A soft-spoken man, former BJP leader Jaswant Singh was one of the founding members of the Bharatiya Janata Party and a leading light of the party when Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishan Advani helmed it through the tumultuous period of Indian politics. And with his demise, another party stalwart of that era has passed into eternity.
Given that he had retired as a Major-rank officer from the Indian Army, it was no surprise that he was very punctual in his meetings with different people.
The veteran politician passed away at the age of 82 early Sunday morning at the Army Research and Referral Hospital in Delhi following a cardiac arrest.
Even though he was from an Army background, he not only handled the porfolios of defence, but also finance and external affairs in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee governments. He was one of the key Ministers who were in the forefront when Vajpayee’s government was in power at the Centre at different points in time.
Jaswant Singh, who hailed from Rajasthan, first served as the Union Finance Minister in the shortlived Vajpayee government in 1996. He became the External Affairs Minister in the next Vajpayee-led government (1998-2002). Later, he was again given the charge of finance in 2002. The veteran leader was also Deputy Chairman of then Planning Commission at one point in time.
The BJP leader was made the Defence Minister following the resignation of George Fernandes after the latter’s name cropped up in a defence scam.
An astute politician, Jaswant Singh hogged media limelight the world over when he was tasked to hold talks with the Taliban for the release of passengers of an Indian Airlines flight hijacked in December 1999. He even escorted three terrorists, accused of various crimes that included the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, to Afghanistan to swap in lieu of the safe release of 190 passengers.
After the 1998 nuclear tests by India, Jaswant Singh was deputed by then Prime Minister Vajpayee to engage the US in strategic talks.
After the BJP party lost power at the Centre in 2004 to the United Progressive Alliance, Jaswant Singh served as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha from 2004 to 2009.
The veteran leader stirred a controversy after the BJP suffered its second successive defeat in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections by circulating a note to demand a thorough discussion on the poll debacle.
He again faced a backlash in 2009 from certain quarters after a book authored by him on Pakistan leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah, entitled ‘Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence’ was released. He had written sympathetically about the founder of Pakistan. Later, the BJP leader was marginalised within the party and subsequently expelled.
He was reinducted into the party later on, but parted ways in 2014. Jaswant Singh even contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as an Independent from Barmer in Rajasthan after failing to get a BJP ticket but lost to the party nominee Colonel Sona Ram.
Soon after the general elections in 2014, Jaswant Singh slipped in the bathroom of his residence on August 7 that year, and suffered a serious head injury.
Condoling the death of the veteran leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that he served the nation diligently — first as a soldier and later during his long association with politics.
“During Atalji’s government, he handled crucial portfolios and left a strong mark in the worlds of finance, defence, and external affairs. Saddened by his demise,” the Prime Minister said in his message.
“True to his nature, Jaswantji fought his illness with immense courage for the last six years,” Modi said.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said that Jaswant Singh would be remembered for his intellectual capabilities and stellar record in service to the nation. “He also played a key role in strengthening the BJP in Rajasthan. Condolences to his family and supporters in this sad hour. Om Shanti,” the Minister said.