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My dad Jaswant Singh at 80: Sad how Vajpayee’s ‘Hanuman’ can no longer fly

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For the first time, son Manvendra Singh writes about Jaswant Singh on his 80th birthday in an exclusive to ThePrint.

My father, Jaswant Singh, doesn’t normally read sports news, especially if it doesn’t relate to his beloved dressage, show jumping, three-day eventing or other horse-related activities. So it took me by surprise when he asked me about my reaction to Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident at the fag end of 2013. We discussed it in considerable detail, and that conversation replays in my mind frequently now. Eight months later, he suffered a similar head injury, and has remained in the same condition as the celebrated motor racing champion.

I read every news story there was about Schumacher, but all were couched in immense privacy and secrecy that his family had cloaked around him. After more than three years of seeing my father in that state, the Schumacher family’s secrecy makes total sense to me. Only the near and dear ones can fully comprehend what that privacy means. Some of his closest friends ask, even visit, but don’t see him. The only friend who visits regularly and comes away teary-eyed every time is Advani.

The closest friend, of course, can’t see, visit, or talk to him because he too remains in the same condition—that is Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Atalji and my father maintained an extraordinary bond that defied all conventions of political friendships. In fact, the only thing common to both was the deep attachment to words—verse for one, and prose, the other. Their family backgrounds and upbringings couldn’t have been more different, and yet they bonded very deeply. It wasn’t for nothing that my father was labelled Atalji’s Hanuman, a sobriquet neither sought to deny. At the root of the closeness was transparency, indeed a rarity in public life.

He believed in being open and accountable to the public for his actions. Here is a little known episode that showed his commitment.

From after the midnight of 24 December 1999, every night, a lady would call my father on his home number. She would scream, cry, abuse, threaten suicide, and utter anything that came to her mouth. Despite being a cabinet minister, he picked up the phone call in his bedroom, and did not let it be attended by a staff member. The woman was the wife of a crew member on IC-814 that had been hijacked to Kandahar, and she would call to plead for help and intervention. The calls became a ritual. She kept saying, “You are not doing anything to save my husband.” My father would listen quietly.

Later when the matter was over, and the aircraft had come back on the 31st, she visited my father with her husband early on 1 January, 2000. She brought flowers, thanked him profusely and even apologised.

It was only much later that I mentioned these calls to a senior friend from the Indian Foreign Service, and an attendant was placed to answer calls through the night.

In fact, it was the same IFS official who later remarked that the diplomatic service, the world over, is a clique, an exclusive club, whose members work hard to ensure entry remains restricted. Limited membership is the hallmark of exclusivity, he said, “And your father is the only non-member who has been admitted by diplomats as one of their own for his intellect”. This is probably among the most admiring observations made about him during his career in office, and outside of it.

On dvitiya tithi, shukla paksh in the month of posh, an audio-visual video went viral in various Rajasthan social media groups. The music was one of the well-known folk songs, and the visuals were a walk down memory lane of my father’s career in politics. The date was his birthday according to the Indian calendar system, born as he was in Samvat, 1994. The video was crowd-sourced, and crowd-produced, and a most appropriate 80th birthday gift. By the Gregorian calendar he is 80 today, though native celebrations have already happened, audio-visually. Like the Indian birthday, this too will be marked in privacy at home.

His deep sense of privacy is what really made him an oddity in Indian politics, a system unused to a sense of space and private life. This desire to maintain privacy came up in a conversation soon after the Jinnah Karachi episode that caught L. K. Advani in a storm. Rumour had it that the party president-ship may well land on my father. An ideologically connected journalist said to me, “Hopefully your father won’t take it”. When I asked my father, he said the compromises with privacy would be more than what he could handle. So the matter ended there, but not the episodes with Jinnah.

At the end of January 2006, my father led 86 pilgrims to Hinglaj Mata in Las Bela district, Baluchistan. It hadn’t been done since 1947 and took him much effort to work through both Indian and Pakistani governments. Once the westernmost temple in ancient Hinduism, Hinglaj, has a special resonance in Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Bengal. On the way back to Karachi from Hinglaj, Omkar Singh Lakhawat, then a Vasundhara Raje baiter and now a drum-beater, said to me, “I hope he isn’t going to Jinnah’s tomb, because the Hinglaj visit could make him a Hindu leader”. More than three years later, the reaction to the release of his book on Jinnah caused him deep anguish, and pain. Ironical, given that Jinnah’s grandson Nusli Wadia has an enduring, and endearing, friendship with him.

At the end of his political career he wanted to represent Barmer, and write a political biography on late C. Rajagopalchari, his ideological mentor, if there was one. Alas, that was not to be. He could not represent Barmer, which caused him much anguish. But there is no Sanjeevani to help him, since Atalji’s Hanuman can’t fly now.

Manvendra Singh is Jaswant Singh’s son and an MLA from Rajasthan.

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  2. Very sad to learn about the present health status of respected Jaswant Singhji. But the article clearly lets one learn about the great personality, and interaction with his close friends-with whom he is unable to share,or communicate.
    It is only through articles like this that one comes to know about great, devoted, sincere, active, and dynamic people, like Jaswant Singhji. That at the age of 80 years, he should suffer like this is tragic. There are some examples of whom every one knows-who were very active in their service life-but suffer when they get old. As the great writer Vimal Mitra had questioned, ‘Why good people suffer’, the answer in my opinion, is still remains unsatisfactorily answered.
    Let us all pray that Jaswant Singhji, gets better and feels cheerful soon.

  3. Sir, Let me be very candid here .I am not a BJP patron but I have no regrets to admit that your father was the most sought out politician. Cutting across the party lines, your father had & still has lot of popularity & respect among the masses. I envied your father for his style, intellect, connect, dexterity at work, passion and agility that he possessed. He is belongs to a very rare cult of politicians which is almost sinking in oblivion. He was never pretentious about his work on the contrary he always under played. He is a true son of soil, a true soldier of party & epitome of kindness. I am priviledged to have seen such politician and what adds more to my glee is the fact that I hail from the same state. On his 80 th Birthday, I wish him a speedy recovery & I wish to see Atal Ji’s beloved Hanuman fly again.
    Let me be a little cheesy as I am on a emotional roller coaster writing this & say Jasawant Singh ji is the real king.
    He will be revered till eternity.

  4. राणी भटियाणी, सवाई सिंघजी सहित पीर पगारो से दुआ करेंगे कि बापजी जल्द ही ठीक होंगे और मारवाड़ को दर्शन देंगे। खम्मा हुकुम। बेहतरीन आर्टिकल के लिए बधाई।

  5. A son’s tribute to his father is especially evocative because it combines respect, regard, love and objectivity. And very little or nothing of mawkish sentimentality. In the case of Respected Shri Jaswant Singh and Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, the faulty design of our electoral and political process has stood out in all its starkness, inexcusable in its disrespect and neglect. And needless to mention that they aren’t the only ones so affected, though perhaps the most respected and most visibly recognised as Statesmen than any others of recent times. The issues are, that we think (as a system), that there must be ideology and that ideology must be couched, or not, in the politics of religion. That individual integrity stands for nothing when in fact it should stand for everything. That political expediency is above all other priorities. And that all it takes for an alignment is money.
    In the process we have continued to lose some of the Best and Brightest people we could have so easily had, to look up to and emulate and be the better inspired by.
    There is nothing inscribed in stone to suggest our model has to be what the United Kingdom has or the US. There is nothing to suggest either, that it is too late to change.
    No matter what we do, at the very least we must have the comfort and support of knowing that those who are almost unanimously admired as leaders, are seated together in a Council of Elders, to whose wisdom we may safely leave the most contentious and divisive matters, confident in the belief that their wisdom will be for the people as a Nation, in all her complex diversities, united never to be broken again.

  6. As one of the great admirers of Jaswant Singh ji, having met him in Srinagar in 1979 for the first time, I would wish Kandhaar had not happened. No justification like personal calls or charity or human values will work. Statecraft is a cruel art and that is why it is said that kings do not weep…..
    We paid heavily as a nation and the scar will remain there for all the times to come.
    His talks with Tolbott will be the most cherished memories for the nation……With and without the Sanjeevani, Hanuman is after all HANUMAN…..May god come to his rescue always……!

  7. Leaders like Vajpayee and human beings of the quality of Jaswant Singh are not born every day. Their ability to connect people, rather than divide, should continue to inspire. Our country can’t afford anything contrary to that

  8. Manvendra
    Thank you for this
    wonderful and moving piece on one of India’s greatest soldier- statesman.

  9. I have a lot of respect and regard for Shree Jaswant Singh, I was in IC 814 flight and remember clearly when he came and spoke to us. He had tears in his eyes. Very humble, like someone close, adorable and lovable, although I never met him before or after we came back from Kandhar but he remains close to my heart.

  10. Manvendra Ji, my father prof. Lakshmi Narayan Singh Ji (Gaya, Bihar)shared a very special bond with revered Jaswant Singh Ji; infact Jaswant Singh Ji treated him like a son.If you remember, revered Jaswant Singh Uncle & Mata Ji had performed “Pinda Dan” (the sacroscant ritual of Hinduism) at Our residence in Gaya (Bihar).As a youngster , I had the opportunity of seeing him at close quarters and was awestruck with the aura and decency he carried.He affectionately asked me ” what is your inclination beta” (we are family of Bihar Vibhuti Anugrah Narayan Singh who was Gandhi Ji’s close associate during Champaran Satyagraha and served as first Dy Chief Minister of Bihar , his son Satyendra Babu (Chhote Saheb), a veteran parliamentarian had been a close colleague of Jaswant Ji uncle ).
    I replied off course BJP uncle!
    Manvendra Ji, My father Prof. LN Singh himself suffered a spinal cord injury in 2012 that restricted his mobility, he was very concerned ( and remains so)about Jaswant Singh uncle’s health.He tried to reach out to him via phone but it wasn’t possible. My father and our family pray for the good health, long life and recovery of our Reverend Jaswant Singh Ji . Hope our prayers will be answered.I Convery my pranaam to uncle & Mata Ji.hope good news will come and we will be able to meet Manvendra Ji .

  11. Very touching facts written by the son about his father Sri Jashvanth singh ji.once I had a chance to meet him at Delhi The most unique personality in Athal ji cabinet.Actually Athal ji was more interested to allot Finonce ministery to Sri Jashavanth ji .A Very knowldgeble person with purity in heart &mind, A great man of wisdom.He nevertried
    to adopted any strategy for getting political millage against to the commited policies ,beliefes and the history I wish him a speady recovery and get well soon .

  12. Yes, of course he is a principled politician. But at the same time people should no cling to the positions. Everyone should retire and leave room for others. He should not have yearned for Barmer constituency

  13. Thanks for writing this. Poignant. Your father is indeed a unique figure of Indian politics. The Atal era was one in which other strong personalities were allowed to flourish, unlike the current dictatorship in BJP.

    • I love him more than any other leader in this world. He was a man. I wrote Imaginary letters to him and poems to eulogize him. I recorded audios for him. Is there a way in which we can again rejuvenate his kind of Politics again in Thar. My name is Ashutosh and I would love to work for his cause. I am a student of Philosophy in Hindu College and I am from Thar.

  14. He is indeed a statesman in the true sense of the word steeped in Maryada that gave him his unique aura; one unique USP. It defines him.

  15. Very touching and soul stirring. Mr Jaswant Singh always stood out as a thinking politician, and this column reveals other facts of his personality–integrity and loyalty. Unfortunately, these qualities have few takers in the contemporary political scene in India.

  16. Jaswant Singh ji ,great statesman
    of the thar desesrt,versatile personality.
    He became victim of Vasundhra Raje politics,Barmerian are regret to not to send him Loksabha from Barmer Constituency

  17. Sir
    Bajpai jee, Advani jee, and your father respected Jashwant Singh jee were politicians who maintained high morality, transparency , reliability and loyalty to Indian politics. Our mass population still don’t have maturity to evaluate them as political reformers. The future history will do justice to them. When they started their political career it was only darkness outside Congress party but they did politics for ideology not for glory, they fought to improve generation not to win election. We can only pray for them. We feel proud to have such politicians in or time. They will keep inspiring many of us.

  18. Manvendra ji, I was the head of the cabin crew team on IC-814. Dr. Jaswant Singh was on the A-329 relief flight on 31.12.1999. I had a 2 minutes chat with him during which I thanked him for coming to get us released. In his unique, soft-spoken way, he said “Why wouldn’t I have come?” He is a great man., much respected by everyone. God bless him. By the way, my wife wasn’t the one who called him – she was much praise for him when I got back.

    • Thank you very much. I know who the lady is, and her husband. Naming them is not important for the article as the anecdote is more about him, pressures on him, and how he coped. Embarrassing the crew family for this would be bad form.

  19. Respected Sir,
    I loved this article for the fact each and every word is nothing but truth and it showcases the sad state in which the majority party so called party with difference treats one of its own.
    Wishing for quick recovery and good health of Respected Thakur Shri Jaswant Singh Ji??.

    I hope people of Rajasthan will give a properly reply in 2018-19.

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