An eloquent orator and a humane leader (1952-2019)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) still reeling from the untimely demise of former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, suffered another mortal blow when Arun Jaitley, former Finance Minister who had been battling a host of ailments succumbed on the 24 August 2019. Jaitley was born to a lawyer father on 26 December 1952, and had his early education in Delhi where he graduated with an Honours degree in Commerce. Later he secured his law degree from the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi in 1977. An avid debater during his college days, Jaitley took active part in the activities of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad. The young attorney later plunged headlong into Jayaprakash Narayan’s anti-corruption movement and served a nineteen month term in jail during the emergency. He then joined the Jana Sangh after his release from jail and thereafter became a full-fledged member of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Arun Jaitley’s career as a lawyer flourished after he began to appear in the Supreme Court, representing a clutch of clientsbased both in India and abroad. He also held the post of Additional Solicitor General in the government headed by Prime Minister V P Singh. But after he was designated as the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in 2009, he gave up his lucrative practice to concentrate wholly on his political career. Jaitley held several positions in the party and was appointed as a Minister for Information and Broadcasting (Independent charge) in the NDA ministry led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He was also entrusted with vital portfolios like Commerce & Industry and Law & Justice during the five-year tenure of the Vajpayee government.

The former Finance Minister shot into prominence as the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, during the second stint of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government under Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. Working in tandem with the late Sushma Swaraj who was the BJP’s leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Jaitley used his oratorical prowess and his legal acumen to advantage to put the treasury benches on the mat on several occasions. Jaitley who had not contested elections to the Lok Sabha early on in his career as he was always elected to the Rajya Sabha, tasted defeat in the only elections that he fought in 2009 where the present CM of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh defeated him by a margin of more than one lakh votes in the Amritsar constituency in Punjab.

The defeat however did not come in the way of his inclusion in the cabinet and being instrumental in the elevation of Narendra Modi to the PM’s post, Jaitley was saddled with the portfolio of Finance and Corporate Affairs. Later Modi also entrusted him with portfolios like Defence. Jaitley played a stellar role in the introduction of the Goods and Services Act ( GST), demonetisation, merger of the Railway budget with the Union budget, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, liberation of FDI norms etc. Consensus building across the political spectrum was his forte and his unstinted efforts paved the way for the states to jump on to the GST bandwagon. It was to his credit that despite measures like demonetisation not having the desired impact apart from drawing flak from the opposition parties and the lay public alike, he would defend it with all the force at his command on the floor of the house. Jaitley also was a keen votary of the passage of the Woman’s Reservation Act and the Lok Pal bill.

Jaitley excelled in parliamentary debates and his eloquence and fluency in both English and Hindi ensured that he was heard with rapt attention in both houses of Parliament. Suave, urbane and cultured, he built relationships cutting across party lines and was known to lend a helping hand to anyone in distress who approached him. Stories abound about his generosity towards his staff and his philanthropy that endeared him to one and all. A raconteur par excellence he was the life and soul in private and public gatherings, and had a very wide circle of friends not just from the legal or political fraternity but from the social milieu as well. A cricket aficionado, Jaitley also served the Delhi Cricket Association in several capacities with distinction. His untimely passing has robbed the country of a quintessential politician, a sharp legal mind, a patriot and warm human being, totally unselfish and caring for the welfare of all.

C.V. Aravind

The writer is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.