A day after stepping aside from his post at the Trinamool Congress, former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha was on Tuesday unanimously chosen as the nominee for the upcoming Presidential polls on June 18. Sinha emerged as the consensus presidential candidate of 13 opposition parties, including the Congress, the TMC and the Samajwadi Party. Sinha's name came up after Sharad Pawar, Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah opted out of the race. The decision was taken in an Opposition meeting in the capital that included leaders of Congress, NCP, TMC, CPI, CPI-M, Samajwadi Party, National Conference, AIMIM, RJD and AIUDF.
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The selection of Sinha as the joint Opposition face for the President may irk the BJP, which had once been Sinha's party. The former union minister was inducted into the party in 1993 and eventually went on to head the influential Finance and External Affairs Ministries in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government (1999 to 2004). He was close to veteran leader LK Advani, who had once introduced him to the party as a 'Diwali gift'.
Teacher, BJP rebel, Modi critic
Born in Patna, Sinha was a student of political science, a subject he went on to teach in Patna University till 1962 before turning to civil services and eventually, politics. In his illustrious civil service record of 24 years, Sinha held several key administrative positions. The former BJP leader started his political journey with the Janata Dal in 1984 after resigning from the IAS and became a member of Parliament in 1988. He served as the Minister of Finance twice—under Vajpayee and before that under PM Chandra Shekhar for a short spell (1990-91). While his early decades in the party saw his reign as an influential leader, the decline of the previous BJP leadership including his apparent mentor LK Advani relegated his status to the margins of the party in the Narendra Modi years.
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In April 2018, Sinha quit the BJP citing that the party was “a threat to democracy” and embarked on a rebranding campaign to give his political career a makeover. In 2019, he penned a biography called 'Relentless'. He also spoke critically against the government's policies in Kashmir. Sinha was a critic of Modi, even when in BJP when he publicly criticised the PM. In a scathing 2017 article titled 'I must speak up now', Sinha said that he had sought a meeting with PM Modi but was still waiting for it and accused the then Finance Minister Arun Jaitly of destroying the economy. He has been critical of the BJP on several fronts including demonetisation. In an attempt to regain his political footing after BJP, the three-time Jharkhand Lok Sabha MP joined the TMC under West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in March 2021. The party has been a vocal opponent of the BJP and has been attempting to become the face of a united opposition front against the Modi-led NDA.
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On Tuesday, Sinha said he will quit the TMC to work for the larger national cause of Opposition unity, amid indications that he was being considered as the joint candidate after it was learnt that Mamata Banerjee proposed his name.
"I am grateful to Mamataji for the honour and prestige she bestowed on me in the TMC. Now a time has come when for a larger national cause I must step aside from the party to work for greater opposition unity. I am sure she approves of the step," Sinha tweeted.
Sinha's joint nomination sends a strong message to the BJP regarding the Opposition's willingness to take a united stand against the ruling coalition. It’s a move heavy on political symbolism, even if they may not win. While Sinha's candidacy does little to dent the BJP's chances in the Presidential polls, the Opposition's selection of Sinha - the number three choice after Gopakrishna Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah, might be a rare display of political will from the otherwise divided Opposition.
However, the joint candidature of Sinha has also drawn sharp criticism from several sections who point out that all the anti-BJP forces could come up with was a former BJP leader, exposing their hollowness and lack of preparedness to take on the BJP.