Jaswant Singh, advocate of peace with Pakistan, dies at 82

Updated 28 Sep 2020

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In this July 27, 2006, file photo, Jaswant Singh gestures during the launch and preview of his book 'A Call to Honor-In Service of Emergent India,' in New Delhi, India.
In this July 27, 2006, file photo, Jaswant Singh gestures during the launch and preview of his book 'A Call to Honor-In Service of Emergent India,' in New Delhi, India.

NEW DELHI: Former Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who brought New Delhi and Islamabad tantalisingly close to a peace deal over Kashmir in Agra, died here on Sunday at the age of 82.

Mr Singh had been in coma from a fall at his home in August 2014. That was a few months after losing the Lok Sabha election as an independent candidate in May that year, the election that swept then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to power as prime minister.

Mr Modi became Mr Singh’s ideological rival within the Bharatiya Janata Party when Mr Singh wrote a book on Mohammed Ali Jinnah in August 2009, in which he praised the founder of Pakistan as a secular man and blamed Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru for the Partition.

Mr Modi lobbied his party against the book, which was publicly burnt under his watch in Gujarat. It was an insult to Sardar Patel, an icon of Gujarat, Mr Modi argued. Mr Singh was expelled from the party and though re-inducted later, he was denied the party ticket for the 2014 polls. Mr Singh then fought the election as an independent candidate.

Former foreign minister was in coma since 2014

During the controversy surrounding his Jinnah book, Mr Singh told Dawn TV in an interview that he wanted to work for expanding the constituency of peace between the three nations — India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — as they were “born from the same womb”.

He said, in July 2001, he had worked with his Pakistan counterpart hard to give shape to the final draft of an agreement between former leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf. He blamed General Musharraf’s press meet with Indian editors and reluctance to include terrorism as a factor for the failure of the project. He said after the collapse of the Agra summit, however, that while the caravan of peace had stalled, it had not overturned.

His friendship with Mr Vajpayee lasted a lifetime. Both shared a taste for things literary, and those close to Jaswant Singh recall, said the Indian Express, how he and Vajpayee spent evenings together sharing common interests — politics, prose and foreign affairs.

A founder-member of the BJP, Jaswant Singh would not shy away from expressing views not in tandem with the party’s ideology. His book “Jinnah: India Partition Independence” published in 2009 is one such example. Party insiders say that the leader, who supported LK Advani in the Jinnah controversy, was disappointed when Advani did not reciprocate.

Mr Singh’s son Manvendra Singh left the BJP and joined the Congress.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2020