Former Union minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha joined the Trinamool Congress in Kolkata on Saturday, 13 March, just days ahead of the elections in West Bengal, saying that he has always seen Mamata Banerjee as a fighter who even offered to go hostage to the the terrorists who hijacked a plane in 1999 and took it to Kandahar.
Sinha said that the Nandigram incident was a tipping point for him to join the party.
Sinha, who had served as finance minister and external affairs minister under the Atal Bihar Vajpayee government, quit the BJP in 2018. Since then, he has been a staunch critic of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.
Sinha’s entry into the TMC comes even as the party faces a big challenge from the BJP in the eight-phase elections starting 27 March. In the past few weeks, several members of the ruling party have defected to the BJP, the biggest name being former state minister Suvendu Adhikari.
‘Nandigram Incident Tipping Point’
Sinha joined the party in the presence of senior leader, Sudip Bandyopadhyay, Derek O' Brien and Subrata Mukherjee. Bandopadhyay said that Sinha and Banerjee met at the latter's residence for 45 minutes before Sinha joined.
Sinha said that the alleged attack on Banerjee in Nandigram was the tipping point which convinced him to join the TMC.
“The tipping point was the attack on Mamata Banerjee (in Nandigram). When I spoke to her today, she described the incident to me. This government can do anything to win the election. The attack on Mamataji made me decide that I want to work beside her,” he said.
‘Mamata Wanted to Go Hostage to Terrorists to Save Civilians’
Sinha also spoke about having worked with Banerjee when she was the Railway Minister in former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet.
“Mamataji has always been a fighter and she is still a fighter. She offered to become a hostage when terrorists captured a plane and took it to Kandahar. She was ready to sacrifice her life in return for the lives of the hostages in the plane,” he said.
A Kathmandu-Delhi Indian Airlines flight was hijacked and forcefully flown to Kandahar in 1999 with the passengers taken hostage in exchange for three captured terrorists- Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, and Masood Azhar.
The crisis had ended only after the then Indian government released the three terrorists.
‘Democratic Institutions Weakened by the BJP’
Slamming the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Sinha said that all of democracy’s institutions stand weakened today.
"The country is in a strange position. That's because the values we held in high regard, today those values are in danger. We are aware that democracy's strength lies in the institutions of democracy. Today all institutions have been weakened. I say it with regret that this includes the judiciary. That is why there's no one to question the will of the government," said Sinha after taking the party flag at the Trinamool headquarters in Kolkata.
"It seems like no one in our country is worried. Today the farmer who gives us food is sitting on the Delhi streets, but no one is worried about them. Education, health are all seeing bad days. But the government is not worried. The only aim of the ruling party is to win elections, wherever they happen. The party during Atal ji and the party now are very different. Atalji believed in consensus. Today's government believes in crushing," he further added.
Yashwant Sinha – Vajpayee's Minister, Modi's Critic
Yashwant Sinha was a former IAS officer, who quit the post to join active politics, by registering with the Janata Party in 1984.
He was appointed the party’s all-India general secretary in 1986 and was elected a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1988.
He was the founding member of the Janata Dal found in 1989 and was made its all-India general secretary.
Before becoming the Union finance minister in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) first full term government, Sinha had held that portfolio in Chandra Shekhar's Cabinet as well (from November 1990 to June 1991). Later, he was the finance minister in the first three years of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government (1998 to 2002), reports The Business Standard.
In 2018, Sinha quit the BJP owing to differences with Prime Minister Modi, after a long period of criticising the latter and his policies.
"Today I am ending all ties with the BJP... I am taking sanyas (retirement) from any kind of party politics", he said. Prior to his resignation, he'd written an open letter to his colleagues in the BJP, that was published in The Indian Express. In the letter he asked his party colleagues to "speak up" against the policies of the government.
Sinha was also a part of Mamata Banerjee's "Opposition Unity Rally" held in Kolkata in January 2019, before the Lok Sabha elections.