Sixth Course, Session 4: Jaswant Singh

I’m left smiling at the irony that in India I’d almost never be in the same room as the leader of the BJP but here I get to sit across the table from him and eat lunch.

Jaswant Singh was here last month for a few brief weeks as a Fellow of something or the other – I forget what. During this time, a group of us (students, big-time professors and other assorted big-wig India watchers) had the opportunity to eat lunch with him. Unfortunately, everything that was said at that lunch is ‘off the record’ so I can’t actually quote him. But, like most who have seen him speak, I was impressed by his breadth of scholarship, perspective and honesty. There is a little of the practised orator about him: he begins sentences softly, appearing to be deep in thought and slowly gathering his argument together but as he gets to the middle of his response, his voice picks up steam and he ends by looking straight at the person he is directing his answer to and finishing with a resounding take-that firmness.

He was especially candid about US Foreign Policy (in particular regarding Afghanistan, Iraq and de-nuclearization), once responding to a probing question asked by a retired General with what can only be described as a smackdown – even those of us who disagreed with the General felt sorry for him after that. Singh was more diplomatic about India but not overtly so, and of course scathing about the current government.

Frustrated though I am not to be able to write about all the interesting things he actually said, I feel I can end with this: the man has the bushiest eyebrows ever. I couldn’t take my eyes off them in the beginning. He caught my gaze and smiled avuncularly at me as if to say “Yes my son, I have the greatest eyebrows in the world. You can stop staring now.”

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