Is the BJP old guard rising up against Modi?
Yashwant Sinha on Tuesday published an open letter to fellow BJP members of Parliament, in the form of an India Express opinion piece titled “Dear friend, speak up”. He urged MPs to speak up against the “complete” destruction of inner party democracy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In particular, he asked veterans LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi to speak up. Like Sinha these men, despite their proven administrative acumen, were denied a place in Modi’s government and were instead consigned to a Margdarshak Mandal, a communist-sounding guidance panel that no one has sought advice from.
This is not the first time that Sinha has lashed out. Last September, in the Indian Express again, he wrote, “I need to speak up”. He castigated the government for its mishandling of the economy, which was on a downward spiral and on course for a hard landing. The government was so rattled that a rebuttal was made, not by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley but by Sinha’s own son Jayant, a minister in Modi’s government.
Sinha has had two stints as India’s finance minister. His memoir Confessions of a Swadeshi Reformer reveals the punishing work schedule of a finance minister. After all, each governmental decision has a financial implication. So the finance minister is necessarily involved in much policymaking. It is clear that a finance minister does not have enough hours in a day. It’s no surprise then that successive ministers including Chidambaram, Pranab Mukherjee or indeed Manmohan Singh in 1991-96 had no other ministerial responsibilities.
Jaitley, on the other hand, has taken on too much work as finance minister. For a long time he was also defence minister, which itself is a full time job; and throughout his four years as finance minister he has also been minister for corporate affairs. As a result, the economy has suffered. Industrial production has collapsed. Agriculture is in distress. Construction, a major employment-generating sector, is in the doldrums. The poorly designed GST has wreaked havoc with business. Demonetisation has destroyed rural supply chains. And so on. Indeed, a few days ago the government’s own statistics showed zero growth in exports during the last four years. The banking NPAs have become a monster problem, with a scam emerging every other week. All this happened while Jaitley enjoyed the bonanza of low crude oil prices for most of his tenure.
Jaitley’s shortcomings are never publicised because he is most influential with the Delhi media, and as Arun Shourie once put it, he has a mass following among Delhi’s four top journalists. One reason he is popular is because he loves intrigue; he also loves being finance minister, even if he never applied his mind to the job. He is now out of action due to a failed kidney. Modi should replace him, but this is unlikely.
On Tuesday Sinha again pointed to the grim economic situation and to the deteriorating social situation as evident in the dilution of the law to prevent atrocities against Scheduled Castes as well as the rape-murder of an eight-year-old after which BJP state ministers marched in support of the culprits — who had already confessed to the police. Even Modi had to finally speak out against the indefensibility of rape.
Most importantly, Sinha described dialogue in the BJP as one-way; even MPs weren’t able to air their views and this had destroyed inner party democracy. He also lamented the erosion of parliamentary democracy, wherein Modi avoided solutions to logjams with the opposition; quite unlike Vajpayee who strictly instructed his ministers to accommodate the opposition.
Sinha predicted that half his colleagues would lose their seats in the next parliamentary election. He urged his colleagues to speak out, as five dalit MPs already have. It is difficult to imagine anyone writing a rebellious piece without gauging the mood within the party, faced as it is with an uphill struggle in Karnataka in next month’s assembly election (as well as in four states later this year). It is difficult to imagine that he did not consult Advani or Joshi before writing this article. It is also difficult to imagine that these veterans have not thought out their next moves. This open dissent is most likely intended to set the stage for what happens within the party after the 2019 parliamentary election.
Aditya Sinha is a journalist based in India
The poorly designed GST has wreaked havoc with business. Demonetisation has destroyed rural supply chains