Thursday, August 20, 2009

The rise and fall of Jaswant

Flash back to the New Year 2000. The Indian Airlines flight IC 814 was hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar with hundreds of passengers on board. The Taliban militia , a relatively unknown entity at the time, staged the hostage drama to free some hardcore terrorists held in Indian jails. We all know the end of the story or did the story ever end at all? What some readers may have missed is that the Indian external affairs minister at the time ,Jaswant Singh, had accompanied the JEM terrorist who had been exchanged for the hostages.
Jaswant Singh was the impeccable person spotted always in a casual army shirt. His demeanor and curt replies to journo questions gave him an image of a retired general from the army. Perhaps one can argue that Shri A.B Vajpayee had a right hand in Pramod Mahajan and a left one in Jaswant Singh. He was the initial choice for finance minister in Vajpayee's cabinet. The all powerful RSS led by K.S Sudershan was largely instrumental in playing spoil sport to Jaswant's chances. Vajpayee could still accomodate him in the external ministry ( even against the wishes of the RSS). Jaswant as an external affairs minister was a welcome change from the Nehruvian socialists who adorned the ministry from time immemorial. He could think "out of the box" and initiated major policy reversals and steps taking into account the geopolitical situation of the day. Was it right for India to continue with the Nehruvian policy of non alignment when India had bigger threats to security at home? Did the age old policy of supporting the right to a Palestinian nation did actually come in the way of a tectonic shift in India's policy towards Israel? A weak opposition in the form of a decimated Congress party could not question the policy shifts during Jaswant's time. Jaswant Singh was instrumental in developing good strategic relations with many countries and it was during his tenure that India came close to winning a permanent seat in the UN security council. He had good personal rapport with many world leaders at the time and particularly with the American leaders.

Jaswant Singh was never a member of the RSS and it was difficult for them to support a person who held different points of view particularly on issues that were sensitive to them- financial policy and foreign relations. Vajpayee , as a PM, and the defacto head of the BJP could use his discretion to choose Jaswant Singh for the post of external affairs minister. Imagine Jaswant as the finance minister- In all certainity he would have carried India towards the path of reforms and development with greater alacrity. I would say that if Yaswant Sinha has earned a B grade for his performance as FM, a Jaswant Singh would have earned at least an A-. In a party driven largely by ideologies and where most of the leaders had their roots and obligation to the RSS, Jaswant Singh was the exception.
Fast Forward to the Year 2009- The 18th day of August to be precise. Jaswant Singh is out of the BJP! The man who claimed to be one of the founder members of the party was unceremoniously shown the door. His crime- Writing and publising a book! and the book is on Jinnah- the bete noire of the BJP. The same party that had warned and eventually pardoned Advani for praising Jinnah ( during Advani's Pakistan Visit a couple of years ago) has shown no mercy to Jaswant Singh. Is writing a book and expressing an alternate point of view an unfathomable and unpardonable crime in a democratic party? This is India and Jaswant Singh has the right to express his opinion. ( I have not read the book and am eagerly waiting to get a copy). Shashi Tharoor had opined in his tweets that one should not be removed from a party just for writing a book and having views that may not neccesarily synch with the party views.BJP is in crisis now and Jaswant was one of its able leaders. Whosoever is the brain behind this move ( to expel Jaswant Singh) they have only accelerated the fall of the party. The party that peaked during the late 1990s with stalwarts like A.B Vajpayee at the helm is reduced to a bunch of " jokers" (in) fighting for supremacy.
Kudos to thee Shri. Jaswant Singh.. for you were one of the best ministers we have ever seen.

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