Friday 23 October 2020

Jaswant Singh dies; tributes pour in

A veteran BJP leader not from the RSS, Jaswant Singh had first served in the Indian Army before joining politics and serving as union minister with different portfolios

Former Union Minister Jaswant Singh, who died in Delhi this morning, was cremated at his farmhouse in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur in the evening. Singh, 82, died after a cardiac arrest at Delhi’s Army Hospital (Research & Referral), where he had been admitted in June.

Many members of the late leader’s family and close friends, wearing face masks and maintaining social distance amid the Covid pandemic, gathered to pay their last respects as Singh’s son, Manvendra Singh, lit the funeral pyre while Vedic mantras were being chanted.

A wreath was laid on behalf of the Indian Army.

A close aide of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Jaswant Singh had a long and distinguished political career, serving as India’s foreign, defence and finance minister. He was also one of the country’s longest-serving parliamentarians.

Singh, who studied at Mayo College in Ajmer, was also an officer in the Army in the 1950s and 60s; he resigned to pursue a career in politics.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today mourned the demise of former Union Minister Jaswant Singh.

The prime minister remembered the role played by Singh, which included his tenures as the external affairs and finance minister during the tenure of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

“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, defence and external affairs. Saddened by his demise,” Prime Minister Modi’s tweet read.

“Jaswant Singh Ji will be remembered for his unique perspective on matters of politics and society. He also contributed to the strengthening of the BJP. I will always remember our interactions. Condolences to his family and supporters. Om Shanti,” he added in a second tweet.

The prime minister said he has spoken to Jaswant Singh’s son and Congress leader Manvendra Singh and expressed condolences on the unfortunate demise of the leader.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh too paid tributes to the departed leader and remembered his service to the nation and the BJP.

“Shri Jaswant Singh ji would be remembered for his intellectual capabilities and a 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,” Rajnath Singh’s tweet read.

A veteran BJP leader not from the RSS, Jaswant Singh had first served in the Indian Army before joining politics. He served as a member of both the houses of the parliament and held several important positions in the NDA Cabinet.

Obituary: Jaswant Singh

Known for his measured speeches in deep throated voice, Jaswant Singh had famously faced unsparing questions from Tim Sebastian on BBC Hardtalk, explaining the hypocrisy of the permanent members of the UN Security Council that sit on a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction but lecture the rest of the world against such military equipment.

Jaswant Singh was known also for furthering the pro-market agenda of the Vajpayee government after a lacklustre tenure of his predecessor Yashwant Sinha who had to leave the finance portfolio following the UTI scam.

Although a decision taken with consensus between all national political parties, the incident and optics of Jaswant Singh handing over terrorists, led by Maulana Masood Azhar in Afghanistan’s Kandahar in exchange of passengers of the Indian Airlines flight IC-184 held hostage by the Taliban, haunted him and the BJP for years to come.

After the Vajpayee government fell, Jaswant Singh, who had already been a bugbear of the Vasundhara Raje faction of the BJP in Rajasthan, drew scathing criticism from the RSS, which never liked him anyway, for his book eulogising Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Previously, Jaswant Singh had courted controversy for his book, A Call to Honour, where he suggested that a mole in the PV Narasimha Rao government had leaked the information of India’s then impending nuclear device test — which the then government did not finally conduct.

Jaswant Singh was denied a nomination to contest in the 2014 Lok Sabha election when the BJP, it seemed, had adopted a strategy of retiring all veterans. He protested and stood as an independent in the poll. He was expelled from the party for “indiscipline”. His son Manvendra, on turning belligerent, was removed from the party too.

Soon thereafter, Jaswant Singh suffered a fall at home that paralysed him partially. In June 2020, Singh was admitted to the Delhi’s Army (R&R) Hospital and was being treated for sepsis with multi-organ dysfunction syndrome and effects of severe head injury he suffered as a result of a fall few years ago. On 27 September he suffered cardiac arrest. Singh died at the age of 82 years.

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