Indian ex-defence minister Jaswant Singh passes away at 82

BJP expelled its founding member in 2009 for writing a book on Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah

By: News Desk      Published: 02:13 PM, 27 Sep, 2020
Indian ex-defence minister Jaswant Singh passes away at 82

Former Indian defence minister Jaswant Singh, one of the founding members of the BJP and a close associate of ex-prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, died in New Delhi on Sunday following a long spell of illness. He was 82, reported Indian media.

Jaswant Singh was expelled by BJP in 2009 for writing a book on Pakistan founding father, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. 

Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ministers and other top leaders cutting across the political spectrum paid rich tributes to Jaswant Singh

Singh, a former army officer, had a fall at his home in August 2014 and was admitted to the Army Research and Referral Hospital. He was in coma for a long spell and had been in and out of the hospital since then. He was admitted again in June this year. 

"It is with profound grief that we inform about the sad demise of Hon'ble Major Jaswant Singh (retd), former Cabinet Minister at 0655 hours on 27 September 2020. He was admitted on 25 June 2020 and being treated for sepsis with Multiorgan Dysfunction Syndrome and effects of Severe Head Injury old (Optd) had a Cardiac arrest this morning," the hospital said in a statement. 

Despite best efforts of specialists to resuscitate him, he could not be revived and passed away, it added. 

His funeral will take place later Sunday at Jodhpur in Rajasthan, family sources said. 

Reacting to Singh''s death, the President said the demise of the "veteran soldier, outstanding parliamentarian, exceptional leader and intellectual" was distressing. 

Modi said that Singh served India diligently and will be remembered for his unique perspective on matters of politics and society. He later spoke to Singh's son Manvendra to convey his condolences. True to his nature, Jaswant Singh fought his illness with immense courage for the last six years, Modi said. 

In his eclectic career, Singh donned many hats -- army officer, author, minister, but his handling of the Kandahar hijack crisis as the then external affairs minister in 1999 was one that looms large. 

Singh, considered close to Vajpayee and veteran leader LK Advani, was one of India's rare politicians to have held the portfolios of defence, external affairs, finance and the post of the deputy chairman of planning commission, in BJP governments under Vajpayee.

Born on January 3, 1938 in village Jasol in Barmer district, Singh served the Indian army in the 1950s and 60s. He resigned his Commission to pursue a political career and had a distinguished tenure in Parliament being a member of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha multiple times. 

Singh had been associated with the BJP since its foundation in 1980. He was twice expelled from the party. In 2009, the BJP expelled him after his book ''Jinnah - India, Partition, Independence'' was published. 

He came back into the party fold 10 months later, but faced a second expulsion in 2014 when he defied party orders and contested from Barmer as an independent after being denied a ticket. 

Though there were several highs and a few lows in his career in politics, his role and decision-making in the Kandahar hijacking has been the subject of much debate and dissection. 

In a book, Singh, while talking about the IC-814 flight that was hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar in Afghanistan on Christmas eve in 1999 with 161 passengers and crew on board, said it was "most demanding and emotionally a most draining period" of his life. 

Singh had accompanied the three released terrorists, including Jaish-e-Mohammed head Masood Azhar, on a flight to Kandahar for a hostage swap deal with the hijackers. 

Singh had recounted in his book how the hijacking had taken place about an hour after he had become a proud grandfather to a babygirl, and that it was a tough decision to agree to swap the terrorists. He said he was opposed to any compromise to start with but slowly began to change as time passed.

Singh, who had close ties across the political spectrum, was known to be a scholarly gentleman in political circles, but was never one to hold back his views. 

Between 2004 and 2009, Singh was Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha. He was also a prolific writer and authored several books in Hindi and English. He also contributed widely to Indian and foreign magazines, newspapers and journals on international affairs, security and development issues.