life. Perhaps I would not have left the IAS if I was not made that way. Even when I was in the Janata Party and in the Janata Dal, there were occasions, which people have mostly forgotten, when I had serious differences with those who were in positions of leadership. And I never refrained from expressing those opinions, either within the confines of the room where the discussion might be taking place or publicly.

In the present situation, would you say that there is radical provocation in terms of ideas, in terms of the political situation?

There are a few things, as I said, that I find disagreeable. I don’t see them as welcome developments. And I tried to point out those issues to the powers that be through letters, through personal meetings. But when most of it went unanswered, then I had no choice but to start expressing myself.

How would you explain the differences? Is it on programmes and policies?

It is on issues. It is clearly on issues. In one broad sweep I would like to say that we had made some promises when the 2014 elections were taking place. Those promises are contained in our manifesto, those promises are contained in the speeches delivered by the then prime ministerial candidate Shri Narendra Modi. It is reflected in speeches made by other leaders of the party, who are very responsible leaders. When you look back after all these months, then it is disappointing to find that many of those promises have not been fulfilled. Not even that, no attempt has been made to fulfill them. Even if you are in campaign mode, if you are a responsible leader, you have to make responsible promises. You cannot make irresponsible promises. I was away campaigning myself. But I was stunned somebody pointed out that one of our leaders said that Indians would get back Rs 15 lakh per head (by recovering black money stowed in the West). Such a promise was made.

Was it just campaign rhetoric?

It has already been described as a jumla (something said for the heck of it).

The issue is whether this is a lack of performance in the last three years. It is not exactly failure of the government but the economic situation is not very conducive. Your comments.

The economic situation in the country was on the downward trend when this present government took office. This was well known. And I was the spokesman of the party on economic issues in those days. I remember how we described the situation. I remember how we used to hold forth on the steps which would be taken if we formed the government. It is particularly disappointing that the economic situation has improved only in statistical terms, not really on the ground. We have taken some steps like demonetisation and GST, which caused further damage to the economy. We are trying to make up for that through bluff and bluster. That is not going down well with the people. So what is my concern? My concern is that ultimately we have to go to the people and seek their votes in 2019 or whenever the elections are held. And we have to answer the questions that they will ask.

To give you an example, I was very keen that we should start the ‘Krishi Sinchai Yojana’, like we started the ‘Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana’ when we were in government under Mr Vajpayee. I had personally drafted that portion. When we came into government I had sent suggestions how this could be implemented. But all that we did was we brought together all the irrigation schemes and put together the money at one place, said we are going to spend so much more. Therefore when you go see on the ground, there is very little progress. That is something that disappoints me because only about 40-45 per cent of arable land is irrigated. And even if we were to irrigate about 80 per cent, imagine the transformation it would have brought about in rural India. Agrarian distress, I know, is the most important issue in the country today. We haven’t kept that promise. We haven’t kept the promise of implementing the Swaminathan Committee report. The situation on the ground has gone from bad to worse. That is why farmers are agitated.

You think that one characteristic of Mr Modi’s administration has been greater governmental intervention, greater governmental involvement in many affairs, and that is not really helpful?

We came with the promise of less government. We used to talk against tax terrorism. We are now living in an age of tax terrorism. It is not the big fish who are getting caught. They escape. It is the smaller person who is harassed. Tax terrorism has come back with a vengeance. Then, in the latest budget, Mr Jaitley raised import duties, which creates an inward looking economy, something we had given up decades ago. The intervention by the government is much larger, more onerous than it used to be in the past.

Do you think for any political party, some sort of populism is inevitable? And the present BJP government seems to be falling back on it more frequently than others?

It is not necessary to be populist. I have always believed that when you are elected to power the people cast a very sacred responsibility on you. That sacred responsibility is not merely to get re-elected. That sacred responsibility is to do the best for the country in the time which has been given, allotted to you under our Constitution. If all the time you are thinking of only winning the next election, then you will not be able to discharge that sacred responsibility.

In the beginning of 2014, everybody predicted that Mr Modi’s style of governance would be presidential and that is amply reflected both in the party and in the government. Is it one of your issues?

Yes. We have accepted the parliamentary system of democracy. In the parliamentary system, there is accountability of the executive to parliament. Now how is that accountability being discharged? This is one of the things that disappoints me no end, that we have treated parliament with disdain. Very few people are indeed bothered, and I am sorry to say even the media has not made this into an issue. Look at what happened to the winter session of the parliament. The winter session was curtailed because we had elections in Gujarat, in one state, in Gujarat. We had elections in Himachal too. But the Himachal elections were held before the session of parliament. Now I know personally, because I come from Jharkhand, that elections in Jharkhand have been held in December for some years. And December is the time for the winter session (of parliament). Now some of us who wanted to campaign in the assembly elections had to miss parliament. Nobody ever thought of curtailing a parliament session because there is an assembly election. Tomorrow, if you have a very prestigious, let us say, local body election, will you say parliament session will be curtailed because of the prestigious local body election?

The point is, this is not the way in which parliament should have been treated. But there was no hue and cry in this country. Just as we came to accept the minimalist session of state legislatures, we have now come to accept with parliament, the minimum number of days the parliament would sit. This is most objectionable.

Within the party the picture that has emerged, there is a generational clash. The senior leaders have been marginalised. Do you think this was necessary?

I will go back to the traditional family arrangement. It is a natural process that younger people take over. But that does not mean that older people will not be respected. Their advice is still important because they have experience. By all means, let the younger generation take over. At the same time the older people should not be discarded as some broken furniture. Their advice might be useful. Now the Margdarshak Mandal has very few people. That has never met. What is the Margdarshak Mandal for?

Mr Advani and Mr Joshi have always been members of Central Parliamentary Board and the Central Election Committee, suppose they were there (still) what harm they would have caused. Suppose they were invited for campaign in an election they would have gladly gone and contributed to the party’s strength. That doesn’t happen. In Gujarat assembly elections, Mr Advani, a highly respected leader of the party, was not even asked to campaign in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar, not even to address a press conference. Has he become that useless?

It is not old and new. It is the working style. Everyone will become older generation one day. This is not the way to treat older people. As I said this is contrary to all our venerable traditions which exist in our families.

Political debate has become coarsened because of belligerence…

It is most disturbing that the quality of discourse, the tone, tenor, language, everything has deteriorated. Everything has become personal. Everything has become ugly. It need not be. We had some healthy traditions in our democracy. Some of the things which come to my mind are to give due respect to the Opposition. Visiting dignitaries meet the leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha. We have no leader of Opposition. There are leaders of Opposition who (foreign dignitaries) could have met. The government could have encouraged and not discouraged this. (The other golden tradition is…) When you go abroad, you will not talk about domestic politics. Whether you are talking to the NRIs or PIOs, the point is you are talking on foreign soil. And if you bring local politics, then other people will bring in local politics too. So the whole discourse goes off the rails. So Mr Rahul Gandhi will go to Singapore and talk about domestic politics even as Mr Modi does. Second, we had a very healthy tradition that official functions will not be used for political purposes. So you are inaugurating a refinery for instance, you will not talk party politics. That has gone out of the window.

Then we had another tradition that when Parliament is in session, important announcements will be made in the House and not outside, to the media.

So there are many traditions which have been given a go by. And these are dangerous developments because it is easy to destroy something than to rebuild traditions anew. Over the last seven decades, democracy has survived because we had some of these healthy traditions.

Is there a room or space for a contrary view, a dissenting view in the present political atmosphere? Or are you sort of shunned and told you are not doing the right thing, that you have no right to differ?

This kind of an atmosphere has been created not only in the party, in the BJP, but overall in the polity of the country. And the thing that is thrown at you, the moment you differ, is that you are anti-national. This is a new development. The moment you have a contrarian point of view you are being branded as anti-national. Unfortunately, we have sections of the media which then go hammer and tongs.

For instance, I take an interest in Jammu and Kashmir. Often I will be described as a peacenik. It has become a pejorative term. There is absolutely no space for another view. We have become an angry and intolerant society. It is getting reflected in our daily lives. That your motorcycle or car rubs against or touches someone else’s he will immediately pull out a gun or a rod and hit you and kill you. This is not the kind of society, this is not the kind of country, which was envisaged by the founding fathers of our Constitution.

The general interpretation is whenever the right-wing party rises to power intolerance also rises.

Well this is the story the world over. Any extremist party getting control of the state machinery will lead to this kind of situation. Why talk only of the right. We have had the communists rule in various countries and they have been the cruelest regimes in history.

So it is the extreme form, and not the ideology…

It is the extremist ideology which is responsible for this.

Do you think this is a passing phase in India?

I have great faith in the resilience of our people. We have gone through a lot in our history. Ultimately we will regain our poise. How long will it take remains to be seen. Today we must not forget there is social media also. And if you look at the social media then you see how intolerant we are. People are abusing somebody left, right and centre in the vilest terms because he has posted something with which they don’t agree.

Do you think the political leadership can set up an example to sort of tone down the political discourse?

They must. It is their responsibility and they must. If there are some bad examples, they need not be

followed.

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