Former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Union minister Jaswant Singh is in a “very critical” condition. He has slipped into a coma and was on life support at Army Research and Referral Hospital here, as of Friday evening.
Singh, 76, was brought there by kin at 1 am on Friday with head injuries, apparently after a fall at his home; it appears he was found on the floor, unconscious. A defence ministry statement said a lifesaving ‘decompressive hemicraniectomy’ had been done. It said a CT scan had showed ‘an acute subdural haematoma with mass effect, a midline shift and contusion of the brain substance.’
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to family members in the morning. “He (Modi) prays for Shri Singh’s speedy recovery,” tweeted the Prime Minister’s Office. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi visited the hospital to enquire, as did Home Minister Rajnath Singh and some other BJP seniors.
In an illustrious political career, Singh held the finance, defence and external affairs portfolios, among others, during the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led governments in 1996, 1998-99 and 1999-2004. He was also deputy chairman of the Planning Commission in 1999 and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha from 2004 to 2009. He had fallen out with the BJP leadership twice in recent years; the second occasion was in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when he insisted he be given a party ticket from Barmer. He was expelled from the party when he chose to contest as an independent.
Singh was close to Vajpayee. A nine-term MP, he was first elected to Rajya Sabha in 1980. Singh had joined politics after having quit the army. According to his website, Singh, then barely 19 years, was commissioned into the Central India Horse, a cavalry regiment, in the late 1950s.
He was external affairs minister during the tumultuous years of 1998 and 1999, when India first faced an international boycott after its Pokhran-II nuclear tests and later fought the Kargil war with Pakistan. He is widely acknowledged to have ably managed the fallout of the tests. He also dealt with the sorry spectacle of the landing in Kandahar to escort terrorists whose release hijackers of an Indian Airlines flight had demanded, in return for releasing the passengers.
Singh also courted controversy when in one of his books he alleged that the Prime Minister’s Office in P V Narasimha Rao’s tenure had a ‘mole’ who would leak information to United States.
Manmohan Singh, the PM when the allegation was made, challenged Singh to divulge the name. In 2009, Singh wrote yet another controversial book, this one titled ‘Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence’, where he blamed Jawaharlal Nehru for India’s partition in 1947. He was expelled from the BJP but readmitted in 2010.
In the run-up to the recent Lok Sabha elections, Singh demanded a ticket from Barmer in Rajasthan, his home town. It was refused and he, with son Manvendra, a BJP MLA in Rajasthan, were expelled from the party. Singh contested as an independent when the BJP fielded a retired Colonel, Sonaram Chaudhary, giving him a good fight. He secured over 400,000 votes but lost to Chaudhary by 87,000 votes. Party sources said it was the friction between Singh and Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje which led to Singh’s expulsion.