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Arun Jaitley no more: The editor's choice prime minister

A brilliant strategist and one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's most trusted colleagues, Jaitley was far more than an accomplished lawyer and many notches above his contemporaries in politics. The overcrowded grand stage of Delhi's intoxicating power elite has paused. It has lost one of its main protagonists, who passed away at AIIMS after prolonged illness on Saturday.

India TV News Desk India TV News Desk
New Delhi Updated on: August 24, 2019 15:23 IST
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Arun Jaitley no more: The editor's choice prime minister

A lawyer-turned-politician will be as staid an introduction for Arun Jaitley as a cricketer-turned-commentator for Sunil Gavaskar.

A brilliant strategist and one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's most trusted colleagues, Jaitley was far more than an accomplished lawyer and many notches above his contemporaries in politics. The overcrowded grand stage of Delhi's intoxicating power elite has paused. It has lost one of its main protagonists, who passed away at AIIMS after prolonged illness on Saturday. 

Informally called 'scholar minister' in political circles, he could be the man Friday of anyone at the helm. Suave, articulate and a super strategist, Arun Jaitley was the BJP's and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's chief trouble-shooter whose superb four-decade-long political career was cut short by health issues.

Armed with a razor sharp legal mind and ace political acumen, Jaitley slayed his opponents with intellectual finesse, yet maintained a dignity and class that earned him accolades from even those at the receiving end of his diatribe.

A consensus builder, he was regarded by some as Modi's original 'Chanakya', his chief trouble-shooter since 2002 when the Gujarat riots hung over the then chief minister like a dark cloud.

Not just Modi, he reportedly was also instrumental in bailing out Amit Shah during the time he was externed from Gujarat. Shah was often sighted in those days at Jaitley's Kailash Colony office and the two would share meals several times a week.

In the months preceding the formal announcement of Modi as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in 2014, Jaitley worked discreetly behind the scenes to bring around Rajnath Singh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Nitin Gadkari.

A lawyer by training, he was a minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and when Modi, who once described Jaitley as a "precious diamond", became Prime Minister, he was entrusted with the all-important job of Finance Minister -- overtaking the likes of Arun Shourie and Subramanian Swamy. He was even given additional charge of defence when Manohar Parrikar's health deteriorated.

Before blossoming into a full-fledged politician, Jaitley had established himself as a shining spark in legal circles. Despite becoming one of the top lawyers in the country, politics seemed his natural calling. 

His sprouting at the national scene became imminent after he made his mark as the Delhi University Student Union (DUSU) President in 1974 and got sucked into anti-Emergency movement. 

Those were the heady 70s when it was not surprising to see someone from a prestigious institution like Sri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) representing the student's body, unlike these days when campus politics has become a domain of bullies and thugs. 

The doors for his formal arrival on the national scene were opened in the early 1990s when the nation was at the cusp of social, political and economic transformation. The Mandal politics was peaking in the Hindi heartland, the dust from the demolition of Babri mosque in Ayodhya had turned into a thick dark cloud threatening the very foundations of the nation amidst which then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and his Finance Minister Manmohan Singh were scripting a new economic chapter. 

Jaitley slowly occupied a prime place in BJP's hierarchy in the shadow of stalwarts of the time Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. 

After BJP uprooted the Congress from Madhya Pradesh in 2003, Jaitley's abilities as a poll manager were widely hailed. He brought the development agenda at the forefront of political discourse by focussing the campaign on basic and long overlooked issues like 'Bijli', 'Sadak', 'Paani' (electricity, roads and water). 

He made smooth transition from the corridors of the Supreme Court to the chaotic workspace in Shastri Bhawan, first as junior minister in the Vajpayee government handling Information and Broadcasting Ministry and Disinvestment, and then as Cabinet Minister from July 2000 onwards driving Law, Justice and Company Affairs and Shipping Ministries. 

Jaitley, however, flourished more in Parliament than in the cabinet. After 2004 when the Vajpayee government was voted out in a surprise verdict, Jaitley became the voice of the opposition in the Upper House. 

Knowing well how to work the levers of power, he was Modi's go-to man in New Delhi since the late 1990s and over the years, graduated from being the legal brain, warding off court troubles in the aftermath of the 2002 riots, to being his chief swordsman, input provider and sounding board.

With his multi-faceted experience and acumen, Jaitley was the man for the Modi government in its first term from 2014 to 2019. Be it showcasing the government's achievements or defending controversial policies or launching a fierce attack on the Congress or framing the 2019 election as a contest between stability and chaos, few could have been more effective.

To the nation, he explained the global context of rising fuel prices, articulated a complex Rafale fighter jet deal in simple terms and steered through Parliament major economic legislations such as the nationwide Goods and Services Tax (GST) -- which had languished for nearly two decades.

He went on to become the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in June 2009 and led a series of virulent attacks against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, playing a key role in ensuring its eventual downfall. His acerbic speeches echoed in the high ceilings of Rajya Sabha as he had the government on the mat on series of corruption scandals and what he termed as 'policy paralysis'. 

He was also the man who explained the government's position when a bill to ban the Muslim instant divorce practice known as 'triple talaq' was brought.

His was no ordinary voice in the Parliament. When he stood up to speak, the government of the day would hear in rapt attention. In fact, such was his prowess that the UPA government would often fear if the legislations brought by it would pass Jaitley's scrutiny. 

It is ironical that the best performing MP failed the people's test in 2014. Jaitley contested Lok Sabha polls from Amritsar but lost to Captain Amarinder Singh. The defeat was a rare personal setback for him as even a Modi wave could not help his fortune.

The electoral debacle did not alter his standing in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Jaitley was seen as the most trusted confidante of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who learnt intricacies of New Delhi's power ecosystem from his long time friend.

Jaitley was given charge of two key ministries -- Finance and Defence. As he shuffled between the North and South block, he suffered another jolt and this time it was more personal. He got bogged down by health issues. Despite frequent visits to the hospital and subsequent long recuperating spells, Jaitley continued to be the most important minister in Modi 1.0 until his condition deteriorated further because of multiple ailments. 

Despite his medical condition, he would come to the rescue of the Modi government through his periodic commentaries on social media which became a repository of political judgment. 

Jaitley remained physically absent from the election campaign in 2019 but kept the pot of his attacks on the Congress boiling through social media and continued his tirade till the very last days. In one of his recent posts, he had blasted the Congress for its stand on the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

Despite his ideological doggedness, Jaitley earned respect of his opponents. His right wing mooring did not deter him from making friends from leaders of all political hues. The boundaries between political ideologies blurred in his family. 

A Delhi boy (he went to St. Xavier's school in the Civil Lines), he was also the son-in-law of Jammu, having married staunch Congressman and regional stalwart Girdhari Lal Dogra's daughter Sangeeta. Modi in 2015 attended his father-in-law's centenary ceremony, attended by scores of Congress leaders, among others. 

Jaitley's influence was far beyond the political domain. He dominated the legal circles even after becoming politician and was a key cricket administrator who had complete control over Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA). He was one of the key influencers in Delhi's bar, playing an intricate role its politics. He commanded same influence in complex cricketing affairs of the country. 

Apart from cricket and legal arena, Jaitley was a darling of the media. Contrary to his popular image of being a serious political analyst, Jaitley was a reservoir of Lutyen's gossip which often landed him on the wrong side of many of his party colleagues who suspected him to be the "source" of many media commentaries on internal affairs. He was at ease with editors and propreitors and held regular 'darbar' with a group of reporters. 

There was a joke at one time that if an editor's choice was sought on who should be the Prime Minister, Jaitley would have won hands down!

(With inputs from agencies)

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