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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Jaswant Singh (1938-2020): From BJP founder member to leader in the cold

Jaswant Singh’s partymen would remember his knack in managing alliance partners during the NDA’s first tenure at the Centre.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi | Updated: September 28, 2020 5:10:51 am
bjp leader jaswanti singh, Jaswant Singh, Jaswant Singh death, Jaswant Singh BJP, Jaswant Singh Union minister, India news, Indian ExpressJaswant Singh died after a cardiac arrest at the Army Hospital. (Express Photo by Amit Mehra/File)

The passing away of Jaswant Singh Sunday marks the end of another chapter in the fading out of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era in the BJP. Coincidentally, the demise of one of the chief architects of the BJP’s coalition politics occurred a day after its traditional ally, Shiromani Akali Dal, walked out of the NDA.

The political significance of Singh’s presence in his party shrunk long ago – he was expelled from the BJP in 2009 over a book he wrote and was denied a ticket in the 2014 general elections. He contested from Barmer as an Independent but lost. Soon after the polls, he met with an accident and was unwell since then.

Singh died at 6:55 am on Sunday after a cardiac arrest at the Army Hospital (R&R) where he was being treated for Sepsis with Multiple Organ Dysfunction Syndrome, hospital authorities said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi remembered Singh’s “unique perspective on matters of politics and society”. “Jaswant Singh Ji served our nation diligently, first as a soldier and later during his long association with politics. During Atal Ji’s Government, he handled crucial portfolios and left a strong mark in the worlds of finance, defense and external affairs. Saddened by his demise,” the Prime Minister tweeted. “He also contributed to the strengthening of the BJP. I will always remember our interactions,” he added.

Express Archive Image: Jaswant Singh when he was the finance minister.

Singh’s partymen would remember his knack in managing alliance partners during the NDA’s first tenure at the Centre.

Suave and sophisticated, he had a good rapport with then AIADMK supremo and former CM J Jayalalaitha. Whenever there were cracks in the alliance, Vajpayee would rush Singh to Chennai to iron out differences. An ardent supporter of Assam movement, Singh also enjoyed warm ties with AGP leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and this helped the BJP in its political alliance with the Assam party.

In 2009, Singh, a founding member of the BJP, was expelled from the party after a 30-year-long association. The expulsion came over his book, Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence, that the BJP leadership felt glorified Mohammad Ali Jinnah and criticised Sardar Patel for Partition.

Singh’s relationship with Prime Minister Modi always remained strained. As Gujarat Chief Minister, Modi banned Singh’s book in the state in August 2009. He had also warned the then BJP leadership that it would hurt the party in the civic polls in the state. The leadership could not ignore the Gujarat chief minister’s contention and Singh was asked to stay away from the BJP’s Chintan Shivir in Shimla in the same month.

In this file photo, Jaswant Singh is seen signing his book ‘Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence’ at the Delhi Book Fair. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Singh. too, never favoured Modi. Along with Advani and others, Singh stayed away from the June 2013 party conclave in Goa where Modi’s national role was to be discussed. Singh had admitted later that he sought Modi’s removal as Gujarat Chief Minister after the post-Godhra riots.

During his career as a BJP politician and a minister, Singh was always closer to Vajpayee. He had also opposed L K Advani’s Ram Rath Yatra. But the distancing from the BJP leadership in his later years — people close to him say he never tried to “patch up” — brought him closer to Advani.

In fact, some political observers considered Vajpayee, Singh and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat as the “moderate trio” in the BJP in which Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were considered closer to the RSS.

“I am not a mosque breaker,” Singh would tell people who met him. At a time when a delegation of BJP chief ministers visited Ayodhya, Singh had told a senior journalist who asked him whether he considered the disputed site as a mosque or a temple: “It is neither a mosque nor a temple.”

In this Express archive photo, Jaswant Singh is seen along with LK Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee to release BJP manifesto.

During his tenure as finance minister, Singh had to face the ire of RSS leaders. He never believed in the Sangh’s economic and social policies.

Born in Jasol village of Rajasthan’s Barmer district in 1938, Singh went to Mayo College in Ajmer and joined the Army after passing out from NDA. He entered politics in the 1960s and became a Rajya Sabha member in 1980, when the BJP took the new political avtar, coming out of its Jana Sangh shadow. Since then, he remained an MP till 2014 — he served as a member in both Houses.

Singh was close to Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia, but fell out with the new generation, including former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.

Singh’s son and former Lok Sabha MP Manvendra Singh from the BJP joined the Congress in 2018.

Despite facing difficulties in his political career due to keeping a distance from the RSS, Singh never seemed to have made a serious attempt to win its confidence. One incident people familiar to him cite was his visit to the RSS office where he walked into the Sarsanghchalak’s room with his sandals on.

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