Jaswant Singh, former Union minister in the Atal Bihar Vajpayee cabinet who held the crucial portfolios of external affairs, defence and finance, died after a prolonged illness on Sunday morning.
Having joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as one of its early founding members after serving in the Indian Army, Singh had a bitter falling out with his party in 2014 when he was denied a Lok Sabha ticket of his choice from Barmer in Rajasthan. He contested the 2014 general election, which was his last as an independent, but lost.
Singh — considered close to Vajpayee and veteran BJP leader LK Advani — was twice expelled from the party; in 2009, the parliamentary board of the BJP expelled him after his book Jinnah – India, Partition, Independence was published. He rejoined the party after 10 months, but faced a second expulsion in 2014 when he defied party orders and challenged the BJP’s decision of not fielding him as a contestant from Barmer.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled his death on Sunday, tweeting that Singh served the 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,” the PM wrote. In separate tweets, he also said true to his nature, Jaswant Singh fought his illness with immense courage for the last six years.
“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,” PM Modi said tweeted.
Singh — a four-time member of the Lok Sabha and elected to the Rajya Sabha five times — was the external affairs minister during the Kandahar hijacking case, and had escorted Mulana Masood Azhar and two other terrorists in lieu for the release of hostages on board Indian Airlines IC-814 that was hijacked on December 24, 1999.
After India conducted the nuclear tests in 1998, and the US imposed sanctions on India, Singh was the lead negotiator for talks with the then US deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott. The two-year negotiations paved the way for the visit of the then US President Bill Clinton, considered to be a turning point in India-US relations.
Singh had been ill after a fall at his home in August 2014 and was admitted to the Army Research and Referral Hospital in the national capital. He had been in and out of the hospital and was re-admitted in June this year. At 82, he died of a cardiac arrest on Sunday morning.