Jaswant Singh: End of a long journey for the Army man-turned-parliamentarian

The former Union Minister passed away on September 27 following a cardiac arrest.

Former Union Minister Jaswant Singh, 82, passed away on Sunday morning after a long illness at the Army’s Research and Referral Hospital in New Delhi. Hospital officials said he had been admitted on June 25 this year and was being treated for sepsis and multi organ dysfunction syndrome, and effects of an old severe head injury. He had a cardiac arrest this morning. He is survived by his wife and two sons, including former Barmer MP Manvendra Singh.

A veteran leader who held the positions of finance, defence and external affairs minister in government’s headed by late Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Singh’s career was storied and eventful, reflecting much of India’s strategic turns in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the death of the former Union Minister, tweeting : “Jaswant Singhji served our 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.”


Singh, a former Army man himself, had dabbled in politics in his native Rajasthan in the 1960s after leaving the army, but came into the limelight in 1980, being elected to the Rajya Sabha by the newly formed BJP, which had shed its old Jan Sangh avatar. He remained a part of either House of Parliament between 1980-2014, being elected to the Rajya Sabha five times, in 1980, 1986, 1998, 1999, 2004 and four times to the Lok Sabha in the years 1990, 1991, 1996, 2009.

Suave and well-versed in language and diplomatese, he soon found a place as the go-to man in the party for strategic affairs as well as finance, while also serving for a spell as deputy chairperson of the planning commission. He was also the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha between 2004-2009.

Singh was also a close personal friend of former Prime Minister Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. He was entrusted with many sensitive assignments on behalf of the NDA government, including negotiating with the United States for the easing of sanctions when India tested a nuclear device at Pokhran in 1998, which the U.S. representative Strobe Talbot has written about in his book Engaging India: Democracy, Diplomacy and the Bomb.

His career, however, was also hit by controversy when he was in government during the Kandahar hijacking of 1999. Singh escorted three terrorists — Omar Saeed Sheikh, Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar and Azhar Masood — to Kandahar in exchange for 175 passengers of IC 814 aircraft who were held hostageby Pakistan-backed terrorists.

Armed Taliban fighters pass the hijacked Indian Airlines jet at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan in December 1999.
| Photo Credit: Reuters


While that controversy created a lasting debate on how to deal with such situation in the future and beefing up security at Indian airports, Singh was caught in another controversy when the BJP lost elections in 2009. In a letter sent to senior leaders of the party just before they met in Shimla for a review meet, he demanded that a serious enquiry be done on the cause of defeat. This caused a panic in the party’s ranks. He was later expelled from the party after his book on Pakistan founder Jinnah, Jinnah: India, Partitiion, Independence was considered sympathetic to the late leader.

Despite being elected to the Lok Sabha in 2009 from Darjeeling, he remained on the sidelines for a while till he was brought back into the party by then president Nitin Gadkari. In 2014, however, his desire to fight Lok Sabha elections on a BJP ticket from Barmer was thwarted. He then fought as a rebel candidate against BJP’s Sona Ram Choudhary, but lost that battle. The parting of ways between him and the party was bitter.

In August 2014, Singh suffered a fall at his Delhi residence and had been ill since then. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the ailing leader and a half-way house of goodwill emerged. On Sunday evening, Singh came to the end of his very long journey.

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