It's not very often that you connect with a politician on LinkedIn, the professional networking site. But then times are changing. Till the other day, Jayant Sinha was straddling the world of investments as the India head of Omidyar Network. Though not as much a TV celebrity as his wife, former Blackstone fund manager Punita, whom he met while studying at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, Sinha has had an impressive career in consulting and fund management. Sinha recently decided to take the plunge into full-time politics, and has joined his father and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha's Bharatiya Janata Party. Yashwant Sinha's other son, Sumant, is an entrepreneur with interests in renewable energy.
The Mumbai-based Harvard graduate is the latest professional to enter politics this year after former Infosys chief financial officer V Balakrishnan and Axis Bank's Manisha Gupta. While he says the trend augurs well for the country, Sinha insists that he is no novice and that he has been living "a dual life" for the past 15 years. "I have been involved in the policy making side of politics since 1998. I have also been assisting my father in elections. I have seen five Lok Sabha elections in the last 30 years. This will be my sixth."
In the initial years, it was regular election work, but when his father became the finance minister of the country in 1998 under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance, Sinha pitched in with his ideas. Two of his inputs found their way to the national policy and made a significant impact, Sinha recalls. First was the Saral form for filing income tax returns. Modelled on the US tax form 1040EZ, the form was easier for a layman to understand and sought to make life 'easy' for taxpayers. Though it was tweaked for India, the US form gave Saral its core.
The second input too was significant. "In 1999, tax deduction for interest on mortgages was introduced, which was again an idea from the US," says Sinha. People began to invest heavily in real estate. Prices skyrocketed. Many investors even lost money to fly-by-night operators. Sinha laughs off any suggestion that he was instrumental in creating the real estate boom, and the subsequent bubble, in the country. "We just made housing more affordable for everyone," he says. In a couple of articles published in 2008 in Business Standard, he had articulated the need for a unique identification number for the masses. Another professional-turned-politician, Nandan Nilekani, would head the project under the United Progressive Alliance.
While there is speculation that he might debut as one of the BJP candidates for the 16th Lok Sabha, Sinha knows how to sidestep the query. "I'm just thinking it through. Right now, I am concentrating on assisting the election campaign and economic policy making."
A career in politics has come for the 50-year-old after a long innings in finance. Before his four-year stint at Omidyar Network, Sinha was with Courage Capital Management, where he led technology and India-related investing for a global special situations hedge fund. Between 1994 and 2006, he was with McKinsey & Company as a partner in the Boston and Delhi offices. Sinha's profile on the Omidyar website says that "during his career with McKinsey, he led a variety of strategic, operational and transaction-related projects with corporations in North America, Europe and India". Sinha's experience also includes serving as president of Internet Business Capital, an early stage venire capital firm, and consulting positions at Stone & Webster and Synergic Resources Corporation.
Sinha now divides his time between Mumbai and Hazaribagh in Jharkhand, his father's constituency. Leaving a fruitful, stable career for the rollercoaster of Indian politics is not easy. Sinha acknowledges that there is a "significant amount of uncertainty and risk associated with public service" he has chosen. But, he is keeping his fingers crossed. His LinkedIn updates show that his stint in Omidyar ended in December 2013 and January 2014 onwards, he is the managing partner of Puja Holdings, the firm that manages some of the family investments.