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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Jaswant Singh dead: From key figure in Vajpayee govt to BJP rebel

Jaswant Singh, who was from Rajasthan, had served as India's foreign minister, defence minister and finance minister. He was an officer in the Army till 1965, but later resigned from his commission to embark on his political career.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 27, 2020 5:54:35 pm
Singh passed away in Delhi. (Express Photo by Dilip Kagda)

Former Union Minister and BJP leader Jaswant Singh passed away on Sunday. He was 82. In August 2014, Jaswant had a fall in his bathroom and injured his head. He was admitted to Army’s Research and Referral hospital in Delhi for treatment. He was in a state of coma ever since. Singh was cremated at his farmhouse in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur. His son Manvendra Singh lit the funeral pyre amid chanting of Vedic mantras.

Born on January 3, 1938, in Jasol village of Barmer district, Rajasthan, Jaswant Singh was raised in a Rajput family. He was an alumnus of Mayo College and National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla. Singh was barely 19 when he joined the Central India Horse, a famous cavalry regiment of the Indian Army. After serving in the defence services till 1965, he resigned from his commission to embark on his political career.

(L to R) Jaswant Singh, Subramanyam Swami, Sushmaa Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari, L K Advani, and Sharad Yadav, Naresh Gujral and Sanjay Raut (extreme right) during the NDA meeting at BJP leader LK Advani’s residence in 2012 (Express archive)

Singh was a member of the Parliament for nine terms and served as the Minister of Finance (2002-2004), Minister of Defence (2000-2001), Minister of External Affairs (1998-2002).  in the Vajpayee government. He also chaired many important committees of Parliament like Public Accounts, Estimates, Energy, Environment and Forests, and others. Singh briefly served as Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission (1998–99). He was conferred the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award for the year 2001.

Singh was also instrumental in mending ties with the United States of America after the latter imposed sanctions on India following the nuclear tests of 1998.

BJP President LK Advani, Jaswant Singh, and Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee releasing party manifesto at Party Head office (Express archive photo by Ravi Batra)

However, Jaswant had often faced criticism for the Kandhara episode when the Vajpayee government decided to swap Air India hostages with the jailed terrorist Azhar Masood. He led the negotiations during the hijacking, when terrorists held fliers on board Indian Airlines’ IC-814 flight hostage on December 24, 1999, and demanded the release of several terrorists jailed in India. Jaswant had accompanied Masood to Kabul.

On August 19, 2009, he was expelled from BJP after criticism over his remarks in his book ‘Jinnah – India, Partition, Independence’ which allegedly praised the former Prime Minister of Pakistan. He served as Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha from 2004 to 2009. He rejoined BJP in 2010 while he was a member of Parliament from Darjeeling constituency. He was also the NDA’s candidate for the post of Vice president in 2012.

During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he was denied a ticket to contest the polls from Barmer district of Rajasthan when the party decided to field someone else. He was subsequently expelled from the BJP after deciding to contest the elections as an independent candidate and lost to BJP’s Col. Sonaram Choudhary.

LK Advani, Pramod Mahajan, Jaswant Singh and Narendra Modi in Mumbai in 2005 (Express archive)

Apart from his stellar political career, Singh had authored several books and diaries. He was a senior fellow at Harvard, a visiting professor at Oxford and Warwick universities.

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