New Delhi: After Sushma Swaraj’s demise on August 7, Arun Jaitley was the last liberal standing in Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s Bharatiya Janata Party. This morning, he too is gone.
After M. Venkaiah Naidu became India’s Vice President and Sushma Swaraj’s death, Jaitley was the only BJP leader who could walk up to any Opposition leader despite fiercely attacking them in the Parliament.
Even when Jaitley critiqued Communist Party of India-Marxist General Secretary Sitaram Yechury for blocking several government bills in the Rajya Sabha in the Modi 1.0 government, one could find them share a hearty laugh soon after in the Central Hall.
Jaitley took a sharp personal dig calling it ‘tyranny of the unelected’. But it didn’t come in way of the bond the two shared in personal life.
Jaitley was often joked on by some of his cabinet colleagues as more friendly with the Opposition than with the treasury bench. Very few would know, for the last one year or so, ever since he was keeping unwell, every time West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited Delhi, she paid a visit to Jaitley to enquire about his health. Animosity between BJP and Trinamool Congress over not allowing BJP’s rath yatra never became an issue in the bond the two leaders shared.
He graduated in Commerce from the prestigious Shri Ram College of Commerce in 1973 and completed his degree in Law from the Delhi University in 1977. It is then that he made his plunge into politics through ABVP. During the Emergency, he spent 19 months in jail, something which he referred to in many of his speeches.
But even in those days, the ease with which he could mingle with whom he was fighting is a matter of legend. Ask journalist Shahid Siddiqui and he will tell you, “He was with ABVP and I was with SFI. Our views were sharply divided. But we would sit, talk and have fun together”.
Siddqui says, “His death is not as big a loss for his party as it is for the Opposition. It will not find another leader like him now in the BJP whom they can approach.”
During the V.P. Singh government, Jaitley was appointed the Additional Solicitor General of India. His rise in politics started as the NDA government came to power. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha during the turn of the century.
He was a leader who came to prominence during the Vajpayee era. But the smoothness with which he made a transition after May 2014 when NaMo landslide shook politics of India was unparallel.
After losing from Amritsar in 2014, he had refused to take any cabinet portfolio. But BJP sources say, Modi had met and told Jaitley that joining the cabinet is not an option for him. Such was the significance of Jaitley which primarily stems from the fact he could easily reach out to the Opposition before tabling crucial bills in Parliament.
As Finance Minister, passing and implementing Goods and Services Tax goes to his credit. But owing to deteriorating health, he requested Modi to allow him to not take up any cabinet portfolio when Modi came back to power with a bigger mandate.
Ability to make friends alone didn’t make Jaitley the last liberal of BJP. In a party that shuns anything that is construed to be elitist, Arun Jaitley was a regular to one of the most elite morning walk arenas of the national capital – the Lodi Garden.
Ask Veerappa Moily and he will confirm, “He was a regular there. When I was a minister, or even later, we would often meet at the jogging tracks of Lodi Garden.”
In the BJP of today that eats, breathes and sleeps politics, Jaitley was a difference who would take a detour to have ‘dahi bhalla’ from his favourite place or enquire about the canteen food from reporters when he first visited the newly-built BJP office at Deen Dayal Uadhaya Marg before taking a tour of the multi-storey building.
It’s a cliched term that is often used in politics whenever anyone dies that a void is being created that cannot be fulfilled. With Jaitley gone, it makes complete sense. The last liberal in BJP who never shied away from sporting expensive wrist watches to having cordial relationship with leaders whom his party has made a complete villain of is gone.