Former Union minister Jaswant Singh, one of the founding members of the BJP and a close associate of ex-prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, died here on Sunday following a long spell of illness. He was 82.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union ministers and top leaders from across the political spectrum paid rich tributes to Singh, recalling his contribution in handling crucial portfolios of finance, defence and external affairs.
Singh, a former Army officer, had a fall at his home in August 2014 and was admitted to the Army Research and Referral Hospital. He was in a coma for a long time and had been in and out of the hospital since then. He was admitted again in June this year.
“It is with profound grief that we inform about the sad demise of Hon’ble Major Jaswant Singh (Retd), former Cabinet Minister at 0655 hours on 27 September 2020. He was admitted on 25 Jun 2020 and being treated for sepsis with Multiorgan Dysfunction Syndrome and effects of Severe Head Injury old (Optd) had a Cardiac arrest this morning,” the hospital said in a statement.
Singh was cremated at his farm house in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur on Sunday evening. His son Manvendra Singh lit the funeral pyre amid chanting of Vedic mantras.
Singh, considered close to Vajpayee and veteran leader L K Advani, was one of India’s rare politicians to have held the portfolios of defence, external affairs, finance and the post of the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, in BJP governments under Vajpayee.
Born on January 3, 1938 in village Jasol in Barmer district, Singh served the Indian Army in the 1950s and 60s.
He resigned his commission to pursue a political career and had a distinguished tenure in Parliament being a member of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha multiple times. Singh, who commanded attention with his measured words spoken in a rich baritone, had been associated with the BJP since its foundation in 1980.
He was twice expelled from the party, the first time in 2009 after his book ‘Jinnah – India, Partition, Independence’ was published.
He came back into the party fold in 2010 but faced a second expulsion in 2014 when he defied party orders and contested from Barmer as an Independent after being denied a ticket.
Though there were several highs and lows in his political career, his role and decision-making in the Kandahar hijacking has been the subject of much debate and dissection.
In a book, Singh, while talking about the IC 814 flight that was hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar in Afghanistan on Christmas eve in 1999 with over 150 passengers and crew on board, said it was “most demanding and emotionally a most draining period” of his life.
Singh had accompanied Jaish-e-Mohammed head Masood Azhar, on a flight to Kandahar for a hostage swap deal with the hijackers.
Singh had recounted in his book how the hijacking had taken place about an hour after he had become a proud grandfather to a baby girl, and that it was not an easy decision to agree to swap them. He said he was opposed to any compromise to start with but slowly began to change as time passed.
Between 2004 and 2009, Singh was the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha. It was his innings as India’s foreign minister from 1998 to 2002 which is most talked about. He not only steered the country successfully through the turbulent days of the sanctions imposed by the West after the Pokhran nuclear blasts of 1998, but also played a big role in taking India’s ties with the US to a higher plane.