|Jayant Sinha campaigns in Mandu, Hazaribagh, on Sunday. Picture by Shantanu Datta
He is disarmingly affable in the way he greets residents of Mandu, a small town off the new, four-lane Ranchi-Hazaribagh Expressway on NH-33. Hands folded, his short-sleeved kurta revealing freshly sunburnt arms, Jayant Sinha is all smiles. Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar. Kya?
“Bilkul,” cries out a group of young and old shopkeepers who have come out of their homes to greet the BJP nominee from Hazaribagh, son of the town’s most well-known face, former finance minister Yashwant Sinha.
Far removed from the high-tension world of global investments that wife Punita and he were part of in the US, the Harvard graduate is trying his best to mingle. If the Narendra Modi-style saffron kurta helps him connect, so be it.
“Contrary to popular perception, I have been doing this for years,” says the Giridih-born professional of impeccable academic credentials with around 1,700 followers on Twitter.
“Ever since my father became finance minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1998, our lives changed,” Jayant says in between pit stops at Chatti Bazar and CCL Colony. “Since then, I have been working closely with the party, framing policies and also helping my father run his campaign in the district. This is my sixth Lok Sabha election.”
Tell him he looks quite the seasoned canvasser and he is dismissive. “You guys have failed to see the work I have been putting in all these years. Only now, I am in the front,” says the man who has been the driving force behind the massive technology inputs that have kept the BJP’s meticulous campaign machinery running to perfection.
An ICSE six-pointer, Jayant cruised through IIT, Delhi and Harvard Business School, after which he took up a 13-year stint at McKinsey & Company as partner. That was followed by a four-year tenure at Omdiyar Network that he ended by choice in December 2013. All along, Jayant has been helming positions that warranted painstaking research, well thought-out decisions and a high degree of accountability. In 1998, two of his ideas made it to national policy, the Saral form for filing tax returns and the concept of tax deduction for interest on mortgages. Both were borrowed from the US and modified for India.
During the 2009 election, Yashwant had told The Telegraph how he was tired of being greeted by complaints about blocked drains and accumulated garbage in localities. That was his, typically no-nonsense, way of airing a valid frustration: the total disconnect between an MP’s role in Parliament with his voters.
“We will have to do both,” says Jayant, who admits sharing similar concerns. “Fix the drains more for reasons of humanity than for being an MP, but also address your core competency areas. If I win, I will have to find a way to do this.”
A focused approach, honed as much in the world of global finance as on the tennis court, is what has helped Jayant fit into the mad, bad world of Indian politics.
“Bahut umeed leke aap ko bhej rahe hain hum log (we are sending you to Parliament with high hopes),” Rekha Chandu tells him near Kali Mandir Chowk, moments after Jayant pays his obeisance at the roadside shrine. It’s an appeal that helps him switch gears to campaign mode.
Rahul Gandhi kuchh kar payenge, ya Narendra Modi?
NaMo, NaMo, replies the “head sir” of the local government school. Others join him.
Wife Punita, whom he met at IIT Delhi, has hit the road, too, campaigning for him in Hazaribagh town on her own. With over 22 years of experience in asset management in international and emerging markets — she served as senior MD at The Blackstone Group and is now a familiar face on television as an investment consultant — she is adept at dual roles, too.
Punita has spoken of difficult days when Jayant had to move to Boston after getting into Harvard Business School a few months after their son Rishabh was born (1990). “Neither of us was earning then and so we had to send our baby to his grandparents while I made the transition to Boston, found a job, and continued with my PhD,’’ she told Lokvani, a web magazine dedicated to Indians living in New England.
“We have a lot of experience bringing up single kids!” she quotes Jayant’s favourite quip about the family in reference to Aashir’s arrival 11 years after Rishabh.
The Sinhas have been dividing their time between Hazaribagh and Mumbai, where they live with their six-month-old Labrador puppy, Teddy. He loves cricket, she antiques. Jayant’s nomination papers declare assets of Rs 30.27 crore, including Rs 1 crore worth of antiques.
Experience, at home and the world, is what Jayant is banking on. Armed with first-hand knowledge of how the India Story has suffered a credibility crisis globally — “land of crony capitalism with huge governance deficits” — he says he will be looking at development models based on “empowerment” rather than “entitlement”.
“Jharkhand is one of the worst run places in the world,” he emphasises to illustrate why he is more an advocate of the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna than the rural job scheme MGNREGS, thoughts he has elaborated on in articles published in a range of newspapers, including the Financial Times.
Yashwant says his son Jayant is honest and responsible. The BJP seems to concur. Which is why there is already a buzz about a future policy-making role. If Modi is able to form a government, that role will be the stepping stone for Jayant’s India innings.
Before that, Jayant will have to cross the immediate hurdle. He has to defeat Saurabh Narain Singh, a young Congress MLA and royal scion with a higher net worth, who lost to Yashwant by 40,000 votes in 2009.
Hazaribagh votes on April 17