A Rajput leader from Barmer in Rajasthan, Singh began his career with the Army and was a major when he quit to join politics in the 1960s. He had a love-hate relationship with BJP throughout his political life and despite his stellar record he was expelled twice from the party. Known for his independent thinking, Singh often strayed from the party line in his writings and politics.
Along with then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra and Union minister Pramod Mahajan, Singh formed a coterie that Vajpayee trusted implicitly as PM. Though RSS never had any love lost for Jaswant Singh, Vajpayee gave him charge of important portfolios between 1998 and 2004.
Singh’s career saw several landmark events in which his role would be remembered for long. As external affairs minister, when the Indian Airlines plane IC-814 was hijacked in 1999, he accompanied the three released terrorists— Masood Azhar, Mustaq Ahmed Zargar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh— to Kandahar and brought back the hostages.
In his condolence message, former home minister LK Advani said, “Jaswantji was a true gentleman and will be remembered as a soft-spoken, erudite and warm-hearted person.”
Singh also played an important role in improving relations with the US after the 1998 Pokhran-II nuclear tests when India was facing sanctions. He reopened the India-US conversation through a series of talks with deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott. His efforts led to then US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000.
In July 2002, foreign minister Jaswant Singh had to swap his portfolio with FM Yashwant Sinha, reportedly after RSS prevailed upon Vajpayee to do so.
Recalling Singh’s stint as FM, V Srinivas,his private secretary, said: “It was his vision than enabled the formulation of the FRBM Act 2002, the SEBI and UTI Acts 2002, the Kelkar committee reports on tax reforms and the introduction of PAN cards and Demat accounts. In 8-9 months, the economy could be revived and placed on a high growth path.”
However, Singh’s stock fell after Vajpayee walked into retirement due to ill health. In August 2009, Singh’s book “Jinnah- India, Partition, Independence” in which he praised the Pakistan founder led to his expulsion at the BJP Chintan Baithak in Shimla.
However, ten months later he was back in the BJP. His return was facilitated by Advani who said Singh’s return gave him a “sense of relief”.
A suave gentleman with impeccable manners, Singh would hold his audience in thrall with his command over the language and his understanding of issues.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, BJP fielded him from Darjeeling and he won. NDA also put him up as its vice-presidential candidate in 2012 against Hamid Ansari.
In Rajasthan politics, he did not have a smooth run due to his differences with Vasundhara Raje. When he and his son Manvendra were not given a ticket from the Barmer-Jaisalmer seat in the 2014 elections, Singh contested as an Independent against BJP candidate Sonaram Choudhary and lost.
He was in semi-retirement when he hurt himself badly at home in August 2014. He was in coma for a long time. He was moved to a hospital recently on June 25 where he breathed his last on Sunday.
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