Jaswant Singh, founding member of the BJP and former Union minister, dies

Jaswant Singh

Jaswant Singh, one of the longest-serving parliamentarians of India and a founding member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), passed away at the age of 82, reports said on Sunday.

A retired Army officer, Singh handled portfolios like Defense, External Affairs, and Finance when BJP was in power. His demise was condoled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP members.

Born in Rajasthan’s Barmer, Singh entered politics in the late 60s, but his career didn’t take off until he became a member of Jan Sangh. In 1980, he became a Rajya Sabha member; served as Finance Minister in late PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s short-lived regime from May 1996 to June 1996. He was EAM from 1998 to 2002, when Vajpayee returned to power.

Singh was also 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 of being out in the cold but faced a second expulsion in 2014 when he chose to defy party orders and challenged the BJP’s decision of not fielding him as a contestant from Barmer.

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-old negotiations paved the way for the visit of the then US President Bill Clinton, considered to be a turning point in India-US relations.