Former cabinet minister Yashwwant Sinha resigned from BJP in 2018 after growing differences with Narendra Modi whose name he recommended first as the prime ministerial candidate for 2014 elections. Ever since the resignation, he has been tirelessly campaigning against BJP regime’s policies – writng, debating and traveling across India. In this interview, he opens up with Shabir Hussain on his differences with New Delhi’s policies and a host of other issues.
You were a very important member of Prime Minister Vajpayee’s cabinet and one of his close confidantes. How different do you think were Vajpayee’s Hindutva policies compared to those of Modi?
There is a huge difference – zameen aasman ka faraq, as we say in Hindi. There can be no comparison. Vajpayee was a moderate and he followed very moderate policies, keeping in mind the long tradition of tolerance in our society and in our country. And nothing, perhaps, illustrates it more than the initiaives that he took both in Jammu and Kashmir as well as with Pakistan. And if his policies had prevailed, maybe we would have been much nearer to the resolution of the Jammu & Kashmir issue than we are today. He also wanted peace with Pakistan. It’s very unfortunate that Pakistan did not respond in equal measure.
Do you really believe the kind of resolution that Vajpayee foresaw would have been a permanent resolution keeping in mind the aspirations of Kashmiris and also Pakistan’s stakes in J&K?
I’m confident that if he had got another term, then he would have pushed these peace initiatives both in Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistan. You’ll recall the famous joint press statement which was issued after he met with President Musharraf in Islamabad during SAAARC Summit 2004. That was a seminal statement in which Pakistan, for the first time, agreed to stop allowing its territory for violence and terrorism against India.
Musharraf was receptive to many of Vajpayee’s initiatives, wasn’t he?
He was and we all know this for a fact that
Musharraf, compared to civilian leaders, was more effective because he could control the Army. Otherwise it’s the Army in Pakistan which calls the shots and no prime minister can go beyond the lines laid down by the Pak Army. So Musharraf had this advantage because he had served as the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army. He could carry the military with him in Pakistan, but I’d still like to emphasize that the very fact that in a joint press statement, Pakistan agreed not to allow its territory against India, which of course was a promise which was not kept, meant many things. One of them was that Pakistan’s territory was indeed being used for violence and terrorism against India. But India made no such commitment in that joint press statement. Generally, as you know, when the two countries talk to each other and produce a document, then obligations are put on both countries.
While India has been accusing Pakistan of cross-border terrorism, Pakistan also accuses India of using Afghanistan as a breeding ground for terrorism in Pakistan, especially post-9/11.
I think that’s all bunkum, total nonsense. Even when I was the external affairs minister and even before that when Jaswant Singh was heading the ministry, we wanted to establish three consulates in Afghanistan and Pakistan protested to Afghan government against the establishment of those consulates.
Are you trying to say that India never used Afghanistan’s territory for the promotion of its anti-Pakistan agenda?
India has never promoted any terrorism in Pakistan. That is all total nonsense that Pakistan promotes at the international level in order to create a level playing field between India and Pakistan.
Let me draw your attention towards Chuck Hagel’s 2013 statement, just after he was nominated as Obama’s secretary of defence. Hagel said India financed troubles for Pakistan from Afghanistan. We also see many former security officers and intelligence agents brag about it on the Indian news channels.
If you believe the US, then you’ll recall that at US’ instance, a resolution passed in the UNSC before US troops went into Iraq. Didn’t they say Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? Do you remember? So how much credence would you put to that statement? Point number two is that after 9/11, Musharraf in his autobiography also writes that a junior State Department officer called him and told him that Pakistan will be sent back to stone ages and Musharraf yielded because there was no way he could resist the pressure of the US. Let me tell you one more thing about US. US has always been more concerned about terrorism in Afghanistan. Whether it’s created within Afghanistan or created by Pakistan. They have never bothered about cross-border terrorism that Pakistan exports to India. I mean, they say it’s your own issue, you deal with it’ So, as far as US’s attitude towards terrorism was concerned, I as the external affairs minister was most disappointed. I’m disappointed even today.
That brings me to another question. Taliban that was being seen as US’ worst enemy in Afghanistan, has been recognized as the main stakeholder by the US and it has started a dialogue and peace process where Taliban seems to be the most comfortably placed of the three: US, Taliban and the Afghan government. How do you view it?
The final dialogue hasn’t yet taken place. It’s still work in progress. Let’s see what the final outcome is.
Would you like to make any predictions?
I would not. I mean knowing Afghanistan a little bit, as I do, I’ve also traveled extensively in Pakistan even after I demitted office. I’ve many friends in Pakistan . At a personal level, there’s no problem.
You have also been traveling across Kashmir over the last few years. How do you see the abrogation of Article 370?
I don’t approve it; I don’t like it. I think it was completely unnecessary and people of Kashmir aren’t happy.
I’m pained at the suffering of the Kashmiris. I’d very much like the peace to return to J&K. I’d like our brothers and sisters in Kashmir to lead a normal life like the rest of India. It’s very essential, therefore, that our whole attitude towards J&K issue and people of Jammu and Kashmir should undergo a change.
I’d say the last lip service to Vajpayee’s policies was paid by the present government when they signed the agenda of governance with Mufti Sayeed before the coalition government was formed. You go through the agenda of governance, it repeats the policies of Vajpayee. Though it was never followed by the present regime.
Do you recommend a rollback of New Delhi’s Augut 5 move?
I recently said that not only should Art 370 or something like that apply to J&K, we have reached a stage in our federal polity where more powers need to be given to all state governments. What is happening today with regard to the compensation due to the states under GST. So the state should have more powers. This should apply to all states.
As a Kashmiri who has his ear to the ground, I can assure you that not only has the August 5 move alienated Kashmiris further, it has also pushed them much closer to Pakistan.
What we see now post-August 5 is that Kashmiris express their pro-Pak sentiment more vociferously. We see videos coming out from Kashmir regularly and people chanting pro-Pakistan slogans; they wear it on their sleeve now. Even in the recent clashes during Muharram restrictions in the valley, mourners were not only chanting pro-independence slogans, they also yelled pro-Pak slogans.
I don’t believe Kashmiris are pro-Pakistan. The Kashmiris are pro-Kashmir. This is my reading of the Kashmir situation.
A hardcore Hindutva nationalism seems to have completely overwhelmed power corridors. Is India headed towards fascism or is it already there, as many would say?
I would only venture to say that democratic values in India have been eroded considerably over the last five or six years. But the rest of the world doesn’t have to bother. That’s our internal issue and the people of India have the capacity and genius to tackle this. India is an ancient country which has lived through the ages with a certain ethos and that ethos is so basic to our existence that it can never be destroyed.
What about the role of judiciary?
Not only the role of judiciary, when I said democracy was eroded I was referring to various institutions of democracy including judiciary.
What does it portend for India?
People of India are bound to wake up and we have regular elections and people of India will take care of this problem.
Your take on SC’s Babri Masjid verdict. Do you regret Advani’s rath yatra that led to the demolition of Babri Masjid and finally this decision by the Supreme Court of India?
No. I don’t think the two can be connected. Everyone in India including the minorities were agreed on one thing through all these decades and that was that the issue of Ramjanam Bhoomi-Babri Masjid should be resolved either through consensus or through a judicial pronouncement. Ultimately judicial pronouncement came and everyone accepted it. There is no tension in India today because the minorities have accepted it with good grace.
Minorities, Muslims in particular, seem to be living under a constant fear in the wake of CAA and a widesspread persecution that ranges from propaganda to lynching.
I undertook a 22-day journey across India against CAA and NRC. I personally did that.
How do you view the anti-CAA protests that came to an end because of Covid-19 lockdown?
Anti-CAA protests were an expression of the fear that the minority community had on account of this law but, you know, the most constructive aspect of this was that they were showing their abiding faith in the values of the constitution of India.
What kind of India do you see Modi leave behind after he is gone?
I’d only say whatever he’s attempting to do, which is not in agreement or conformity with the ethos, should be undone sooner rather than later.
Does the Congress party have any chance of registering a comeback in foreseeable future?
In politics, one should not write off a political party or an individual. So, I’m not writing off the Congress. It still has a support base in various parts of the country. They are undergoing some internal problems at the moment and every political party goes through that phase. So I hope it will be able to resolve its issues and emerge stronger.
Instead of being a watchdog, the mainstream media has become a mouthpiece of the government. It’s being globally noticed and questioned. So much so that there are journalists and various rights bodies that have complained and gone to the extent of calling it Radio Rwanda. How do you see the role of the media?
I’d say the Indian media is not a watch dog today. It’s a lapdog of the government and it’s one of the sorriest spectacles today. The media is not only submitting to the wishes of the government , it’s going many steps ahead to set an agenda and anticipate what the government wants.
Why does Modi have a problem with most of the BJP stalwarts of Vajpayee era, including yourself?
He is self-willed and he wants only his views to prevail and he knew that some of us wouldn’t give in so easily. So it was best to set us aside.