How will the allies react? How will Nitish Kumar react? The Shiv Sena is already urging for an NDA meeting. It wants to honour Bal Thackeray's wish for Sushma Swaraj as a Prime Ministerial candidate. How will all this internal turbulence impact the fortunes of the party tonight? To discuss all this and more, joining us now is Yashwant Sinha himself.
By now, you're used to controversy, used to grabbing the headlines. Did you realise that your statement saying that the party should declare Narendra Modi as a Prime Ministerial candidate would attract the kind of attention and controversy that it has?
Yashwant Sinha: No, quite frankly I was surprised, because this has been said by many people on many earlier occasions and it didn't create the kind of furore it's supposed to have, it has created now. And it has left me a little surprised myself, that my saying it should attract so much media attention. Perhaps because, you know, the time for elections is coming closer and I also feel that just as we have resolved, as you said, the issue of who will be the BJP president very quickly, I think the Party and the NDA should reach a conclusion about who, if at all, will be our Prime Ministerial candidate.
NDTV: There is an option to not declare anybody at all. The Congress often, for example says, that that has been its philosophy. 2009 is in fact one of the rare instances where they declared Manmohan Singh ahead of the elections. Could the BJP explore that option? That since naming anybody is contentious, not so much for the opposition but for the opposition within the BJP, just don't declare anybody at all. Is that an option?
Yashwant Sinha: That is. That is always an option.
NDTV: But for you, is that a good option?
Yashwant Sinha: I don't think between declaring and not declaring, not declaring is a better option. To my mind declaring a candidate for the Prime Ministership will be a better option and you know, whether we like it or not, elections in India have become presidential and in every election, whether a candidate, a party declares its candidate or not. You know, you know, who is going to be the candidate for top job on the other side and therefore, we should, we should. My personal view is that we should remove the confusion in people's mind and especially, you know, as I have said earlier, people are clamouring for one person to be named for this post. The workers of the BJP are making this demand everywhere. People in general make this demand and you know these are very ordinary people, you meet them at railway stations, and you meet them at airports, you meet them at marketplace. If they recognize you and realize you belong to the BJP, they tell you this.
NDTV: That, make Modi the PM?
Yashwant Sinha: Why aren't you doing it? Why aren't you doing it? And that's the kind of thing I have been listening to for the last few days, for many many months now.
NDTV: You say that whether we like it or not, elections have become presidential. They have become personality oriented. At the same time Mr Sinha, our politics has become more fragmented, in the sense that we are living in a coalition era politics. Now this means that you need somebody who is a consensus builder. It is often said that we haven't seen a pan India leader since Atal Bihari Vajpayee, somebody you actually were very close to. Now if that is the case, and if we look at Narendra Modi, and while he is supremely successful in the state of Gujarat, he has not been yet described as a consensus builder, by either his friends or his critics. Won't that be a problem for your allies?
Yashwant Sinha: It should not be a problem, because you know, consensus building at the national, at the national level is a quality which will be tested only when he operates at the national level. Mr. Modi has been operating at the state level of the Gujarat state and he's been able to build a consensus within that state. You know he has been able to hold very successful meetings of vibrant Gujarat and it is not merely Captains of Industry who have gone to that event from India. They have come over from all over the world. And even the Muslim population within Gujarat now realises that whatever may have happened in the past, and whatever happened was unfortunate indeed, their best is Narendra Modi rather than anyone else.
NDTV: But while Captains of Industry pour accolades and you are right, there is much praise that comes from corporate media for Narendra Modi in every vibrant Gujarat Summit. You have an ally like Nitish Kumar, who in 2009 was actually able to successfully stop Narendra Modi from campaigning in Bihar, and that was the level of his ideological difference with Narendra Modi. Right now, you have the JD(U) putting pressure on the BJP on two counts, One, they want you to declare a Prime Ministerial candidate, so they aren't giving you the option of a post poll announcement. And two, they are saying that person cannot be Narendra Modi because he doesn't fit in with their ideology of what they call intrusive politics. Are you Yashwant Sinha, virtually daring Nitish Kumar to walk out of this alliance, because you sound like you are?
Yashwant Sinha: No, I am not. Let me make my position very clear. I have said earlier that the alliance with Nitish Kumar, who used to be in Samata Party along with George Fernandez and late Digvijay Singh, was forged by me. I was the President of the Bihar unit of the BJP at that time and we came together after discussions, and we felt that we needed to pool our strength in order to take on an adversary like Lalu Prasad. And this alliance has stood the test of time in Bihar, in Jharkhand, at the national level. We have had our differences, but the alliance has held and I personally, because I am the father of this alliance, I would like this alliance to hold.
NDTV: But if it breaks over Narendra Modi what would you say?
Yashwant Sinha: The point I have been making is this, that you know you can't pick and choose a person and say he is communal and the rest of the party is secular. You know that is a distinction which is, which is flawed. Either the whole party is communal or the whole party is secular and...
NDTV: What if he decides that the whole of BJP is not secular if it decides to go under the leadership of Narendra Modi? What if that is the argument that Nitish Kumar makes?
Yashwant Sinha: No, then the argument will not be logical and it will be difficult to accept this, that under Narendra Modi BJP is not secular, under somebody else it is secular. Now it is this distinction and you know my background. I don't come from what they generally describe as a communal background.
NDTV: You don't come from a Sang Parivar background, is that what you are saying?
Yashwant Sinha: I come from a secular background or so called secular background, but I feel that this argument cannot wash, that a party is secular, but individuals within the part may be communal.
NDTV: So in other words, you hope that the alliance with Nitish stays but you do not accept the logic that has been put forth by him. So, if, if, if the BJP were to declare Narendra Modi as a candidate, which is what you think should happen, for Prime Ministership and if at that point the Janta Dal United walks out, your response would be, so be it. You are willing to take that risk?
Yashwant Sinha: I'll be very sorry if that were to happen and I think the leaders of the BJP should reason with the leaders of the JD(U) and convince them, that you know the BJP is a secular party and everybody else is secular. Narendra Modi is secular and therefore their walking out of the alliance is not well founded.
NDTV: Do you see Narendra Modi as a secular candidate? Do you see him as your most secular face, because given the shadow of 2002, there could be a different consequence on the national stage than in Gujarat?
Yashwant Sinha: No, the 2002 riots were very unfortunate and since then, you know, unlike in the case of other riots, including the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, somehow a section of people have been harping on this theme repeatedly, as if that was the first riot which took place. Riots have taken place, horrible riots have taken place everywhere, in many places, but none of this has attached itself to an individual like the 2002 Gujarat riots to Narendra Modi, and this is being deliberately done by those who are opposed to him. Unfortunate, but today, the situation in Gujarat is different, even in the hardcore Muslim constituencies, the BJP has scored victories in this from all accounts. Muslims also have voted for...
NDTV: Though without a single Muslim candidate being given a single ticket.
Yashwant Sinha: Even then, even then the Muslims have voted in substantial numbers for the BJP in Gujarat, and therefore to label Narendra Modi on the basis of a single issue as non-secular, as communal, is not being fair.
NDTV: So if Nitish Kumar were to walk out on this issue, the Party should be willing to take that knock on its chin. Suppose things go as you have prophesized and Mr Nitish Kumar is not open to the reason that you hope he would be open to? The BJP should be willing to lose an ally in Bihar. Do you believe Nitish Kumar needs BJP as much as the BJP needs Nitish Kumar?
Yashwant Sinha: That's a question of judgement.
NDTV: What's the question of judgement?
Yashwant Sinha: You know we, under the alliance with JD(U) and with Jharkhand separated, in alliance with JDU, we contest 15 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar and the JD(U) contest 25. The numbers speak for themselves. In Jharkhand we have 14 Lok Sabha seats and we contest all the seats. So as far as Bihar's number of seats are concerned, Jharkhand is a smaller state, Bihar is a larger state with 40 Lok Sabha seats, we are almost equal you know. The point that I am making is it's a question of 15 seats in alliance with Nitish Kumar and who knows?
NDTV: Some BJP leaders say Nitish Kumar has insulted Narendra Modi. Do you see it that way?
Yashwant Sinha: I wouldn't see it in that light, but I would certainly say that the manner in which that famous dinner was cancelled you know...
NDTV: Yes, the dinner for the BJP at Patna
Yashwant Sinha: Yes. I wasn't present in Patna at that time in that meeting, but when I read about it I felt very sorry
NDTV: You refer to the dinner that was cancelled because Narendra Modi posters were put up in Patna?
Yashwant SInha: Yes, and they were all there. All the BJP leadership was there in Patna for the Executive Committee meeting and that dinner was cancelled at the last moment, and then people went and remonstrated with Nitish Kumar and then things settled down. Now that shows that BJP will go out of its way to retain this alliance but then 'taaali dono haath se bajti hai'.
NDTV: You said that you're not from a typical Hindutva or what's called the Hindutva or the Sang-Parivar background. Now I find this a very interesting comment Yashwant Sinha, because as I see it and correct me if I am wrong, to me the real battle that's going on in the BJP right now, is also a political party trying to assert its autonomy against its ideological parent, the RSS. And many people believe that all these fault lines that we're seeing down to the fact that when Nitin Gadkari was almost going to get a second term, and you decided to throw in the towel and be ready to contest him if it came to that. That was really the party trying to take on the RSS. Is that the struggle that's going on, without being politically correct? Is somebody in BJP going to come out and say that Nagpur has an over-reaching control over the decisions of the BJP?
Yashwant Sinha: You know I have been in this Party now whatever be my background from the end of '93, so which is almost 20 years, 19 years and I held important posts in government under Mr. Vajpayee's leadership and I have held important posts in the Party. I have been Leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Assembly. I have been the President of the Bihar unit of the Party, I was the National President, the Vice President under Mr. Rajnath Singh in his last term. I have spoken for the Party. I have never felt this stranglehold that people talk about, you know. You have an interaction, most certainly, I mean, you should have an interaction. Why not? But I have never felt over-powered, over-whelmed by any action of the RSS.
NDTV: Wasn't that the RSS that was pushing for a second term for Gadkari, you were very vocal in your opposition to that?
Yashwant Sinha: No, whether the RSS was pushing to that or not. The point is that it looked like a done deal when the Party leadership agreed to this.
NDTV: And came out and defended him even if Income tax enquiries were on.
Yashwant Sinha: If the top leadership of the Party had not agreed to this and they had reason with whoever was promoting Mr Gadkari's case, then may be it would not have been necessary for me to throw my hat in the ring, as you said.
NDTV: Why didn't you contest? Why did you not contest? Was your decision to ask for the nomination papers, basically as it is widely perceived, it was perceived to be senior leaders like LK Advani, like yourself who basically had a plan and the plan was this, that Mr Yashwant Sinha's nomination was going to create enough pressure to get Mr Gadkari to step out of the way?
Yashwant Sinha: No, I wouldn't agree with that, because there have been many actions on my part in my life which I have done in a solo fashion.
NDTV: So this was not Mr Advani, and you acted on your own?
Yashwant Sinha: Nobody else in the BJP was involved
NDTV: You did not discuss this with Mr. LK Advani?
Yashwant Sinha: Most certainly not. You know, it's absolutely wrong to blame Mr Advani and make him a co-conspirator kind with me
NDTV: So you were a solo conspirator?
Yashwant Sinha: I was a sole conspirator if at all. The only Jethmalani. He called me up from Mumbai and he said I should contest. And he even suggested that his father Mr Ram Jethmalani could be our election agent. And the other person I took into confidence was Shatrughan Sinha. He came down from Mumbai when I asked him to come, leaving all his engagements, and the other person I spoke to was Jaswant Singhji. He was in Jodhpur in his village. He said he always stood by me and he will stand by me. Well these are the only people that I consulted post my decision that I will call for the nomination paper and If need be file it.
NDTV: So why didn't you go ahead with that election?
Yashwant Sinha: I didn't go ahead with that election for the simple reason that my issue was only a second term for Mr Gadkari and nothing else. So when that changed, and Mr Rajnath Singh was announced as the candidate the previous evening, then there was no point in filing my nomination.
NDTV: Like you say that you have never felt the stranglehold of the RSS. I gave you the example of Nitin Gadkari's second term that seem to be imprint of the RSS. In the past, when your Party has been in power, the RSS has vetoed choices for the post of Finance Minister, someone like Jaswant Singh knows it well. There's been pressure on senior leaders like LK Advani I remember, may be a year ago, to rule himself out as the Prime Ministerial candidate, at which point Mr Advani told to me that I am not a contender, but I don't feel like making a statement that I'm not in the race. Whatever the Party decides is fine by me. When I cite these examples, that are so well known to you, to everybody, how do you say RSS doesn't have the stranglehold over the BJP?
Yashwant Sinha: I said I haven't felt it in all my years in BJP. I personally have not felt this. I have also interacted. My interaction might have become somewhat less now, but there was a time when we were in government, and there was a time before that when we used to interact, and I personally used to interact with RSS leadership, the topmost leadership, and we used to exchange views. Even in those days I used to say that it will not be possible for them and for us to agree on all issues. But the discussions did help in identifying the issues on which we were not together, you know, not in agreement. And when we came into government there were many decisions that were taken under Mr Vajpayee's leadership, which may have not been to the liking of the RSS, but on every occasion it was my effort to explain the reasons for that decision to the RSS people, and it worked. There was one or two occasions where I was...
Yashwant Sinha: Not overruled, but I left them somewhat unhappy I should say, but at no point of time I was told and I was Finance Minister, I was External Affairs Minister. I was in the government throughout all those 6 years, and at no point of time I was told that you should not have done this by the RSS, or you should do this in this way. And if we discussed it with them post the decision that we have taken, and many decisions of the government are such which can't be disclosed publicly, there was no issue with the RSS.
NDTV: But isn't it true that there are leaders in BJP who are known to have RSS approval. Your President right now, Rajnath Singh, why he came into this post? Because there was some opposition to Nitin Gadkari, who is seen to be somebody close to the Sangh. And then there are people like yourself and Mr Advani, who seem to have a fractious relationship with RSS. Do you feel that you are not an RSS favourite?
Yashwant Sinha: No, I have never belonged to RSS. So you know the question of being RSS favourite doesn't arise in my case. Those who belong to that tradition would definitely be closer than I am or anybody else of my kind.
NDTV: But here is the irony, Narendra Modi often described in the media as a hardline face of the BJP, is actually not a RSS favourite either, because he is seen to be somebody who doesn't now listen to the RSS. So isn't this the irony that your Party is confronted at the moment. Yashwant Sinha and many people believe that your statement that making him the Prime Ministerial candidate is actually queering the pitch, because it's going to make the Sangh Parivar very, very uncomfortable. And your laughter gives away something.
Yashwant Sinha: Whichever way you interpret, the point is it could not be RSS which is behind my saying that Narendra Modi should become the Prime Minister. It is not Narendra Modi, it is nobody else. It is a personal opinion that I have expressed and I have also said that the leadership of the BJP will take a decision in its own good time. I feel that a good time for a decision has arrived, but what the relationship is between Mr Narendra Modi with RSS is something which I am not privy to.
NDTV: You have seen the statement of some of your other allies, the Shiv Sena for example, urging for an NDA meeting on this issue, saying that it was Bal Thackeray's wish that Sushma Swaraj should be the Prime Ministerial candidate. So you know the BJP sometimes is a problem of plenty. So many of you who are senior, who are accomplished, who are experienced, who have communication skills. Do you then feel that it's early to pick one, because given the statements that are coming from other allies like Shiv Sena on Sushma Swaraj?
Yashwant Sinha: No, I have seen those statements and quite frankly Barkha I feel that the time is now. We are in end of January and we are, let's say, 15 months away. I remember the last election and the election before that. A candidate in his constituency starts to campaign for the elections three, four, five months in advance. He starts to prepare for elections may be a year or year and half in advance. So we are already in the election or electoral mood. And the preparations would have begun or should have begun, and therefore important decisions should not be postponed.
NDTV: So the other candidates that are being cited like a Sushma Swaraj by the Shiv Sena...
Yashwant Sinha: Please take a decision.
NDTV: Who should take that decision?
Yashwant Sinha: It's the leadership of BJP, we should take the decision.
NDTV: What about people like you? Do you not see people like yourself, who are senior enough, to be a Prime Ministerial candidate?
Yashwant Sinha: No, it is not a question of how I look at myself. I have said jokingly at times that why not me, but...
NDTV: Was that a joke?
Yashwant Sinha: It was asked in a light-hearted manner and I replied in a light-hearted manner, but I will make one statement to you. That is that going by the background that I have, you know, I would consider myself a fit candidate. Why not? If Manmohan Singh can become the Prime Minister of India for such a long time, why not Yashwant Sinha?
NDTV: Given that you say that, you don't say that in a light vein.
Yashwant Sinha: No, I am saying it seriously. But...
NDTV: So you do think you have the qualifications?
Yashwant Sinha: I have the qualifications, but the Prime Minister's post in India does not go by qualification, it goes by popular appeal, and the point that I am making is that Narendra Modi today has the most popular appeal amongst the BJP leadership, and it will really be a game changer if he were to be projected.
NDTV: So you are saying that when it comes to somebody like yourself, you see yourself in a Manmohan Singh mould, by that you mean you don't come from the background of Sangh Parivar. You have been a bureaucrat in the same way Manmohan Singh was. You have an understanding of economics, you have professional skills to that extent, but you don't feel you have the mass appeal that Narendra Modi has?
Yashwant Sinha: Absolutely.
NDTV: So you have the qualifications, but you are not the right candidate?
Yashwant Sinha: My mass appeal is limited to my constituency, which I have won three times and which I lost once, but...
NDTV: But Dr Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister without even contesting the Lok Sabha election.
Yashwant Sinha: Yes, so he is luckier than I am. But the point I am making is BJP needs, the NDA needs, a leader who has the maximum mass appeal and I personally feel that Narendra Modi is the person who has the maximum mass appeal.
NDTV: What about your senior leader like LK Advani? And I ask this only because of the RSS pressure on him earlier, not now to rule himself out as the Prime Ministerial candidate. Do you feel that needed to be done, for people to keep standing up and rule themselves out as the Prime Ministerial candidate?
Yashwant Sinha: No, it is not necessary. Nobody should rule himself out, because nobody knows what is going to happen tomorrow or the day after, but a person ruling himself out does not really mean anything, because circumstances might change.
NDTV: So why Narendra Modi ahead of LK Advani, Yashwant Sinha, Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitely?
Yashwant Sinha: Because of the fact that he has the maximum popular appeal at the moment to my mind.
NDTV: Okay. Let me ask you in the end to rewind to 2009. Rajnath Singh was the Party President, as he is today. The BJP had just lost the elections and you wrote a letter and I am sure you remember that letter, and I remember some lines you wrote in that letter, and you said that BJP needed to introspect, that there had become a rat race for the Party post. You wanted to quit from the Party post and I am just reminding you of this because to me, in a sense, history moves in cycles. Rajnath Singh is back at the helm as the Party's President, the BJP is at a critical point for itself in a political fate. Do you believe that some of the problems that you have pointed out in that letter exist even today?
Yashwant Sinha: Some of the problems do exist. I think we need deeper introspection. For instance we need to introspect why we lost Himachal; we just can't go celebrating the victory in Gujarat. We should seriously introspect why we lost Himachal. And introspection is something which a party should need to do on a continuous basis in order to take lessons for the future. And the second thing is that as far as Party posts are concerne,d there should not be any rat race.
NDTV: But Isn't the rat race there? I mean the BJP is quite a transparent Party in a sense, we can all see the rat race, unlike the Congress, which is quite opaque.
Yashwant Sinha: Good for BJP.
NDTV: Is it good? Because people get the impression that no one is in command.
Yashwant Sinha: No I think when Rahul Gandhi said in Jaipur that his mother came at night and she said that this is poison, and then she cried, then everybody sitting in the audience and the senior Ministers of Congress Party, they also started to crying. You know if they had not cried, had not shed tears, they would have been in trouble.
NDTV: So you are saying that BJP's open dissent is healthier?
Yashwant Sinha: Much healthier. I mean what is democracy all about?
NDTV: But isn't the rat race you warned about in 2009, isn't that rat race still on?
Yashwant Sinha: This rat race is not part of democracy. Democracy does not say that you must have a rat race. You should have a healthy ambition, but the healthy ambition should stay healthy and rat race makes it unhealthy, and that's why I am against the rat race for Party posts.
NDTV: What are some of the mistakes the BJP has made in the last two years? Because here is what a lot of people feel, and I ask you this because again LK Advani has written about this in his blog, about the need for introspection, about the mistakes made by BJP Do you feel that in a sense that BJP has been standing on a very opportune moment to actually take the political advantage, but has failed to do so because of these critical mistakes? Because of the impression of dissent, because of for a long time continuing to defend Nitin Gadkari, because sometimes your most extreme elements of the Sangh Parivar tend to have an dominant impact on the image of the party as a modern neo-right party. What are some of the key mistakes the BJP has made in the last couple of years?
Yashwant Sinha: No, your whole premise is made on the fact that we have failed to take the advantage. I don't...
NDTV: I said there is a danger as Mr Advani has also pointed to that, while people are unhappy with the Congress, they don't see the BJP as the necessary alternative.
Yashwant Sinha: I don't buy that argument. There is something which has been said to me by many people, that you people should be a more effective Opposition; you should do this and the other. Now you know, it's the question of opinion. I personally feel that we have been a very effective Opposition. We have raised issues in Parliament, we have raised issues outside Parliament, and we have taken to the streets. We have launched many movements in past three and half years. The net result of all this is something that you see only when the election results come, and we are still waiting for elections. So whether our programmes, our policies, our actions have been successful or not will be proved or will be indicated only by election results. At the moment for us, or for anyone else, to reach a conclusion that we have not been effectively raising it because of problems within the Party will not be a fair comment.
NDTV: But do you acknowledge that there have been some key mistakes?
Yashwant Sinha: Yes, there have been mistakes, I'm saying there have been mistakes.
NDTV: For instance?
Yashwant Sinha: For instance, as I said, there should be a review, we should take some lessons. I mean if I am a senior leader of BJP and nobody has come and told me that you know, this is not the way it should be, and this is the way it should be. We are performing in Parliament and I think it's been a very effective performance by all the Member of Parliament, of all the leaders who have participated and the Party has, as I said, has launched the movements in many parts of the country. You know there was before the Jharkhand elections, I am talking about the Lok Sabha elections, we had some protests and there was one in front of Raj Bhawan in Ranchi where they lathi-charged the procession, they threw water at us and even I was injured in that, Arjun Munda was injured, other senior leaders were injured. Now if somebody said that no, no it was just nautanki, nothing happened, they would have been mistaken, because the result of this could be seen in the Lok Sabha elections, wherein we performed reasonably well. So all these things add up and you know they get stored up in the public memory.
NDTV: So you are saying the elections result is the only test of the mistakes?
Yashwant Sinha: It's a major test.
NDTV: But you know Jaswant Singh, who is a good friend of yours and who was with you when you both spoke about not giving a second term to Gadkari. He once said to me in an interview, that the main problem before the BJP is that some of the more extremist elements of the large Sangh Parivar have begun to dominate the image of BJP, and this is a major problem for India in 2013. Now do you accept that BJP sometimes, not because of the Party itself, but because of the fringe elements around, it has an image problem in appearing modern enough?
Yashwant Sinha: That's a problem. And the bigger problem is whether those fringe elements belong to what is generally described as Sangh Parivar or not? You know they are immediately associated with the Sangh Parivar and the BJP. So this also is an image problem that we face, that fringe groups sometimes take extreme positions and make statements or indulge in protest actions which gives us a bad name.
NDTV: So you don't think BJP will be looking for its own Manmohan Singh, which might be you, in 2014?
Yashwant Sinha: I hope they don't. I hope they really have a strong candidate, because quite frankly I am telling you the problems that the country is facing today Barkha, is on account of this dyarchy which was created way back in 2004. And at that time it was termed as an excellent arrangement which had never been experimented in India before. But it has come unstuck and we have seen these problems because the political leadership is somewhere else and the administrative leadership is with the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister is not the master of the situation.
NDTV: There's sometimes a joke that has said that both the Congress and the BJP are the parivar parties and one is dependent on one family and the other is dependent on Sangh Parivar. So isn't there is an element of truth in that?
Yashwant Sinha: There could be an element of truth and I'm not denying that.
NDTV: You haven't heard from RSS after your pitch for Narendra Modi?
Yashwant Sinha: I haven't.
NDTV: Well, Yashwant Sinha, thank you so much for talking to us. It's an interesting time leading up to 2014.
Yashwant Sinha: Certainly are.
NDTV: Thank you.