Former Finance Minister Arun Maharaj Kishen Jaitley (File Photo)
New Delhi: Former Finance Minister Arun Maharaj Kishen Jaitley, the biggest sounding board of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has walked into heaven.
Jaitley, 66, is survived by his wife, daughter and son.
A lawyer by profession, Jaitley remained a prominent face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its earlier avatar the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) since his days as a student leader of the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU). He shot to fame when he courted arrest on the university campus to protest against the imposition of Emergency. He remained behind bars for 19 months as fundamental rights of citizens had been suspended.
A perennial networker, Jaitley was on friendly terms with leaders across parties — a talent that made him indispensable to Modi through the turbulent political times post the Godhra violence in 2002. He was the go-to man for both the ruling party and the opposition leaders who were uncomfortable with the rough and ready ways of Modi and his other confidants.
Jaitley’s talent as a lawyer was first tapped by VP Singh who was Prime Minister in 1989-90. He was appointed as the additional solicitor general to oversee the Bofors probe with the Swiss government. Though the investigation did not make much headway, the emergence of Jaitley as a prominent legal luminary was ensured.
Recognising his worth, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee inducted him into his Cabinet as the minister for information and broadcasting in 1999. He later handled portfolios of law and justice and disinvestment ministries in the Vajpayee government.
The surprise defeat of BJP in 2004 general elections saw a generational change with Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan and Sushma Swaraj emerging as the prominent faces of the party. Modi was still an untested player in the national horizon as he was battling charges of mishandling the Godhra riots. Jaitley’s decision to back Modi through turbulent times made him indispensable to the Prime Minister, who made him the finance and defence minister in the 2014 government. The decision to give plum posts to Jaitley in spite of his defeat from Amritsar Lok Sabha seat showed the nature of trust Modi had in Jaitley. Even when Manohar Parikkar was made the defence minister, Jaitley was given additional charge of the information and broadcasting portfolio.
Jaitley was considered the safest face of the party by the Opposition. However, over the years, Jaitley - in private conversations - expressed his unhappiness at the way the Opposition was setting its agenda against the ruling BJP-led NDA government. In his widely-circulated blog, Jaitley once wrote: “If the Opposition is giving vague assurances of an alternative, the same is either too scary or absolutely frightening. The Opposition could not forge an alliance in several key States. They do not call a meeting of different Opposition parties for the obvious fear that many will not attend the meeting. The common thread which brings them together is negativism – to get rid of one person. They have no agreement on either a leader or programme. They are a completely fractured Opposition which could not come together before or during the election. Who will believe their assurance that they can come together after the election? They are institution wreckers. They do not allow Parliament to function. They attack and intimidate Judges.”
Jaitley’s interests in cricket were well known. He closely worked with the top brass of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and helped the board become the world’s richest with some super duper deals with television channels and some of India’s top brands. His interests in hockey propelled the national game to greater heights, including the start of a professional hockey league drawing top players from across the world.
He was the apple of eye for corporate India with CEOs and promoters often lined outside his home and office for advice. Jaitley sat over and resolved some of the most contentious issues plaguing corporate India, especially feuds over ancestral wealth.
Jaitley’s health, however, began to fail him. Diabetic for over four decades, he had to undergo kidney transplant. However, soon other complaints and soft skin cancer began to trouble him, he had to go to US for treatment. Realising his health was declining, Jaitley opted out of the Modi 2.0 government.
His untimely death will leave a vacuum in Modi team of advisors that may be difficult to fill as Modi is unable to find a political supporter whom he could trust completely.