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Former Union minister Jaswant Singh passed away after a prolonged illness in Delhi on Sunday, 27 September, at the age of 82. He had served as India's foreign minister, defence minister and finance minister through the course of his career.
"It is with profound grief that we inform about the sad demise of Honourable Major Jaswant Singh (Retired), former Cabinet Minister of Government of India, at 0655 hours on 27 September 2020. He was admitted on 25 Jun 2020 and was being treated for Sepsis with Multiorgan Dysfunction Syndrome and effects of Severe Head Injury old (Optd)... had a Cardiac arrest this morning," a statement from the hospital said.
Born on 3 January 1938, in Jasol village of Barmer district, Rajasthan, Singh was raised in a Rajput family. He was an alumnus of Mayo College and National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla.
At the age of 19, he joined the Central India Horse, a famous cavalry regiment of the Indian Army and served till 1965. He then resigned from his commission to start his political career.
Founding Member of BJP
Singh was one of the founding members of the Bharatiya Janata Party and had been one of the longest serving parliamentarians – from 1980 to 2014.
Singh was part of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) earlier.
He was elected on a BJP ticket to the Rajya Sabha in 1980, 1986, 1998, 1999 and 2004 and to the Lok Sabha in 1990, 1991, 1996 and 2009.
Though considered to be close to BJP stalwarts like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani, Singh was expelled from the party on two occasions. The first time was for penning the book ‘Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence’ based on Pakistan founder Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Partition of India.
The book was released on 17 August 2009 and soon became the subject of controversy, subsequently leading to Singh's expulsion from the party.
The book was criticised for claiming that late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's centralised policy was responsible for the Partition and that Jinnah was portrayed as a ‘demon’ by India.
He came back into the party fold after a period of 10 months, but was axed again after he contested against a BJP candidate from Barmer in 2014, when he was denied a ticket.
Recipient of Outstanding Parliamentarian Award
Though Singh entered politics in his late 60s, it was only after he was initiated in the Jan Sangh, did he begin to gain recognition. He started his political career in 1980, when he was first selected for the Rajya Sabha. He then served as finance minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government.
When Vajpayee became prime minister, in 1998, Singh took charge as the external affairs minister, from December 1998 to July 2002. In July 2002, he became the finance minister. He was also the defence minister, when George Fernandes was forced to resign after the Tehelka exposure.
Singh served as deputy chairman of the erstwhile Planning Commission, from 1998 to 1999. After his party lost power in 2004, he served as Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha from 2004 to 2009.
He was also conferred the ‘Outstanding Parliamentarian Award’ for the year 2001.
Singh was the candidate for the post of vice-president for the NDA in 2012. He lost to Hamid Ansari, who was the UPA's candidate.
During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he was denied a ticket to contest the polls from Barmer district of Rajasthan. Singh was subsequently expelled from the BJP. He lost to BJP’s Col Sonaram Choudhary.
Led Kandahara Negotiations
Singh, the external affairs minister during the Kandahar hijacking incident on 24 December 1999, had faced a lot of criticism when the Vajpayee government decided to swap hostages onboard Indian Airlines IC-814 with jailed terrorist Azhar Masood.
Singh had led the negotiations during the hijacking and had even accompanied Masood to Kabul.
He was also instrumental in mending ties with the United States after the latter imposed sanctions on India, following the nuclear tests of 1998. Singh was lead negotiator for the talks with the then US deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott.