Jaipur: Former Union minister Jaswant Singh, one of the founding members of the BJP and a close associate of ex-prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, died here on Sunday following a long spell of illness. He was 82. 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 time and had been in and out of the hospital since then. He was admitted again in June this year.
Reacting to Singh's death, the President said the demise of the "veteran soldier, outstanding parliamentarian, exceptional leader and intellectual" was distressing. "He combined many difficult roles with ease and equanimity. My heartfelt condolences to his family and friends," he said.
PM Modi said that Singh had served India diligently and will be remembered for his unique perspective on matters of politics and society. The prime minister later spoke to Singh's son Manvendra to convey his condolences.
In his eclectic career, Singh donned many hats -- army officer, author, Union 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 L K 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, Singh served the Indian Army in the 1950s and 60s.
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, 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 baby girl, and that it was a tough decision to agree to swap the terrorists.