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Jaswant Singh hopes to reclaim political relevance with VP bid

Last updated on: July 16, 2012 21:38 IST

Is vice-presidentship Jaswant Singh's swan song?

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Neerja Chowdhury in New Delhi

The numbers are loaded against him but the BJP's vice presidential candidate Jaswant Singh has his eyes set on battles beyond. Neerja Chowdhury provides an insight

Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Jaswant Singh, who is his party's choice for vice president, is one of the four BJP leaders the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh brass wanted out of the way: the other three being LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha.

They wanted these veterans to make way for younger leaders and 'mentor' them, without taking up a post themselves -- and to provide moral leadership to the party.

With the numbers clearly favouring United Progressive Alliance's vice presidential candidate Hamid Ansari, who is all set to remain at his 6, Maulana Azad Road residence in New Delhi for another term, the contest is likely to be only a token one.

That is why when Advani proposed Singh's name at the National Democratic Alliance meeting on Monday, there was no opposition from any quarter either in the party or the NDA.

Not even from the group close to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who had led the charge against Singh in August 2009 for writing his book Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence in MA Jinnah's praise. This had led to his expulsion from the party.

The then BJP president Rajnath Singh had initially invited Singh to the chintan baithak in Shimla, where the decision to expel him was taken, and then asked him not to come. He had come to be reinstated in the BJP in 2010, only after the active intervention of Advani.

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Image: Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Jaswant Singh


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Singh was ready to take the rap over Jinnah

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Though he knew the uproar in the party -- and in the RSS -- caused when his colleague Advani had praised Jinnah while in Pakistan, Singh had gone ahead in penning what were his views about the founder of Pakistan -- obviously ready to take the rap.

At the NDA meet, Advani had first invited Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav to be the NDA's candidate for VP, in the hope that if he agreed, it would not only re-establish the NDA's unity -- that is being billed as one reason why the NDA is fielding its candidate -- after the division in its ranks over the presidential poll, but also that parties such as the Trinamool Congress may support his candidature, whereas its chief Mamata Banerjee is not likely to stand alongside a BJP candidate.

But Yadav, no spring chicken in politics, declined, knowing that Ansari's election is a forgone conclusion, given that he enjoys the support of 444 members of Parliament, when he needs only 396 to win the election.

Knowing which way the wind is blowing. former West Bengal governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi also turned down Mamata's request to contestfor the vice presidential sweepstakes and it is possible that the NDA might have backed him, and the contest might have been closer than what it is going to be now.

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Image: Incumbent VP and UPA candidate Hamid Ansari


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Singh crystallised India's new proximity to the US

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For some weeks now, Singh has had his eyes set on contesting the vice presidential election. He would surely know that he was not likely to win but, like BJP-backed presidential candidate PA Sangma who is contesting the poll in the hope of reclaiming political relevance and emerging as the tallest leader in the north-east and landing a Rajya Sabha seat for himself in the process, the 74-year-old Singh may also hope that the contest would give his political career a leg-up at this stage.

It would help to bring him into the limelight once again and may assist him win the next Lok Sabha elections in 2014, or if it is held earlier.

Five times Rajya Sabha MP, four times member of the Lok Sabha -- currently from Darjeeling -- having held important portfolios such as external affairs and defence, and deputy chairmanship of the Planning Commission -- rather like Pranab Mukherjee -- what Singh brings to the contest is seniority and experience and therefore he would be a match for Ansari in every way, except in numbers.

While it was former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi who had first laid the foundations of a new relationship with the United States, it was really Singh who crystallised India's new proximity to the US in a unipolar world and his virtually unending rounds of talks with Strobe Talbott, an official in former US President Bill Clinton's administration, as he tried to engage the world power after it had imposed sanctions in the wake of Pokhran II.

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Image: Strobe Talbott, part of former US President Bill Clinton's administration, with whom Jaswant Singh conducted a series of deliberations that took Indo-US relations to a new high, after plummeting post-Pokhran II


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Singh could have emerged as NDA's PM candidate in 2009

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What he would take a long time to live down was to have accompanied freed terrorists to Kandahar, as Union minister, after the Indian Airlines hijacking drama in 1999.

Given his moderate, liberal, market-friendly image -- he was known for his proximity to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during the 1998-2004 NDA years, along with former National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra and the late Pramod Mahajan --many believe that had he played his cards well, he could have emerged as the NDA's prime ministerial candidate in 2009.

He tried to reach out to the RSS leadership for acceptability -- one of the anecdotes, though unconfirmed, which used to do the rounds about him was that he had gone into the RSS Sarsangchalak's room with his shoes on, something that is never done -- but he was not acceptable to them, given his views on the economy, polity and foreign policy.

Politicians are pragmatists par excellence. Just as Mukherjee decided in 2010 to set his eyes on Rashtapati Bhavan, knowing that he could not become prime minister, Singh may also be realistic enough to know that vice-presidentship is beyond him today, and he should take what comes his way, even if he will only be called NDA's 'also-ran' vice president.

Otherwise, he may have to defer to former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia in the forthcoming polls in Rajasthan. But the contest could be his swan song.


Image: UPA's presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee


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