Jaswant Singh's tumultuous career was marked by revival of India-US ties, ignominy of Kandahar hijacking
After serving in the armed forces for just over 10 years, Jaswant Singh resigned from the Indian Army in 1965 and began his journey in politics.
Former Union minister Jaswant Singh, who passed away on Sunday, was one of the founding members of the Bharatiya Janta Party and a key member of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government.
Jaswant's political career spanned nearly six decades — the most significant years being between 1998 to 2004, when he handled key ministerial portfolios of defence, external affairs and finance.
While he earned praise for his handling of strained ties with the US in the aftermath of the 1998 nuclear tests, perhaps the lowest moment of his political career was the Kandahar hijacking and the release of three terrorists.
In his early years, Jaswant studied at the Mayo College in Ajmer and later joined the Indian Army after completing his education at the National Defence Academy (NDA). At 19, he joined the Central India Horse cavalry regiment of the Indian Army.
After serving in the armed forces for just over 10 years, he resigned from the army in 1965 and began his journey in politics.
Jaswant was introduced to Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the 1970s by Sardar Angre, a close aide of Vijayraje Scindia, according to an NDTV report.
He entered Parliament in 1980, when he was elected to the Rajya Sabha. He was subsequently elected to the Lok Sabha from Jodhpur (1989), 1991 and 1996 (Chittorgarh). Later, when the Vajpayee government came to power, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha again.
Jaswant had first served as finance minister in the short-lived 13-day government of Vajpayee in May 1996.
Later, he was given the charge of portfolios such as finance (2002-2004), defence (2000-2001), and external affairs (1998-2002). Jaswant also handled the ministries of electronics, and surface transport as a Union minister during Vajpayee’s tenure.
He was also the chairperson of Parliamentary committees such as Public Accounts, Estimates, Energy, and Environment and Forests, among others.
Jaswant was widely hailed for his handling of relations with the United States which were strained after the nuclear tests in 1998.
His skill as a negotiator and diplomat during talks with the US has been acknowledged by his American interlocutor Strobe Talbott. His protracted engagement with Talbott on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and related nuclear issues is considered a high point in Indian diplomacy, a PTI report noted.
Jaswant was expelled twice from the BJP. The first time was in 2009 for his praise of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and he was readmitted to the party in 2010. He was expelled again after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls for defying the party directive to withdraw his candidature as an Independent from Barmer in Rajasthan. He, however, lost the election.
But it was the hijack crisis in December 1999 which dealt a body blow to his image for escorting three hardcore terrorists in an official aircraft to Kandahar in Afghanistan. Jaswant was the then external affairs minister.
The three terrorists, including Maulana Masood Azhar, who later founded the Jaish-e-Mohammed(JeM), were released by India in exchange for the release of more than 150 passengers and crew from the hijacked Indian Airlines plane(IC 814). The terrorists had killed one passenger.
Jaswant was also at the centre of a controversy in October 2007 when he was accused of illegal drug possession after he allegedly offered 'kesar' milk laced with opium to his guests during a function at his ancestral house in Barmer district in Rajasthan.
Jaswant, who was dragged to the court, denied the charge.
In 2008, a special court gave a clean chit to him and nine others in the opium case.
With inputs from PTI
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