In Arun Jaitley’s passing, Mother India lost one of her most distinguished sons. His loss will be deeply felt by all those whose lives he touched, including me.
Arunji was in my life a significant presence and a beacon for more than two decades. I got to know him, first, when I was an entrepreneur and then as an MP.
He was a unique politician and no doubt many stories of his career will be shared by others. But there were two clear hallmarks in his politics — that set him apart from most others. His politics of integrity and his intellect. More than anything else, he was defined by this.
In 1975, when the Emergency was imposed across the country by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, Arun Jaitley was among the first of many leaders to be arrested. He remained in jail for 19 months, but decided to concentrate on his legal career after being released.
It was in 1999 that he became minister for the first time. When Atal Behari Vajpayee returned to power at the centre, Jaitley was given the ministry of information and broadcasting. Here too, it was his intellect and hard work that soon saw him become a Cabinet minister with portfolios of law and justice, and disinvestment. He has also handled the ministry of commerce and industries.
While I knew him casually before, it was during Mr Vajpayee’s government that I came in close contact with him as a telecom entrepreneur and sometimes was in conflict with him and the government. I was young and passionately determined to fight for what I believed was right. He disagreed with me many times but never discouraged me from challenging what I believed was wrong. He even started referring to me as Telecom Jihadi (fighter). I remember fondly the many dinners at Moti Mahal that we had even when he disapproved of my legal fight against the government.
In 2006, he, as Parliamentary board member of the BJP supported my candidature to the Rajya Sabha. Soon after in 2008, he was one of the few leaders who supported my questioning of the then evolving 2G scam — joking on many occasions that “while you can take telecom out of Rajeev, you couldn’t take the fighter out of him”; supporting and encouraging my work even when we disagreed.
As the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, he shone. It was inspiring to see him flay the sometimes inept and, to my mind, always crooked Manmohan Singh UPA government.
Always a master of facts and information, when he rose to speak, the House listened with rapt attention. I recall particularly his performance in 2012, as the Coalgate scam broke. When news came that the ruling UPA’s allocation of coal blocks may have cost the public exchequer `2 lakh crores, he stormed out of the Parliament’s monsoon session. Jaitley aggressively spoke out against what he called “the biggest scam in independent India”. Describing the allocation process as “arbitrary,” “discretionary,” and “corrupt”, he called it a “textbook case of crony capitalism”.
Jaitley was one of the most articulate leaders of the BJP. Critiquing the lack of power and decisiveness in the PMO during the UPA era, he crafted a phrase that was at the heart of the Congress’ disconnect, the first one to stress that the Prime Minister should also be the natural leader of the party by saying “while Sonia Gandhi had all the power, she had no responsibility and (then) PM Manmohan Singh had all the responsibility but no authority”.
For me, it was as my leader in the Rajya Sabha that I will miss him the most. The easily accessible leader with whom all issues could be discussed and the many, many crowded lunches in his chamber at the end of a Parliament session will be remembered and never forgotten. In fact, my first pocket copy of the Constitution that I carry to Parliament every day was gifted by him.
As finance minister in PM Modi’s first term, he was instrumental in making GST a reality and for leading tough reform measures like demonetisation. He nominated me to its parliamentary select committee and I remember his resolute belief in the GST reform.
But it was as a key electoral strategist, having steered BJP’s campaign successfully in states such as Gujarat (2002 and 2007), Madhya Pradesh (2003), Bihar (2005), Punjab (2007 and 2012) and the general elections of 2014 and 2019 that he came into his own.
My first deep involvement in Karnataka politics was in the 2004 elections when he was in-charge. Jaitley craftily opened two fronts for the seemingly well-entrenched S.M. Krishna government — exposing its failures and building valuable thought leadership for our party. He was instrumental in successfully installing the first ever BJP government in Karnataka and South India in 2008 — one of his most remarkable contributions to the party, in giving the party its first southern base.
More than anything, he was a communicator. He was one of the first to embrace social media and set the tone for intellectual conversations on it for several years. In 2019 slections I worked under his leadership in the publicity and communication committee. He was frailer than he used to be, but his determination and zeal were unflagging. His thoughts and decisions remained clear, coherent and sharp. He made many late night calls on this and chaired many meetings despite his health. Those last few interactions will remain etched in my memory forever.
In his last blog after the Parliament revoked Article 370, he said PM Modi and home minister Amit Shah had achieved the impossible — that the history of the past seven decades shows that the journey of this separate status has been towards separatism. Who else but Arun Jaitley could have summed it up better?
Arunji’s loss fills me and many like me with a deep sadness. The quadruple blow of losing leaders like Manohar Parikkar, Ananth Kumar, Sushma Swaraj and now Arun ji is not easy for most of us.
Arun ji walked this earth like a giant and touched many lives including mine. I am fortunate to have known him and worked with him. It was a privilege and honour, Arunji. You will be missed but never ever forgotten.
Jai Hind and farewell Sir.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar is a Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka