Arun Jaitley (File Photo)
As a business journalist, I spent bulk of my career in Mumbai. I moved to Delhi 12 years back, and within a year started a Hindi business newspaper. I came to know Delhi through the newspaper. Politicians, wannabe politicians, leaders, power brokers, information brokers, powerful people and most importantly, people claiming to be powerful. Lutyens coterie, IIC cheerleaders, Khan Market cabal, Bengali market intellectuals, Delhi is full of groups, gangs and packs. They all knew Arun Jaitley, most very closely.
Meeting him was mandatory for any new journalist in town. His home office was the den for such meetings. Black legal books with golden titles peeped out of cabinets; large green leather armchairs and an office dark enough to encourage confidential conversations.
Jaitley welcomed newcomers and did not shy away from discussing anomalies. He also had the rare capability, very useful for lawyers, to focus on one single issue in a complex matter. He would reduce any complexity to a single issue, and break that down argument by argument. His memory enabled him to add facts with each argument. This made him a great conversationalist and a great debator in the Parliament on both sides of the aisle.
As a Finance Minister, he never claimed mastery over economics or fiscal management. He knew the bureaucrats, understood their capabilities, could build a consensus and momentum around a decision. The sign of a leader. His belief in their capability could also blindside him sometimes.
Over the years, from being a Rajya Sabha member in the opposition seat to holding the most important portfolios like defence, law and finance, he continued to evolve. The reason for his evolution was that he had built up a network of people who could talk to him. Long conversation got replaced with shorter and shorter messages as his responsibilities increased and health deteriorated. Political leaders in power get insulated from the real world very fast if they are not careful; Arun Jaitley remained involved and engaged. There are numerous stories about him going out of his way to help journalists, bureaucrats, political peers and staff.
BJP benefited from his network immensely. Especially while introducing GST, in convincing state finance ministers, one by one. GST is the single most important financial reform of the BJP government. It is easy to find flaws in it, but it is difficult to envisage the level of consensus involved in building it. While most people believe that political leaders have an imprimatur on reform, any change is a process which begins by convincing the bureaucracy at several levels. To move from status quo to an actual reform or change in behaviour.
The first term of the BJP government was difficult as initially the bureaucracy created many missteps. It was Arun Jaitley and his view of key bureaucrats that would prevent the government or minister from tripping or getting caught in systemic snafus. Bureaucrats love it when political leader trip as than they become careful and dependent on them. A scared politician finds many friends and advisors in mostly ex and current bureaucrats. Raisina Hill is inundated with advice, Prime Minister Modi needed Jaitley’s acumen, intelligence and knowledge to filter it.
Now, that the economy is faltering and tottering on the edge of losing confidence, the country needed Jaitley more than ever; his ability to project the positive, rebuild the confidence, bridge the trust deficit and more.
The government has lost its strongest proponent, polity has lost a consensus leader and a friend, and the country has lost a believer.
कर्म है, रहे, न रहे
जीवन है, रहे, न रहे
यादे है, रहे, रहे
(K Yatish Rajawat is a senior journalist)