Jaswant Singh is an Indian politician who has held several important portfolios during his long political life. He was Finance Minister, External Affairs Minister and Defence Minister at different points of time in the Atal Bihar Vajpayee government. As External Affairs Minister he distinguished himself with his skillful handing of the Indo-U.S relations in the aftermath of the 1998 Indian nuclear tests. On the flip side he was also severely criticised for escorting terrorists to Kandhahar, Afghanistan in exchange for passengers from a hijacked Indian Airlines plane. Born in Rajputana, British India, he began his career as a cadet in what was then called the Joint Services Wing (JSW). After the training, the ambitious young man was commissioned second lieutenant in the Indian Army. Even though initially he was very enthusiastic about an army career, he became disillusioned with time and quit his promising military job. He ventured into politics and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). His political career flourished and he went on to become one of the senior most leaders of the BJP. In 2009, he expelled from the primary membership of BJP due to a controversial book he wrote. In 2010, he was readmitted in the party but was expelled again in 2014 when the fought the election as an independent candidate against the party candidate.
Childhood & Early Life
Jaswant Singh was born into a Rajput family on 3 January 1938 at village Jasol, Barmer district, Rajasthan. His father was Thakur Sardara Singh and mother was Kunwar Baisa.
He grew up to be a confused teenager and was looking for a direction when he decided to join the army on a whim. As a 15 year old in 1953, he became a cadet in what was then called the Joint Services Wing (JSW), intended to train cadets of all the three services.
Military training was an enriching experience for the young boy, and he learned the importance of discipline, self-control, and time management. The intensive physical training taught him the value of good health and physical fitness.
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Jaswant Singh was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Indian Army in December 1957. He opted for the Central India Horse (CIH) and was selected for it. He was amongst the top ten in the Passing Out Order.
He served in the army for about nine years until November 1966. Even though he was initially enthusiastic about becoming a commissioned officer at the age of 19 in 1957, soon he became disillusioned with army life and resigned from service in 1966.
By this time he had developed a keen interest in politics and was very determined to establish himself in a political career. However, the next few years were difficult for him and he struggled to find a foothold in Indian politics.
He started tasting success in the 1980s. BJP stalwart Bhairon Singh Shekhawat took him under his wing and became his political mentor. Jaswant Singh was initiated in the Jan Sangh and soon selected for the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian parliament.
In 1986, he was re-elected to Rajya Sabha for a second term. From 1986 to 1989, he served as a member of Public Accounts Committee, Committee on Public Undertakings, and Committee on Privileges. He was also a member of Consultative Committee constituted under the Punjab State Legislature (Delegation of Powers) Act, 1987.
He held several other portfolios over the next few years and served as the Finance minister in the short-lived government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which lasted just from 16 May 1996, to 1 June 1996.
Vajpayee became the Prime Minister again after a couple of years. This time Jaswant Singh became the Minister for External Affairs of India, serving from 5 December 1998 until 1 July 2002. In this position he prudently dealt with the delicate Indo-Pakistan issue.
He became the Finance Minister again in 2002, replacing Yashwant Sinha. In this role he was instrumental in defining and pushing through the market-friendly reforms of the government. In 2004 he was a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Installation of Portraits / Statues of National Leaders and Parliamentarians in Parliament House Complex.
From 2004 to 2006, he served on the Committee on Science and Technology, Environment & Forests and Committee on Water Resources. In 2004 he also became Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, a post he served until 2009.
In 2009, he released a book called ‘Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence’, in which he praised Mohammad Ali Jinnah and claimed that the centralized policy of Jawaharlal Nehru was responsible for Partition. The book proved to be highly controversial and Singh was expelled from the primary membership of BJP. He was readmitted to BJP in 2010.
In 2014, Jaswant Singh was again expelled from the party after he contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election as an independent candidate from the Barmer constituency against his own party candidate. Incidentally, he lost the election.
As India’s External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh is much lauded for his efforts in handling relations with the United States which were strained after the 1998 Indian nuclear tests. As a skilled negotiator and diplomat, he helped to ease the relations between the two nations.
Awards & Achievements
He was presented with the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award for the year 2001.
Personal Life & Legacy
Jaswant Singh is married to Sheetal Kanwar. They have two sons, the elder of whom, Manvendra Singh, is a former Member of Parliament from Barmer.
In 2014, he had a fall at his residence and suffered severe head injuries. He was in the hospital for four months and has still not recovered fully.