Former Finance Minister and Arun Jaitley, who passed away on Saturday, was a man of facts and figures. From a much sought-after Supreme Court lawyer to a high-profile minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet, Jaitley had come a long way.
Jaitley had often said that politics only rewarded him with financial losses. When he became the opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha in 2009, his income apparently dropped steeply. As his political responsibilities increased, he had to put an end to his highly lucrative legal profession.
Jaitley used to point out that the losses he suffered from 2009 to 2014 were more than the gains made by some people from politics. He would also indirectly hint about the fee he had levied for his hours at the court and that this was more than what was earned by an experienced cardiologist in Delhi for his time at the operation theatre.
A man of figures, Jaitley kept a proper account of every penny earned and lost. So, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) stormed into power at Centre in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had no qualms over picking Jaitley as his Finance Minister.
Jaitley died at New Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) at 12.07pm on Saturday. The 66-year-old leader was undergoing treatment at the hospital, where he was admitted on August 9. He will be cremated at the Nigambodh Ghat on Sunday afternoon.
Jaitley, who forayed into politics through BJP's students' wing the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), was the students’ union president at the Delhi University in 1974. However, during the next 40 years, Jaitley did not dabble in electoral politics. His second electoral contest came at the age of 61, when he unsuccessfully fought for the Amritsar seat during the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.
Jaitley was born as the son of lawyer Maharaj Kishen Jaitley and Ratan Prabha Jaitley in 1952. He stepped into his father’s profession. He became the Solicitor General during the tenure of the VP Singh's government and excelled as a senior advocate in the Supreme Court in the 1990s and 2000s.
Jaitley had done the bulk of the paper work on the probe into the sensational Bofors' case that brought about the downfall of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Jaitley's elite legal clientele included several senior leaders cutting across party lines.
Sharad Yadav of the Loktantrik Janata Dal party, L K Advani of the BJP and the late Madhav Rao Scindia of the Congress were among Jaitley clients.
Entry into BJP
Jaitley's political dreams got a new lease of life when Advani kick-started his 'rath yatra' with calls of Jai Sriram, heralding the arrival of the Hindutva politics. He became BJP's national executive committee member in 1991.
Jaitley entered active politics in 1999 when he became the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting in the Vajpayee government. The very next year he was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat. He was also made a part of the Cabinet and given charge of the Ministry of Law and Company Affairs. Even when he was the Minister of Company Affairs, he appeared for PepsiCo and Coca-Cola in their cases in 2002. Jaitley was also made the party's general secretary that year and continued in that post until 2009.
He was part of an Indian delegation to the United Nations in 1998, where he was noted for his statements on the Declaration on Laws Relating to Drugs and Money Laundering. This further sealed his expertise in the financial field.
Jaitley also led the Indian delegation for the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference at Cancun in Mexico in 2003.
Love for cricket
Jaitley loved the game of cricket as much as he liked to indulge in the number games. His favourite players were from Delhi and they included Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. When he was part of the Vajpayee government, Jaitley had once fought against the interests of his Advani faction. That was for cricket. Advani, who was aware of Jaitley's obsession with the game, did not take him to task for it and Jaitley got away with it.
The Advani faction had voiced their protest against the India-Pak cricket series in 2004. However, Jaitley was the sole voice supporting the series. The Home Ministry's stance to postpone the series, citing security concerns, was in fact a ploy by the Advani faction. The latter were concerned that the media would side with the then cricket captain Saurav Ganguly and ignore Advani’s 'rath yatra'. That Vajpayee government was winning laurels for improving India-Pak relations also did not go well with the rival faction. Finally, when the Vajpayee faction won that round, Jaitley was the only person cheering in the Advani clique.
Three days after he who took part in the inauguration of Advani's rath yatra in Kanyakumari, Jaitley was in Karachi to watch an India-Pakistan ODI match. Jaitley, who was jailed for burning the effigy of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the Emergency period, cheered for the Men in Blue along with Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi, Indira's grandchildren. The photo of an ecstatic Jaitley, along with Rahul, Priyanka, and her husband Robert Vadra made it to the front pages of newspapers in both India and Pakistan. However, once away from the cricketing arena, Jaitley would become the shrewd politician he was known to be.
Jaitley also loved to dabble in the politics of cricket associations. He was the president of the Delhi Cricket Association from 1999 to 2003. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had accused Jaitley of misappropriation at the association, triggering a controversy. Jaitley then filed a defamation case against Kejriwal. The Delhi CM was forced to apologise to Jaitley, claiming that his accusation was based on unfounded information, and escaped legal repercussions.
Jaitley was also the vice-president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in 2009.
Ayodhya, Uniform Civil Code
Jaitley keenly followed up on controversial issues such as Ayodhya land dispute and the demand for Uniform Civil Code.
On Ayodhya, Jaitley was the brain behind the negotiating proposal put forth by the central government through Kanchi Shankaracharya. When Shankaracharya failed to make any breakthrough, the Centre approached the Supreme Court with the same set of suggestions.
The land around the disputed Babri Masjid site was acquired by the central government. The Centre later sought to return the land of the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust to its original owners by terming it as a non-disputed land. This move was based on the conclusion that if the 47 acres surrounding the 2.5-acre disputed land was given for temple construction, then the relevance of the land title case would be lost.
Several NDA allies were not in favour of the Uniform Civil Code. Jaitley's solution for this was to make it a long-term goal. Meanwhile, the aim was to reform individual laws and create an atmosphere conducive for the uniform code. For this, he took the help of reformers in religious communities and the courts. Jaitley was apparently behind certain petitions that sought for the equality of man and woman in marriage laws that were rooted in religion.
Jaitley had also strived to bring a consensus among allies over scrapping the Article 370 even during the Vajpayee government. Finally, Narendra Modi-led second NDA government implemented this and scrapped the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir in 2019.
Modi's favourite too
Jaitley had strongly backed Narendra Modi during the 2002 Gujarat riots and had given legal advice. The relation forged between the two only grew with time. Modi had ensured a Rajya Sabha seat for Jaitley from Gujarat. Even when Advani raised a banner of revolt in the party, Modi had the backing of Jaitley.
Jaitley had strongly backed the move to make Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Though Jaitley lost in the LS polls, he was given a ministerial post with cabinet rank. That too, the all-important finance portfolio.
Even during his second term at the Centre, Modi had wanted Jaitley to be among his Council of Ministers.
Modi had even personally visited Jaitley at his home and said that he would be made a minister without any portfolios. However, ill health prevented Jaitley from taking up the task.
Armed with his legal knowledge, Jaitley had always been able to defend the government over contentious issues such as triple talaq and Kashmir row. In Jaitley's demise, the ruling party has lost its best legal spokesperson.