Why Yashwant Sinha Is A Perennial Loser And A Liability To Party And State
Yashwant Sinha is facing one of the most humiliating defeats of his career.
Before the day is out, not only will we have elected a new President of India in Droupadi Murmu, but we will also have reconfirmed the status of her opponent, Yashwant Sinha, the bitter old man of Trinamool Congress, as a perennial loser.
With his own party telling him not to campaign in West Bengal, and many prominent opposition parties (Shiv Sena, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Bahujan Samaj Party) turning their backs on him, Sinha is likely to face one of the most humiliating defeats of his career. This is because Narendra Modi chose the one person whose candidature most politicians would have found difficult to oppose — a tribal and a woman.
Parties that would otherwise have been happy to offer Sinha a handshake and a photo-op, if only to embarrass Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Prime Minister, suddenly found that Sinha was a loser from the word go.
Mamata Banerjee claimed later that if Murmu’s name had been discussed earlier, she could have been a consensus candidate, but that message did not filter through to her party colleague Yashwant Sinha, who went on to remain a presidential candidate nevertheless. Not only his own party, but his own state, Jharkhand, now sees him as a liability and is backing Murmu.
This is not to deny Sinha’s essential competence for holding many technocratic jobs, including that of finance minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government.
In 1991, when he served a short stint as finance minister in Chandra Shekhar’s government, he prepared budget proposals which later served as a template for reform in 1992, when Narasimha Rao appointed Manmohan Singh as his finance minister. Singh earned accolades as a reformer, while Sinha got blamed for pawning the country’s gold to prevent a debt default. Again, a loser.
In 1998, when Vajpayee first came to power, and followed it up with a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) victory in 1999, Sinha was not Vajpayee’ first choice as finance minister. The prime minister would have preferred Jaswant Singh, but backroom manoeuvres within the Sangh Parivar prevented Vajpayee from having his way and Yashwant Sinha got in through the side door. Here he was a winner by default, and not because he had the prime minister’s confidence.
So, when Vajpayee was confident enough of his own power and stature by 2002, the first thing he did was get rid of Sinha and bring in Jaswant Singh. The default winner of North Block was moved to South Block, where foreign policy is set by the prime minister himself.
Sinha got his pejorative nickname “rollback” Sinha because many of his reform measures in the Vajpayee government were politically naive, and had to be rolled back under political pressure. He was also finance minister when the Ketan Parekh stock market scam hit the headlines, and the Unit Trust of India nearly went bankrupt under his watch.
Sinha cannot be blamed for what went wrong during his three-and-a-half-year tenure as finance minister, but his failures stuck to him like a double-edged tape. There was a stock market scam during the Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh era too, when Harshad Mehta took bankers for a ride, but Singh’s personality had Teflon painted all over it. Sinha was an easy guy to hang failures on.
More recently, in Modi’s first term, Sinha sided with Arun Shourie and others to challenge the Rafale deal with France, but the Supreme Court found no evidence of wrongdoing. Sinha lost once more.
One can blame circumstances for some of his losses, but Sinha’s problem has not been only about lady luck refusing to smile on him. His real problem is his unending ambition for office and power despite being past his prime. His rival in the presidential contest, Droupadi Murmu, the first tribal woman to the elected to this high office, is just 64.
The outgoing President, Ram Nath Kovind, is eight years younger than Sinha’s 84-plus age. But while Murmu and Kovind come across as unassuming and humble, Sinha comes across as a man bitter about his own poor luck. And yet he thinks he is fighting for principle rather than power and pelf.
In one of his defiant statements after learning that his campaign was about to crash and burn, Sinha claimed that he would not be a “rubber stamp” president (if elected). But the role of the President is clearly defined in the Constitution as one who can act only on the advice of the council of ministers. He or she has to do what the Constitution tells him or her to do, which is to offer sage advice to a government, and that does not make you a rubber stamp.
Article 74 of the Constitution has this to say:
“(1) There shall be a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President who shall, in the exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice:
“Provided that the President may require the Council of Ministers to reconsider such advice, either generally or otherwise, and the President shall act in accordance with the advice tendered after such reconsideration.
“(2) The question whether any, and if so what, advice was tendered by Ministers to the President shall not be inquired into in any court. (italics mine)
The italicised words in Article 74 make it clear that the only power the President actually has is to ask the council of ministers to reconsider any law which he considers problematic, but, if after such request, the cabinet still goes ahead, he has to comply. And the content of the advice is not something the courts can look into.
So, yes, Yashwant Sinha is talking through his hat. He is not a man who can accept defeat gracefully.
However, this article is not about the powers of the President, but about Yashwant Sinha as a loser, whose moves are determined not by wisdom, but by the need for power. In 2014, when Narendra Modi was elected with a complete majority of his own, he made it clear that politicians above a certain age should be part of a “margdarshak mandal”, ie, informal guides to the party, but without any formal office or paraphernalia. Yashwant Sinha got the unwritten memo, but he obviously did not take kindly to it. Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi also got the message. They may not have liked it, but they chose to behave with dignity when confronted with this reality. Sinha was the only one to take umbrage.
Worse, it is likely that his son, Jayant Sinha, is paying the price for his petulance. In 2018, the younger Sinha met with some men who were convicted of lynching. While it was not something very sensible for a politician to do, it did not require his father to outrage over this too. Yashwant Sinha tweeted: “Earlier I was the Nalayak Baap of a Layak Beta. Now the roles are reversed. That is Twitter. I do not approve of my son's action. But I know even this will lead to further abuse. You can never win.”
It is one thing to disagree with what your son did, quite another to embarrass everyone — both his son and his party — with negative comments on Twitter. The near perennial loser seems keen to bring his son down with him.
But he got one thing right. He cannot win. Or lose with grace.
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