I knew Arun Jaitley longer than any other journalist from the time he was residing at Model Town while studying in St Xavier’s School. It is another matter that many journalists knew him much better than I did, thereby receiving his patronage and affection over a prolonged period of time. He was one of the most well-connected politicians so far as the media goes, and not only did he know correspondents closely, but also had an authoritative influence on even the proprietors of channels and newspapers. It was not without reason that in lighter vein, a group of journalists were referred in the Central Hall of Parliament as well as outside, as “APCs” (Arun Press Corps) due to their over-reliance on the briefing they received from the erudite lawyer cum political leader.
Arun was senior to me and during our school days I would often run into him at the residence of his classmate, Ashok Malviya, whose house was next to the Lake. I would often watch with amusement as he climbed the grills of the towering gate to open the latch so as to gain entry. His father, like him was a lawyer and he had a close association with some top local Congress leaders.
After completing his schooling, he joined the Shri Ram College of Commerce, where he befriended several prominent activists, notably Sri Ram Khanna, who became his initial mentor. Ideologically speaking, Arun was testing various doctrines and would occasionally attend meetings of the Thursday Club where a number of Left oriented leaders would hold their session. He became associated with the ABVP due to Khanna, and subsequently Raj Kumar Bhatia, Ashok Tandon and M.M. Sharma, besides Prabhu Chawla. It was not a surprise that he was elected the College president and subsequently in the first direct election to the Delhi University Students’ Union became the vice president under Alok Kumar, who now heads the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Arun’s political journey had commenced and he became immensely popular amongst students on account of his oratory skills and the ability to readily grasp issues. However, in 1974, the ABVP was hesitant in nominating him for the DUSU presidentship and the organisation’s first choice was Vijay Bhatia. Arun was approached in the Law Faculty by two prominent Congress leaders, Bahadur Singh and Kulbir Singh, who asked him to contest the polls as their nominee. Senior ABVP functionaries present on the campus saw this happening and immediately declared Arun to be the ABVP candidate for presidentship. On 12 August 1974, he was elected to the post, defeating Brij Mohan Bhama of the NSUI. The election witnessed high drama as Bhama and the NSUI chief, Rangarajan Kumaramanglam were admitted to Willingdon Hospital, claiming that they had been stabbed by ABVP workers.
Arun finally had arrived and now was thick in national politics, first by supporting the Nav Nirman Andolan of Gujarat and later the J.P. Movement. On the first day of Emergency on 26 June 1975, he was arrested from outside the University Coffee House, spending the next 18 months in jail, having for company top Opposition stalwarts. In late January 1977, Jaitley walked into the Law Faculty, following his release, with not too many people wanting to greet him. I took him along with me to Miranda House, where I was to preside over a debate, and he forever remembered this gesture. As recently as two years back, he had made mention of this.
Arun was a friend of friends, and maintained his long standing relationships with his contemporaries and juniors from the university. He would go out of his way to help them, and would occasionally invite them to his home or to the India International Centre for a candid exchange of views. Soon after he was appointed the Finance Minister, Arun hosted a lunch at his Krishna Menon Marg home for all his university friends, cutting across party lines. Over the meal, many jokes were exchanged and he shared some of his cherished memories with veteran student leaders—Raj Kumar Jain, Bhagwan Singh, Ajit Singh Chadha and Subhash Chopra amongst many others. When another contemporary, Deepak Malhotra, passed away, Arun informed me that he would not only attend his prayer meeting but also say a few words as a tribute to him. Such was his concern and affection for his old friends.
Arun was extremely fond of fine cuisine and his favourite restaurants in Connaught Place included Embassy—whose owner was his classmate in school—and the Kwality eatery. He would never forget to acknowledge the role of some of his seniors such as Mujib and Raj Kumar Jain in shaping his initial political career. He remained beholden to Dr A.S. Kukla, the dean of students’ welfare, who was his biggest benefactor.
Arun was an eminent lawyer, who shared a close bond with Raian Karanjawala and the two began their practice virtually around the same time. He had a special relationship with TV icon, Rajat Sharma, journalists Virendra Kapoor, Swapan Das Gupta and Chandan Mitra. He was a firm believer in astrology and would follow the observations of those who were well-conversant with the science. He had bitter enemies as well, yet knew how to deal with them with ease and élan. During his visit to the Hindustan Times in 2013, I had told him that he should contest from New Delhi, which was a tailor-made seat for him; instead he chose Amritsar and lost to Captain Amarinder Singh. Rest in Peace, my dear friend. Between us.