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Opinion | Arun Jaitley: My friend, guardian and guide

Normally my show 'Aaj Ki Baat' is not aired on weekends on India TV, but Saturday (August 24) was a special day. Today I want to share my sorrow and grief with my viewers, because my best friend Arun Jaitley is no more.

Rajat Sharma Rajat Sharma
New Delhi Updated on: August 25, 2019 20:18 IST
Aaj Ki Baat: August 24 episode

Aaj Ki Baat: August 24 episode

Normally my show 'Aaj Ki Baat' is not aired on weekends on India TV, but Saturday (August 24) was a special day. Today I want to share my sorrow and grief with my viewers, because my best friend Arun Jaitley is no more. 

Arun used to tell me that difficulties do come in life, crisis do occur and illness does takes place, but the show must go on. Heeding to his advice, I have come before my viewers to share my grief. 

Arun was a nice individual, a good leader, but personally I have lost my best friend who, being elder to me, was also my guardian. Today I really feel the sorrow of losing an elder in the family. He guided me in the best of times and the worst of times.

For me, Arun is not merely a name, he is the incarnate of all those values whom I hold dear in my life. Our relationship was not 10 to 15 years old, it spanned 45 years that strengthened with the march of time. Normally the relationship between a journalist and a politician more or less remains professional, but we knew each other when he was not a leader nor was I in journalism. 

I personally witnessed the gradual rise of Arun in politics, and on his part, he helped me in becoming a good journalist. Today, as I recollect those 45 years of friendship with him, I can remember each and every moment. The imagery of those moments appear as flashbacks at the back of my mind. 

For the last 15 days, whenever I used to leave my office after Aaj Ki Baat show, I used to reach AIIMS hoping to hear some good news. Even the doctors were optimistic when Jaitley was in a stable condition. On Saturday noon, when I got the terrible news, I was crestfallen. I felt as if some thing snapped inside me and I had lost every thing. I could never acknowledge that Arun would ever lose a battle, but has any body won against God's will? 

Arun used to speak a lot, whenever I went to meet him. Occasionally, he used to tell me, Panditji, at least say something.  Today when I saw him lying in deep slumber in AIIMS, my inner voice cried out, Arun, at least say something, but my friend had gone to sleep, for eternity. Has any body woken up from eternal sleep?

Our first meeting 

I first met Arun Jaitley in 1973 at Shriram College of Commerce. I hailed from a poor family of 10 members living in a single room house in Old Delhi. I had gone to pay my admission fees at the counter, and the clerk was annoyed because I had taken currencies of small denominations that our family had saved over the years. The clerk became angry when he found that I was three rupees short. 

At that time, Arun was a student leader of ABVP. He put a hand over my shoulder, asked my name,  and asked me how much money I needed. When I mumbled the amount, he took out a five rupee note, and the admission fee was paid. The hand of friendship that Jaitley had extended to me in 1973 continued over the years till Saturday noon, when Fate snapped off our friendship. 

Our days in DU 

Jaitley rose from being an ordinary ABVP worker to the exalted position of Minister of Finance, Defence, and Leader of Opposition but there was never a single stain of corruption on him in his long political career. Moral probity and honesty were the hallmarks of his illustrious political life. It is difficult to find such honest men in public life. I had been his co-traveller in his early political life. 

By 1973, Jaitley had already made his mark in student politics. He was then studying B.Com. Those were the days when Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan launched his nationwide anti-corruption movement, and he appointed Jaitley as the national convenor of Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti. The next year, in 1974, Jaitley contested and won the post of president of Delhi University Students Union.

As an ABVP worker, I used to work for Jaitley's poll campaign. Since I could not drive, I used to ride on the pillion of Vijay Goel's scooter to stick posters throughout the city and then we used to sit together for a late night dinner. Those were our days in student politics. I recently saw an old photograph of 1974 in which Jaitley was treating me and other ABVP workers to ice cream. 

Arun loved street food, and he considered himself a gourmet expert. He knew where to get the best kebab, the best rogan josh or the best chicken wings in town. In short, he was a foodie and he loved entertaining friends and acquaintances with delectable cuisines. A few months ago, I had gone for a working lunch with Arun at his office, and he suddenly asked me, Panditji, do you know where one can get the best rogan josh in town? 

I replied, "Well, I am a vegetarian, how do I know?"

Arun said, "The best at Moti Mahal, and better than the best, at your own home"

Emergency days 

Arun Jaitley was very good in oratory. He used to blend facts with logic to create an impact in the minds of his audience. As DUSU president, he always used to smile and never expressed his anger. 

On June 25, 1975 at midnight the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi got Emergency proclaimed in India and almost all the top opposition leaders were arrested. The Delhi Police went to Jaitley's house to arrest him. 

When Arun's dad, an eminent lawyer, kept the police busy in arguments, Arun slipped out from the back door. The next morning, he led a procession inside Delhi University campus, shouted anti-government slogans, stood on a table inside the DU canteen and in a speech denounced dictatorship. Police picked him up immediately. 

Arun spent several months in Ambala jail, and from there he was later shifted to Tihar jail. In all, he spent the entire 19 months of Emergency in jail. 

By that time, I and other ABVP workers had also been arrested and lodged in Tihar jail. Our wards were different. Jaitley was lodged with eminent leaders and senior journalists, who later became his lifelong friends. It was in jail that I realized the extent of Arun's courage and political will. 

Janata Party days 

The Janata Party swept the Lok Sabha polls in 1977. Arun could not contest because he was yet to attain the minimum age of 25 years for contesting parliamentary elections. 

I cannot forget the day when the Janata Party chief Chandrashekhar formed the national executive that consisted of political titans like Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, L. K. Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Nanaji Deshmukh, and the name of Arun Jaitley, who was yet to become 25 figured in the list. Later, Jaitley had to resign after RSS leaders instructed him to come out of the national executive. Arun never hankered for any plum posts.

In 1977, Arun had completed his graduation and had joined LLB course. He wanted me to become more active in student politics. I contested for DUSU secretary post that year and won. 

The new office bearers sought Jaitley's advice on whom to invite for the new DUSU inauguration ceremony. He suggested that the Prime Minister Morarji Desai should be invited. Desai attended the function which was presided over by Arun Jaitley. Since then, I had always wanted Arun to preside whichever event I used to organize. 

As a lawyer-cum-politician

During the Seventies, Arun started training with his lawyer dad after completing LLB course. He was also functioning as president of Delhi ABVP and as the national ABVP secretary. 

When the BJP was formed in 1980, Jaitley was appointed secretary of Delhi BJP. Since then he had been doing organisational work for the party for 22 years at a stretch, drafting resolutions, preparing strategies and briefing the media. He never sought tickets to contest Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha elections. His legal practice flourished during this time, as Arun revelled in multi-tasking.

Arun first became an advocate in Delhi High Court and also practised in Supreme Court. He was appointed Additional Solicitor General at the age of 37 during Prime Minister V P Singh's tenure.  He set the record of becoming the youngest Additional Solicitor General. 

Atal Bihari Vajpayee formed his first government at the Centre for 13 days, then for 13 months and later for five years. Vajpayee used to trust Arun Jaitley, who became a Union Minister at the age of 47 in 1999. He was given portfolio of Information & Broadcasting, and later Law and Company Affairs. Vajpayee once told me that it was difficult to run the government without Arun Jaitley, but the latter was insisting on doing party work. Arun left the government in 2003 to do party work, but had to rejoin later. 

Multi-tasking 

Arun was good at multi-tasking. He was equally proficient in courtrooms and politics, he was also a cricket administrator, he loved watching films and listening to old gems by Sahir Ludhianvi and Shakeel Badayuni. He used to discuss odd things like food, cricket and other gossips with clients, while poring over legal files, and after he finished examining the files, he used to fire questions on minute details, which only an avid reader could grasp.

For Arun, it was not law, but politics which he liked best. For him, politics was a passion. He stopped doing legal practice, when he was appointed Leader of Opposition. He returned his legal licence to devote his time to politics.

Personal friendship

During the 45 years that we were friends, Arun always stood by me through thick and thin. It was due to Arun that I came closer to the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his family. 

Arun Jaitley sat in the dock of my show 'Aap Ki Adalat' five times. Though we were close personal friends, he never expected me to be soft towards him while grilling. 

I remember once when I grilled Arun hard soon after demonetization, I was later told by our common friends that I was unduly harsh towards him. I met Arun and asked him whether he was unhappy. Arun told me that I was only doing my job as a journalist and he was doing his, and he said, this grilling had added more value to the show. 

Similarly, after GST was implemented, Arun came as a guest my show and explained how much essential it was for India to switch over to a digitalized economy in order to become an economic superpower.

The last interview was soon after the IAF air strike on Balakot in Pakistan. The Opposition, particularly Congress leader Kapil Sibal, was seeking proof of bodies of terrorists killed in the strike. When I posed this question, Arun was at his acerbic best. He said, even a superpower like the United States was yet to give details about the Navy SEAL commando action that led to the killing of dreaded Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his mortal remains were thrown at sea. 

My last conversation

 My last conversation with Arun was when he was getting ready to be taken to AIIMS. My friend appeared to be in deep thoughts. He told me, Pandit ji, I have got every thing that I sought from life. I wanted to become a student leader, I reached the top, I wanted to make my mark in legal practice, I reached the top, I entered politics, became the Leader of Opposition and Union Minister, my children are now well settled, you are also in a good position now, I do not have any more wish to fulfill. If I come through (this phase of treatment), I would like to quit politics, and only read books and write books. 

Today as I sat near my friend's body, I had a simple complaint to make to God: Why were you in such a hurry to take away an honest person whose only remaining wish was to write books in peace?

Watch full episode here:

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