'No hesitation in admitting that I was mistaken on Modi'

DH EXCLUSIVE | Interview with former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha

Senior politician Yashwant Sinha, who quit BJP earlier this year, is a vocal critique of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his latest book 'India Unmade: How the Modi Government Broke the Economy' is a scathing critique of the regime. He believes Modi added to the problems rather than solving it. Sinha says he is no liberal like Vajpayee. Sinha spoke to DH's Shemin Joy

Your new book is a scathing critique of Narendra Modi government's economic policies. Why do you think Modi has unmade India?

It is because he followed wrong policies and caused a lot of damage to the economy, the full import of which is not known yet. I think it will have to be another government to go into some of the follies that he committed in policy formulations and assess the impact of those policies. We had an India which he inherited. It was not been exactly a clean slate. There were problems. But he has added to the problems instead of solving them.

The book ends with an interesting line. "Elect him again and by 2024 it will be a lost decade," you wrote. Why do you say so?

We have already lost half-a-decade by electing Modi in 2014. If we give him another five, we will lose a decade. I don't expect him to be able to fulfil the needs of the people of this country. In the last four and half years or more, he has clearly demonstrated that his only purpose of governance is to win elections by hook or crook. Therefore, he has not concentrated on delivering or fulfilling promises. He has merely indulged in event management.

So, it is not just the economy. Do you mean to say he has failed in other counts too?

Yes. He has failed in foreign policy. He has failed in social policy. He succeeded in dividing the society. So that is why it is a lost five years. He has damaged the Idea of India.

The Modi government is faced with agrarian distress and trouble in job creation among other issues. Why did the government fail?

That is because the economy is not really growing at a pace at which it is claimed to be. An economy which is growing at a rate of 7% will create jobs. If the jobs are not being created, then those figures lose credibility. There are many economists, including me, who feel that these figures are not credible.

Are these fudged figures?

I have said that in the book also and mentioned the reasons.

Did demonetisation and GST added to these woes?

Yes. It did.

You were one of the first to endorse Modi as the Prime Ministerial face of BJP ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha elections. You refer to the public mood too in his favour before the elections. Do you now think you erred in your judgement?

Yes. I have no hesitation in admitting that I was mistaken and I also got taken in by the propaganda he had unleashed as Chief Minister of Gujarat in projecting the progress of Gujarat, projecting himself as being responsible for that progress and creating an image of a doer.

You have worked with leaders in the capacity of a bureaucrat when you were an IAS officer and later as a politician. What differences do you find between A B Vajpayee and Modi?

There is a world of difference. Vajpayee was a Democrat. Modi is not. Vajpayee believed in consensus. Modi believes in his own rule. Vajpayee tried to make everyone comfortable in this country. There was an assurance of comfort. People were not in tension all the time. Modi has put everyone or most of them ill at ease. People are not comfortable any more. Yes, there were problems even during Vajpayee rule but people did not doubt his sincerity. Modi's sincerity and commitment to people is doubtful.

What was Vajpayee's economic philosophy?

Vajpayee made India. I had written an article two years ago and its title was Make India and Make in India will follow. First, you have to make India. I gave the example of the National Highway programme. I said that the first problem that we faced when we decided to built world class highways, it was not money but equipment. The country did not have the equipment to make modern roads. The builders came to me and asked me to allow them to import machines until we started making them in India. I did allow them to import these machines and exempted customs duty. Then people started making it here. It was a clear case of making India. Like making roads in India and making equipment in India. It cannot happen in a vacuum.

You said Vajpayee provided sort of comfort. He was never ridiculed by his allies or Opposition. Now, Modi is being attacked even by allies like Shiv Sena whose chief Uddhav Thackeray has said that 'chowkidars' (guards) themselves have become thieves, taking cue from a campaign launched by Congress chief Rahul Gandhi. How do you view this?

The difference is that Vajpayee throughout his long public life, he followed certain behaviour patterns which created respect for himself across party lines. Modi has not been able to do that. Not even among his allies. With Opposition also, it is the same.

Both Vajpayee and Modi have their roots in the RSS. Is there a difference in their idea of India?

Through once instance I will explain. The RSS and BJP believed India should go nuclear. The moment Vajpayee got an opportunity, he conducted nuclear tests and declared to the world that India is a nuclear weapon state. To that extent, he followed the old policy which had been influenced by the RSS. But as far as the economy was concerned, he did not follow the restrictive policy of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM). Instead He followed a very liberal policy. Vajpayee was generally a liberal. He came from the same stock. But he came with an overdose of liberalism. Modi doesn't have that.

PTI File photo of Senior politician Yashwant Sinha in Kashmir.

One of the issues on which you are vocal is Kashmir. Has the government lost the narrative in the Valley?

The alienation of Kashmiris had been happening. The pace of alienation became faster in Modi's time. The very commendable initiative which had been taken by Vajpayee was given up. If the UPA did not follow up on Vajpayee's initiatives, one could understand that they have another policy. But why shouldn't an NDA-2 under Modi follow the policy of Vajpayee? That is not understandable. They had actually committed themselves to that policy when BJP entered into an alliance with PDP in Jammu and Kashmir and said in the agenda of will follow the precepts of Insaniyat, Jamuriyat, Kashmiriyat. But it was only on paper. It was never translated into action. Even the army commanders who had served in Kashmir have repeatedly said that force is not the solution to the issue. It should be dialogue. Modi did not seriously start a dialogue with all the stakeholders.

The Lok Sabha election is near. You have critiqued the government and believe that it has failed in many counts. Does it mean that 2019 is an open game?

Of course, it certainly is an open game. Only if the opposition parties could put their act together and not be guided by short-term interests, then Modi has no chance. But if the opposition, and especially the Congress, do not understand this, then Modi will not be defeated immediately.

There are talks about who should lead the united Opposition. What do you want to tell the Opposition, which is taking on Modi? Is Opposition unity working?

I think any talk of a prime ministerial candidate at this point of time will be fatal for the opposition. They should keep quiet on that and elect a leader only after they have got the numbers, after the 2019 elections. I mean, jumping the gun will only harm the cause, not promote it.

There are some interesting comments coming from Nitin Gadkari on accountability of leadership. Though he has not named Modi or BJP chief Amit Shah, many people try to find a link. Is Gadkari positioning himself as possible alternative to Modi?

I think he is positioning himself.

So that he will be a threat to Modi?

If BJP government is formed there are many takers for this slot. In case the BJP does not get a clear majority, those who align with the BJP could say 'we will align without Modi, choose somebody else as your leader'. Though I personally think that is not going to happen. Because the kind of iron grip that Modi and Shah have over the party, they will resist tooth and nail, the elevation of anyone else. So, though Gadkari is projected as an alternative, the chances of his assuming the leadership are slim.

There is an argument that the BJP post-2014 is a different BJP. Now, it is alleged that senior leaders are not consulted and all decisions are taken by Modi and Shah. Has BJP changed a lot or is there a chance for a revival of the BJP in terms of character?

The character will change overnight once these guys are gone. Somebody or anybody for that matter who takes charge of the party and follows the practices that were there when Advani was the president or Vajpayee was the leader, BJP's old character will be revived in no time.

Earlier, Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal had invited you to contest the Lok Sabha elections. Is it time for you to contest an election this time?

I have not made up my mind and my stand so far has been that on the basis of the present situation, I continue to feel that I should not contest.

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