'You don't win elections on the basis of borrowed players.'
'There is a great crisis of leadership for the BJP in Bengal.'
Former Union minister Yashwant Sinha surprised many with his decision to join the Trinamool Congress right before the assembly election in West Bengal.
Sinha, who served as finance minister and external affairs minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, left the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2018.
He has been severely critical of the Narendra Damodardas Modi government and even formed a political action group -- Rashtra Manch -- bringing together politicians across party lines to take on the BJP-led government at the Centre.
Nonetheless, critics reacted to his joining the TMC by saying that a regional party will be not be able to 'bear his weight'.
"I don't think it would be in the national interest for the BJP to win in Bengal. The national interest would be for Mamata to win. Therefore, I decided to join the TMC and give whatever support I can," Sinha, now vice president of the Trinamool Congress, tells Rediff.com's Utkarsh Mishra in an exclusive interview.
You had formed the Rashtra Manch in 2018, which was aimed at bringing all non-BJP parties together. Now why did you decide to join the TMC?
Well, it has nothing to do with Rashtra Manch.
The Rashtra Manch was a collection of parties and Dinesh Trivedi (now in the BJP) on behalf of the TMC was there.
But quite frankly, such an outfit did not fly. It failed to create an impact and fell by the wayside.
And I realised that at present, if you wanted to play a role in politics, it was important to be in a party rather than outside the party system.
Therefore, I decided to join the TMC.
The other reason was that Bengal is going to polls. And of all the states which are going to polls, it appears as if the most important election is in Bengal.
The BJP is hell bent to somehow conquer Bengal and it has created a hype in the elections there.
I don't think it would be in the national interest for the BJP to win in Bengal.
The national interest, on the other hand, would be for Mamata (Banerjee) to win.
And therefore, I decided to join the TMC and give whatever support I can.
You will support in which way? Will you contest or campaign?
No, I will not contest. And now that I'm in the party, in whatever way the party wants to use my services, I will make them available.
You said the 'attack on Mamata Banerjee was the tipping point' when you decided to join the TMC.
So were you contemplating joining the party for some time?
No, I was generally thinking about the prevailing political situation. But as far as the TMC is concerned, that was the tipping point.
Now, I find from the news reports that the Election Commission has changed the collector (district magistrate) and the SP (superintendent of police) in the district (Purba Medinipur).
So, if there was nothing wrong and it was not an attack, then why have they taken this action against the collector and the SP?
Critics say a regional party will not be able to bear the weight of a leader of your stature.
(Laughs) They are being more than charitable to me.
There are many TMC turncoats in the BJP, who were tall leaders of the party once. While the BJP is ciriticised for fighting with the leaders it once called corrupt, it can be said about the TMC too, that it cannot attack these people who were occupying important positions in the party till recently.
To me it appears as if the BJP in Bengal means 'Borrowed Janata Party', because they are borrowing people from the TMC and other parties left, right and centre.
You don't win elections on the basis of borrowed players. There is a great crisis of leadership for the BJP in Bengal.
The people of Bengal, to the best of my knowledge, are not prepared to just look at the face of (Prime Minister) Modi or (Home Minister Amit Anilchandra) Shah and vote for the BJP.
They know that Modi and Shah are not going to be the chief minister and the home minister (of the state).
But how can the TMC counter its own former senior leaders?&
They are not with the TMC anymore. And if they are contesting elections from any constituency then the TMC is bound to oppose them.
In fact, I think Suvendu Adhikari contesting from Nandigram against Mamata is a battle of tigress and the lamb. He has been made 'bali ka bakra' (scapegoat) by the BJP.
While the BJP's campaign is polarising, if the Opposition leaders also start flaunting janeu, or reciting Chandi Path, aren't they falling into the BJP trap?
Can't they say that religion should be out of political discourse?
No, religion has no place in politics. But if they challenge somebody's Hinduism, if they say that somebody is not a Hindu, then we would have to give evidence of the fact that they're lying.
This is the kind of propaganda that they unleashed against Mamata. Therefore, she had to recite the Chandi Path to prove that she is a much better Hindu than these pretenders.
Why isn't the TMC countering BJP's falsehoods like Durga Puja is 'banned' in Bengal with the vehemence it needs to be countered?
It need not be (countered). Because people are aware of that fact.
And this false propaganda will not cut any ice with the people.
You have been a strong advocate of Opposition unity against the BJP. Now that you are with the TMC, do you think the Left and the Congress should help the TMC defeat the BJP? Would you work towards that?
No, I think it will be okay if they continue to occupy the Opposition space to the TMC.
So that the Opposition space is not left (only) for the BJP.
On what issues do you think the people of Bengal will vote this time?
They will vote not on the basis of religion. They will vote on the basis of development, the 10-year rule of Mamata Banerjee, the welfare schemes that she has brought for them.
They are not impressed by the false promises of the BJP. There's a difference between the Lok Sabha election and the Vidhan Sabha election.
And this time, the situation is quite different compared to in even the Lok Sabha election of 2019.
People say that during the Left rule in Bengal, there were many jobs while few have been provided jobs by the TMC government in the recent years?
Because the Government of India's economic policies have destroyed employment opportunities everywhere, including in Bengal.