Dissident BJP leader Yashwant Sinha remains unfazed by all the criticism he has faced for his strong critique of the economy and asserts that lack of jobs will be a major issue in the next Lok Sabha elections. The former Finance and External Affairs Minister also feels any attempt at polarizing voters on issues like the Ram temple or Article 370 of the Constitution will not work on a country-wide basis.
VS Chandrasekar and Meghna Mittal talks to the former bureaucrat turned politician Yashwant Sinha, who joined politics after resigning from his lucrative job of an IAS. Edited excerpts:
Your article in a newspaper has created political storm in New Delhi. How do you feel on its developments?
I feel vindicated. My first satisfaction is that the issue is being debated. There is quite an informed debate going on. I stand by the facts and figures I quoted. I see no signs so far of a respite for the stressed sectors of our economy.
What you have expressed in your article seems to have been endorsed by the RBI……
(Interrupts) RBI has not revised rates. On the fiscal side again, the indications are that even if they don’t go for fiscal expansion, the target of fiscal deficit will be breached the way expenditure is happening this year.
But neither PM nor FM is happy with your opinion expressed in media. They are in the denial mode to your opinion?
I made a point on the economy and it was my assessment — and there can be a differing point of view. But they (government) have not answered a single issue. Out of the council of ministers, my son (Civil Aviation Minister Jayant Sinha) has come out. People said it should be dismissed as a father-son feud. It was reducing it to the level of such flippancy that the serious issue would be lost. I am happy that it has not.
What are the major issues in Indian economy that you want to be debated right now?
There are two such issues in the economy. One is jobs and (the other) price rise. The Indian voter is worried if my lad has a job or not. That adds to frustration. As far as employment is concerned, it will be a major issue. Household after household will be suffering from unemployment.
Being a senior leader in the Indian Politics, did you find anything positive in this Modi government too?
The only good thing about the Modi government is that so far there have been no corruption charges. The common man however does not benefit from it. He benefits from cutting-edge administration. Nothing has changed on that front. For the common man, there is hardly any relief.
There is no clear policy emerging on how to tackle the distress in various sectors. The share market is behaving is case for study because it’s still behaving topsy-turvy after the RBI has said it will prevent volatility from market. There is a camp which says that rupee should be allowed to depreciate because it is affecting exports. We don’t see any clear policy emerging.
May be they are concerned about the southward dip of Indian exports?
From the economic point of view, exports have come down, foreign demand is not there. Industrial demand is not there. Overall demand in the economy is not there. That is one reason why private investment is not taking place. There is no generation of fresh capacity. This is serious… because economic growth will take place only on the basis of rising demand. In 3.5 years of this government, there is no demand.
What is your take on the GST? How it is different from VAT that you introduced when you were the Finance Minister?
Now suddenly it (GST) has become the biggest reform since 1947 and they are tom-tomming it. I am seriously questioning the understanding of taxation that these people possess. Fifteen years (after) I introduced CENVAT with three rates, they introduce GST with five official rates — and with many more cesses. There can’t be more than three rates.
What would have been your opinion on demonetization, if you had been the Finance Minister of India?
It is a long debate what demonetization can achieve, what it has achieved and what can be achieved through alternative means. We are talking of cashless. We have a whole host of measures to go cashless. I think there are 1.8 million cases (of disproportionate deposits). And all these cases will take their own time. If the Income Tax department has to handle these cases, then tax terrorism has returned. We are declaring to the world we are a country of thieves and black money holders. By when will we see the outcome of these cases, we don’t know. The fact of the matter is that they have blundered badly as far as this move of demonetization is concerned. (Had I been the Finance Minister) I would have opposed it tooth and nail had he been the Finance Minister.
Being a former Finance Minister, what is your suggestion for the current Finance Minister so that he can bring national economy back on track?
There is need to create an investment for demand for goods first in the economy. We have to create demand for investment goods. That will lead to more job opportunities, money will flow into people’s pockets through employment and then demand for consumption goods will rise. But this is not happening now.
Do you think in case of demonetization and GST failure, BJP might find it tough in the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls and Modi-Shah may attempt to polarize votes on issues like Ram Temple, Uniform Civil Code, Article 370 etc.?
It is too early to answer that question as there are about 18 months still left for the next Lok Sabha Polls. However, I would like to add that the Indian voter is unpredictable and I should know given the 2004 elections.
But what about polarization? BJP may attempt to use it in 2019 Lok Sabha Polls?
That kind of polarization has never worked on a country-wide basis. It may in pockets, but I don’t think it will meet with electoral success. One thing is very certain. Either it (temple construction) will have to be with the consent of the parties concerned or through a court judgment. You will succeed only if there is a conflicting environment. Then only polarization will take place. And it does not work every time.