Skip to main content

Jaswant Singh wished BJP larger vision of India than RSS', 'lamented' its lack of vision

By Anand K Sahay*

Jaswant Singh, who passed away recently after being in a coma for nearly six years, was by training a soldier, common enough in his native Rajasthan, but aristocrat by birth, a reason why he had a broad conservative outlook of which gentlemanliness -- in his day -- was an essential part. However, as for his personal inclinations, he was a man of books, which is far from common in that state, or anywhere else for someone of his background.
This unusual mix, which was on a straightforward view in his personality, set him apart from any politician of my acquaintance- and his tenure in Parliament as a MP and this writer’s as a journalist observer ran almost in parallel.
Contemplating the life he lived after he is gone, it is hard to see him in any role other than that of a politician at an exalted level. This is because, at heart, he was a strategic ruminator who was happiest being in action at the junction of political grappling, and military and international affairs calculations.
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee saw this straight off. In his very brief 13-day term as leader of government, Singh was named finance minister, surprising everyone, since the former Army major had had little to do with economics or finance in his life.
But there could be no question about his integrity, a critical requirement for anyone in public office, especially for the holder of the finance portfolio at the highest level. The finance minister also needs to have a strategic view of the society and the politics of the country.
Singh summoned this, unlike most politicians, though it was evident that handing over Dabhol to Enron, without doing due diligence, was a serious error. It raised the spectre of corruption, and this would be easy to believe if the minister in question weren’t Jaswant Singh.
It is probable that the Vajpayee government saw the courting of Enron as a way of taking the first -- seemingly harmless -- steps toward courting America, with which India’s ties had been without warmth practically from the start of the Indian republic. If so, it turned out to be poor judgment. But the late PM’s judgment in subsequently making Singh his external affairs minister bore the country profit.
Jaswant Singh was new to diplomacy on the world stage but he proved more than equal to the task. He courted America but was not recklessly, or foolishly, right-wing in doing so, as a less sophisticated first-time external affairs minister from the right side of politics might have been.
Singh was never craven. He always appeared mindful of his own and his government’s and his country’s dignity, without being chauvinistically awkward or stiff-backed, as he went about choreographing the score for India-US relations in the post-Cold War setting.
This was evident in his numerous interactions over a stretch of time with Strobe Talbott, President Clinton’s point-man for India. These two laid the scaffolding of India-US ties in a new era. Many had feared the rise of a Hindu nativist boor in the foreign office and heaved a sigh of relief as Singh went about his business.
When PM Vajpayee went for the Pokhran-2 thermonuclear test in May 1998, codenamed Smiling Buddha, the only political colleague who was in on the super secret was Jaswant Singh, and not deputy PM LK Advani, Vajpayee’s buddy in politics over the decades and a BJP leader of the first rank who could himself have been Prime Minister.
Jaswant Sigh courted America but was not recklessly right-wing in doing so, as a less sophisticated first-time external affairs minister might have been
This spoke of Vajpayee’s political trust in Jaswant Singh as much as his awareness of Singh’s astuteness in matters of high politics, although the external affairs minister had not come through the RSS; indeed among many of whom he was sought to be reviled as a “CIA agent”.
But perhaps there was more to Vajpayee’s almost subliminal alignment with Jaswant Singh. One rose up the RSS stream, and in its political front the Bhartiya Jana Sangh (later BJP) on the strength of his many remarkable attributes as a person and as a politician. The other first veered toward the Swatantra Party -- which attracted many former feudal elements who were not of a communal bent -- and later moved toward he Jana Sangh as the Swatantra had no political future and would die.
Both Vajpayee and Singh had a larger vision of India than the RSS or Jana Sangh allowed, though for obvious reasons they could hardly repudiate the Hindu Right in public. At the top tier of the Jana Sangh (and BJP), perhaps there was also Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the former Vice-President of India and a mass leader from Rajasthan who had once been the state Chief Minister.
The present writer once had the rare privilege of being in a private conversation with them in which Singh and Shekhawat (Singh treated Shekhawat as his elder and accorded him enormous respect) lamented the lack of vision and openness in the foundational precepts and the actions of the organised Hindu right wing.
There was a phase in the BJP when Advani thought in a somewhat similar way without abandoning the core political moorings of Hindutva. This was a time when he sometimes spoke of his wish that the BJP could become a party like the German Christian Democrats but he never spelt this out for the public record, perhaps fearing that the RSS would fry him if he did. But Advani did defend Jaswant Singh when the chips were down and the BJP was in the process of hounding the latter, eventually expelling him.
After Singh passed away, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did issue some lukewarm words in tribute, but the BJP ignored his contribution. Between the founding of the Jana Sangh in 1951 and the commencement of Modi’s tenure as PM in 2014, there was an interregnum of about two decades in which the BJP had a potential to change into a normal rightist party, and being spiritually in tune with the Constitution.
Jaswant Singh was a product of that milieu. But the thought of such change was probably just wishful thinking by a few at the top. The urge had no roots at the mass level in the RSS-BJP which continues to see the vision of Golwalkar’s India.
---
*Senior journalist based in Delhi. A version of this article was first published in the “Asian Age”

Comments

TRENDING

JP advised RSS to give up Hindu Rashtra, disband itself: Ex-IAS officer tells Modi

Counterview Desk
Major MG Devasahayam IAS (Retd), chairman, People-First, in an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of Jayprakash Narain’s (JP’s) death anniversary (October 11) has wondered whether he remembers “a patriot called Jayaprakash Narayan”. Recalling what JP thought on issues such as communalism, freedom, democracy, Hindutva etc., Devasahayam says, Modi has been been doing “the very opposite of the principles and values for which JP lived and died.”

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

By Our Representative
Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book, "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

UP chief secretary, DGP have 'surrendered' to political diktat: 92 retired IAS, IPS officials

Counterview Desk
In an open letter to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, 92 retired IAS, IFS and IPS bureaucrats, commenting on “blatant violations of the rule law” following the Hathras incident, have blamed that the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police for abjectly failing to exercise control over a “highly compromised” administration the state.

Hathras reflects Manu's mindset dominates: 'Women are false, it's in their nature to seduce'

By Parijat Ghosh, Dibyendu Chaudhuri*
The woman died and then we woke up to protest. She was alive for two weeks after the heinous incident. Many of us even didn’t notice what had happened at Hathras, how she fought during the next 15 days. Those who noticed, many of them were not sure what actually had happened. So much so, we as a nation were more busy in finding out who among the Bollywood actresses were taking drugs, who smoked weed, who had ‘inappropriate’ or more than one relationship, what kind of private conversations they had in their chat boxes and what not!

Gujarat literati flutter: State Akademi autonomy curb a Sahitya Parishad poll issue?

By Dankesh Oza*
The 115-year-old Gujarati Sahitya Parishad is in election mode. More than 3,000 life members of the Parishad are set to elect its 52nd president and 40 plus central working committee (CWC) members, which in turn will elect its executive and two vice presidents, six secretaries and a treasurer for the coming three years (from 2021 to 2023).

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur*
Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Atrocities against Dalits: Why don't MPs, MLAs from the community ever speak up?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*
In Gujarat, a young Dalit activist lawyer Devji Maheshwari, belonging to the Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMSCEF) was killed in Surat, allegedly by a goon who was warning him against his Facebook posts not to speak up against Brahmanism. Facts have come to light suggesting there are other issues also which led to the murder, mostly related to land disputes, many a time ignored by activists.

Degrading conditions amidst Covid-19: Toxic ship at Alang, Gujarat, 'endangers' migrants

Counterview Desk
Evironmental activist Dr Gopal Krishna, who edits the ToxicsWatch journal, in an open letter to the chairman, Ship Breaking Scrap Committee, Union Ministry of Shipping, with copies to the joint secretary, Union Ministry of Shipping and other Government of India ministries* has said that there exists “threat to Indian maritime environment and security from viral diseases like Covid-19 from ballast water and toxic substances.”

Agricultural reform? Small farmers will be more vulnerable, corporates to 'fix' price

By Dibyendu Chaudhuri*
Agriculture employs 42% of the total work force whereas it contributes only 16% to the country’s GDP. The average annual growth rate in agriculture has remained static to 2.9% since the last six years. This means that the post-green revolution conventional agriculture has reached its peak. Responsiveness of soil fertility to fertiliser application, an indicator of stagnancy in agriculture, shows declining trend since 1970. The worst sufferer has been the small and marginal farmers who constitute 86% of total farmers.