Jaswant Singh, a key figure in Vajpayee government, passes away

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Former Union Minister Jaswant Singh passed away on Sunday. In the picture Jaswant Singh is flanked by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi. (File photo)

New Delhi: Former Union Minister Jaswant Singh passed away on Sunday. He was 82. In August 2014, Jaswant had a fall in his bathroom and injured his head and admitted to the Army’s Research and Referral hospital in Delhi for treatment. He was in a state of coma ever since.

Jaswant Singh was born on January 3, 1938, in Jasol village of Barmer district, Rajasthan, in a Rajput family. He was an alumnus of Mayo College and National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla.

Singh was barely 19 when he joined the Central India Horse, a famous cavalry regiment of the Indian Army. After serving in the defence services till 1965, he resigned from his commission to embark on his political career.

Jaswant Singh was Member of Parliament for nine terms. He served as the Minister of Finance (2002-2004), Minister of Defence (2000-2001) and Minister of External Affairs (1998-2002) in the Vajpayee government.

He also chaired many important committees of Parliament like Public Accounts, Estimates, Energy, Environment and Forests, and others. Singh briefly served as Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission (1998–99). He was also conferred with the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award for the year 2001.

Singh was also instrumental in mending ties with the United States of America after the latter imposed sanctions on India following the nuclear tests of 1998.

The Kandhar episode

However, Jaswant had often faced criticism for the Kandhar episode when the Vajpayee government decided to swap Air India hostages with the jailed terrorist Azhar Masood.

He led the negotiations during the hijacking, when terrorists held fliers on board Indian Airlines’ IC-814 flight hostage on December 24, 1999, and demanded the release of several terrorists jailed in India. Jaswant had accompanied Masood to Kabul.

On August 19, 2009, Singh was expelled from the BJP, after criticism over his remarks in his book ‘Jinnah – India, Partition, Independence’, which allegedly praised the former Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Jaswant Singh served as Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha from 2004 to 2009. In 2010, he rejoined the BJP, while he was a Member of Parliament from Darjeeling constituency.

Singh was also the NDA’s candidate for the post of Vice president in 2012.

During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he was denied a ticket to contest the polls from Barmer district of Rajasthan. Subsequently he was expelled from the BJP after he decided to contest the elections as an independent candidate. However, he lost the election to BJP’s Col Sonaram Choudhary.

Apart from his stellar political career, Singh had authored several books and diaries. He was a senior fellow at Harvard, a visiting professor at Oxford and Warwick universities.

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