Tribute to Jaswant Singh
Jaswant Singh was the most modern man in the wrong party which really never respected him or cared for him. Of course, he was the founder of the party and its top leader when politics was not a game of just ‘managers’ and ‘dealers’. A former army officer, Jaswant Singh was never a mass man and remained Anglican and royal all his lifetime, not at all compromising with the privacy of his life. The one commonality between him and his leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee was their liberal lifestyles and any poet, intellectual or shayar would have loved their evenings with them.
Vajpayee trusted Jaswant singh tremendously as he became finance minister in his cabinet. But unfortunately, for a party which lacked credible leaders and effective administrators who respected the knowledge of others too, it was not the right quality and that is the reason that as Vajpayee went into oblivion after demitting the office, slowly his generation leaders too who he trusted the most, were systematically sidelined in the party. Perhaps, being gentle, soft-spoken, sober and intellectually countering the opponents were not the need of the party where fuming loudmouths with invectives and innuendoes against the opponents are considered the best quality these days. Jaswant was perhaps the only one among the top leadership of the BJP who did not have a formal RSS background and never even pretended to do that.
During his tenure as India’s Foreign Minister, we saw the hijacking of IC-814 from Kathmandu to Delhi on December 24th, 1999 by the Talibani terrorists.
They first landed the plane in Amritsar and then forced flew it to Kandahar in Afghanistan. That was the time when there was no relationship and the Taliban was brutally ruling. Whatever, we say, there is a reality that government’s come under deep pressure from the people and they have to listen to the voices of the people. People started protesting and given the nature of the Taliban, it would have blown out the plane.
Of course, the government completely failed in tackling the issue militarily as it was possible when the plane landed in Amritsar. It should not have allowed it to fly and once the mistake was done and the plane was in the home territory of the people who were ruling as per their fancies, the government had little option.
As a foreign minister, Jaswant Singh had to bear the ‘cross’ of the shame of releasing the dreaded terrorist as demanded by the Taliban and had to go with him to handover to the Taliban.
We don’t know whether there was any ransom paying or not. The entire thing actually made Jaswant the villain in the eyes of the people later who released a dreaded terrorist responsible for the attack on Indian Parliament and continued to create a terror network against Indian interests in Pakistan while those the real leaders were never in the picture.
It is those who can negotiate in such situations and minimise the damaged bear the brunt. Jaswant Singh paid for the folly of his colleagues in Defence, home and Civil Aviation Ministry who had no clue how to handle the issue and whose inefficiencies actually escalated the crisis.
Jaswant Singh was never a mass leader
Though never a mass leader, Jaswant Singh represented Lok Sabha for four terms and Rajya Sabha for five terms between 1980 to 2014. The last time he represented Lok Sabha was not from his native place in Rajasthan but Darjeeling in West Bengal in 2009-2014 where those demanding a separate state for Darjeeling thought he would support their demand in parliament but perhaps that was not to happen.
It is true, Jaswant Singh had the understanding of various issues and their political complexities and that is why his book on Jinnah, India,
Partition and independence in 2010 became highly unpopular as he blamed Nehru, Patel and Congress for the partition and exonerated Jinnah. The book appreciating Mohammad Ali Jinnah found himself in turmoil as the party took action against him. Opponents too used this time, unfortunately, we never developed this understanding to debate historical figures honestly and have grown up vilifying all those who we disagree with, whether this side or that side.
Jaswant Singh was in the death bed since 2014 but an active Jaswant would have been a great asset for all the democratic and liberal forces as the one thing he never left was his liberal attitude and never bending to extremist thoughts.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat
September 27th, 2020