Book: Relentless: An Autobiography
Writer: Yashwant Sinha
Publication: Bloomsbury India
Price: Rs 799
From Agra to Islamabad
Musharraf, who had become the Chief Martial Law Administrator of Pakistan after his military coup, had been invited by us to India for bilateral talks in Agra in July 2001, albeit without much advance preparation. Vajpayee invited me to be present at Agra where talks with Musharraf were to be held…
The talks started with a great deal of fanfare. Musharraf took full advantage of the invitation to legitimise himself in the eyes of the world and quickly appointed himself as the President of Pakistan. Thus, he made himself eligible for all the courtesies that a visiting head of state is entitled to in India. A big lunch was arranged for him in Delhi. The General used every occasion to grandstand and project himself to the hilt…
On the second day of the talks, the external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, suggested that the foreign ministers of Pakistan, Abdul Sattar and he be allowed to join the talks. This was agreed to and, at the end of some further negotiations, a draft joint statement was also prepared by the two foreign ministers. Jaswant Singh had made some changes in his own hand to the typed copy of the draft and had given a photocopy of the amended draft to Sattar. Another copy was brought by him to Vajpayee’s room where the rest of us had assembled.
Advani and I looked closely at the draft and expressed our reservations on some of the formulations as well as on some of the glaring omissions. For instance, I pointed out that non-reference to the Simla Agreement of 1972 should not be acceptable to us as it had been a decisive turning point in our bilateral relationship with Pakistan. Advani also strongly objected to the absence of a reference to cross-border terrorism in the draft. All this was pointed out to Jaswant Singh as politely as possible, with a request to include these in the draft. Vajpayee also agreed with the points we had raised.
I do not know what kind of pressure he was working under, but Jaswant Singh suddenly lost his cool and angrily told us that he had finalised the draft at his level with his Pakistani counterpart; and its rejection amounted to a vote of no-confidence in him. He went on to add that he would not have anything further to do with the matter, and that the rest of us could finalise the draft as we wished. After making these remarks, he promptly stood up and left the room. Thus, the meeting ended abruptly.
Deal or no deal
The Indo-US nuclear deal was inked during the visit of PM Manmohan Singh to Washington in July 2005. When news of the deal broke, a meeting was held at Vajpayee’s residence to discuss its implications for India. Advani, Jaswant Singh, Rajnath Singh, Arun Shourie, Brajesh Mishra and I attended the meeting. It was decided that such a deal was not in India’s interest and that we should oppose it. This continued to be the party line throughout the period we remained in the Opposition. But it changed dramatically when we came to power in 2014.
In the first debate on the nuclear deal, held in Rajya Sabha during the Monsoon Session of 2005 soon after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returned to India, the party did not give me an opportunity to initiate the debate. Instead, Sushma Swaraj took the responsibility upon herself, noting that the deal was a ‘great, big blunder’, saying ‘Duniya mandi zoran noon, lakh laanat hai kamzoran noon’ (The world bows before the powerful, while nobody even listens to the weak. Shame be upon them.) At the end of her speech, she thundered, ‘Sardar Manmohan Singhji, I will [sic] to tell that if you wish to maintain your name in the world, maintain the power and capability that we maintained. Don’t destroy that capability, otherwise the future generations will not only curse and make you but also us the target of their sarcastic flings.’
As for me, realising that the party was not going to give me the opportunity to air my views in Parliament, I decided to write articles on the deal in newspapers…
Within the party, I received strong support from Arun Shourie, along with Digvijay Singh of JD (U) in the NDA. During this time, Digvijay had invited Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepal for lunch at his place, along with many other Indian leaders as well. Sitaram Yechury of the CPM was also present, and I availed of the opportunity to speak to him. I suggested that, like the US Congress, we should also adopt a ‘Sense of the House’ resolution, at least in the Rajya Sabha, where we could muster a majority by bringing together all the like-minded parties.
Natwar Singh, who had become a dissenter within the Congress party by then, and was opposing the deal, also joined in. As did Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party. We got together to draft a ‘Sense of the House’ resolution. Sitaram promised to get back to us after getting his party’s approval for such a resolution. I also showed it to the leaders of my party and they were in favour of it as well.
Somehow, the Congress party got wind of the move. They put pressure on the CPM not to team up with the BJP for any such resolution to be adopted in the Rajya Sabha. With the Left parties backing out, the chances of the resolution being adopted by the House also receded. However, we had a major debate in the Rajya Sabha in August 2006 that went on until late in the evening. This time, the party gave me the opportunity to initiate it. I would personally rate this speech as one of my best in Parliament…
Ironically, the entire credit for opposing the deal was cornered by the Left parties. The reason was simple. They supported the government and so their opposition was much more significant than the BJP’s, which was in the actual Opposition in any case. As for me, I had to fight a battle against the deal not only outside but also within my own party.
Extracted with permission from Relentless: An Autobiography, Yashwant Sinha, Bloomsbury India