NEW DELHI: Former Finance Minister and senior BJP leader, Arun Jaitley, who passed away after prolonged illness on Saturday, was not only one of the most trusted colleagues of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but also his navigator in the Lutyens Zone. In fact, he assisted Modi in assessing and evaluating the intrigue and conspiracies rampant in the national capital, while simultaneously counselling him on what steps to take while dealing with adversaries.
Jaitley was also instrumental in facilitating Modi in becoming the Chief Minister of Gujarat in October 2001, by convincing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy, Lal Krishna Advani, that this would be a step in the right direction. Again in April 2002, when Vajpayee wanted to invoke the Raj Dharma following the Gujarat riots, with Modi’s position endangered during the Goa Conclave of the BJP, Jaitley along with Arun Shourie and Pramod Mahajan appealed to Advani to allow him to continue in office. It was Advani who eventually prevailed over Vajpayee, thus providing relief to Modi.
Jaitley was unable to win any election to the Lok Sabha, but not many are aware that in 1977 he was the unanimous choice of senior Janata Party leaders to be their official nominee from the New Delhi seat. The erstwhile student leader, who supported the Nav Nirman Andolan and the J.P. movement, was at the time underage by eight months and therefore Vajpayee was finally given the ticket to contest against his relative Shashi Bhushan from the prime seat.
Jaitley was nominated to the National Executive of the Janata Party at the instance of Jai Prakash Narayan, a matter which did not go down too well with some senior leaders, who believed that they had been overlooked. Realising that many people had felt thwarted, Jaitley opted out of the Executive.
He made his mark as an eminent lawyer, and when V.P. Singh appointed him the Additional Solicitor General to argue in the Bofors case, some of his colleagues in the BJP were perturbed. Jaitley persuasively argued the case and lashed out at the Hindujas, who were accused in some quarters of being beneficiaries of the deal. On account of this, in 1993, he was deprived of a Rajya Sabha seat from Delhi. The BJP leadership cleared three names, including his, for the three seats, following the party’s victory under the leadership of Madan Lal Khurana. However, Vajpayee’s family was perturbed that a person who had been critical of family friends—the Hindujas—was chosen for the Upper House. Overnight, Jaitley was dropped, and his name was replaced by that of Om Prakash Kohli, who recently completed his tenure as the Governor of Gujarat.
Subsequently, Jaitley mended fences with Vajpayee and his family, becoming a pivotal figure in national politics. He was a politician who was groomed by Advani, and therefore, it was not surprising that in 2009, he was appointed the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, while Sushma Swaraj was nominated for the same position in the Lok Sabha. Jaitley’s rivalry with Sushma was deep-rooted since both were perceived to be future Prime Ministerial candidates of the party. However, in 2013, Jaitley realised that it would be best in the party’s interest to support Modi, and thus assumed the role of his chief adviser.
Modi was equally supportive of Jaitley, and at one stage furnished him simultaneously with two very vital portfolios of Finance and Defence. He was also consulted when the Cabinet was formed, though he was out of the loop when the demonetisation decision was finalised.
Jaitley was the most suitable candidate for the New Delhi seat in 2014, but instead decided to go to Amritsar where he lost to Captain Amarinder Singh. He opted out of the Cabinet in 2019 citing poor health. On 6 August, when Sushma Swaraj passed away, Jaitley was inconsolable. He, perhaps, too realised that his end was near as he was rushed to the AIIMS a few days later. Jaitley would be remembered as an efficient trouble shooter for his party, a loyal friend of Modi and a perceptive and astute politician, besides being a lucid and coherent lawyer.