I joined the BJP a day after Diwali in November 1993. Party president LK Advani held a press conference at the party office at 11, Ashoka Road to announce my induction. He described me as a “Diwali gift” for the party, adding that I would become only the second person in the history of India, after Acharya Narendra Dev, to resign from Parliament after changing parties.
The only condition I had set before joining the BJP was that I be allowed to resign my Rajya Sabha seat immediately and announce it at the media interaction. Though I had a few months of my tenure left, I felt that, Anti-Defection Act or not, ethics demanded that I voluntarily resign from my seat even though the BJP MLAs had also voted for me in my election to the Rajya Sabha.
Strange as it may sound, I did not meet or talk to any other leader in the BJP about my joining the party. I met a few office-bearers of the party on the day I joined, but never felt the need to curry favour or seek anyone out. I also made no attempt to meet anyone at the state or local levels, except for Kailashpati Mishra whom I already knew personally.
Leaving Chandra Shekhar and his party was one of the most gut-wrenching and painful experiences of my life.
I had started my political career with Chandra Shekhar, accepted him as my guru in politics and was completely loyal to him even under the most trying circumstances. Thus, it was very embarrassing for me to part company with him. I must admit that I did not have the courage to meet and tell him personally what I intended to do.
Instead, I wrote him a letter, sealed it in an envelope and sent it via RP Singh, a labour leader of Delhi who was personally close to me. I could not muster the courage to meet him after the event either, and did not see him for many months following my induction into the BJP. For some reason, however, every time I met Advani, he would ask me whether I had met or spoken to Chandra Shekhar yet, wanting to know his reaction to my joining the BJP only to have me reply that I had not, and I had no idea of the latter.
A few months later, I learnt that Chandra Shekhar and I were likely to be present at the same event in Delhi. Realising that it would be even more awkward to meet him at the function, I finally decided to call on him. He asked me to come to Bhondsi. There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence when we met, until he initiated the conversation and made me feel as comfortable as I could under the circumstances.
In a nutshell, what he told me was that I had enjoyed a degree of credibility in politics, which had been destroyed by my move of joining the BJP. He added that I would have to work very hard to regain the same.
He also warned me that it would be impossible for me to rise to the top in the BJP since I did not have an RSS background, and that it was most likely that the party would use and discard me.
On my part, I reminded him of what I had said in a meeting of the SJP in Haridwar a few months earlier, while discussing the merger of JD and SJP. I had told the party, in clear terms, that I regarded the merger as a huge compromise, and that if such a compromise was key to securing our political future, then we should each be allowed to choose our individual compromises instead.
Chandra Shekhar was sad that we had parted company politically, as was I. So, I took a silent vow that day never to criticise or contradict him publicly, and to continue our close personal relationship. In the years that followed, there were occasions when he criticised me publicly, both in and out of Parliament, but I never took issue with him. In fact, I have always had good things to say about him, all of which he richly deserved.
Common friends would often ask Chandra Shekhar the reason for my leaving him for the BJP. On one such occasion, he explained it with the help of a story, saying ‘One of my friends had fallen ill. When news of the illness reached me, I decided to pay him a visit in the hospital. Upon reaching there I was told that he had been admitted in the tuberculosis (TB) ward, which made me doubly worried. When I finally met him in the TB ward and asked him what the matter was, he assured me there was no need to worry. He only had a cough, cold and fever but since no other beds were available except in the TB ward, he was being kept there.’
Chandra Shekhar then likened this to exactly what had happened with me. According to him, I had found a bed in a TB ward for treatment of something ordinary like a cough and cold, only because no other bed was available!
It was Chandra Shekhar’s greatness that he never allowed my defection from his camp to come in the way of his affection for me. Subsequent events would prove this beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Excerpted with permission from Relentless: An Autobiography, Yashwant Sinha, Bloomsbury.