Arun Jaitley, ex-Finance Minister and BJP veteran, passes away at AIIMS Delhi

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]RIME Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Go-To-Man’ and former Finance Minister Arun Jaitely died on Saturday in New Delhi. He was 66.

Jaitley breathed his last in All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS)– an institute that was founded by the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, whom Jaitley slammed all through his political career.

Jaitely had been suffering from various ailments for the past few years. In a statement, AIIMS, where he was admitted on August 9, said he was being treated by a multidisciplinary team of senior doctors.

A resident of ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’, Jaitley largely led a life full of contradictions, which don’t qualify the definition of a right-wing politician. Known as BJP’s trouble-shooter-in-chief in political circles and famous as the “chief of bureau” among journalists, he was arguably one of the last liberals in right-wing camp. The suave orator had many friends even in the rival camps.

Former president of the students union in Delhi University, Jaitley started his political journey as a member of the RSS’ student wing – ABVP in 70s, he was never a prisoner of his own ideology.

He kept the politics of Gau-Gobar-Gaumutra–which dominates political narrative today—at an arm’s length. Though he was against so-called Muslim appeasement but never spoke against Muslims unlike many in his party. He wanted Ram Mandir in Ayodhya but did not take part in demolition drive. Being a seasoned lawyer, perhaps, he knew where to draw a line.

Jaitley, according to political observers, crafted for himself an image of a liberal Hindu politician—who practiced Hindutva politics but never displayed its anarchic or regressive side.  “He was such a gem…in managing contradictions,” remarked an observer. “He was a liberal among hardcore rightists and an ardent believer of Hindutva politics among liberals and left-wingers. He balanced his contradictions with charm and eloquence.”

“His political interior was of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Despite having a saffron outlook, he respected the Constitution,” he added.

Known as a legal hawk with sharp political punches, Jaitley rose to the national politics in the late 90s, when he was appointed as the BJP’s spokesperson and cabinet minister by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

He was appointed State for Information and Broadcasting (Independent Charge) in Vajpayee Government in 1999. Then, he took over the additional charge of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Company Affairs in July 2000 following the resignation of Ram Jethmalani as the Union Cabinet Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs.

He was selected (by Advani) as the leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha in 2009 when BJP was not in the power.

As a Finance Minister in NDA-II government, Jaitley would be remembered for economic adventurism such as demonetization and GST.

Many believe Jaitley played a key role in saving Narendra Modi from the legal trap after the 2002 Gujarat riots. His appointment as the Finance Minister is seen as a quid pro gesture.

His rise to the national politics coincided with the growth of TV news industry in India. With the help of journalist friends like India TV founder Rajat Sharma and former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, Jaitley fostered a whole generation of journalists.

Late legendary journalist Kuldeep Nair, a bitter Modi critic, had campaigned for Jaitley during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. When an editor of a prestigious English publication confronted Nair, he quipped, “You know how Jaitley is. He would call me every day till I agreed, despite knowing that I am very critical of Modi and his politics”.

Analysts believe Jaitley made himself inevitable for the saffron party by working as a bridge between the ruling class of the country and the aspiring party.

Jaitley as a politician never had a base among masses, but he knew how to manage the masses better than many political leaders. In his long 40 years of political life, Jaitley never contested an election except 2014 which he lost eventually. Despite, he did neither lose the post nor the limelight.

Many heavyweights such as KN Govindacharya, Sanjay Joshi, Kalyan Singh shined in the national politics and vanished very soon. But, Jaitley remained there till he wrote a letter to Prime Minister Modi and cited poor health as a reason for not taking any active role in the formation of a new government this year.

He was the sole link between the BJP-RSS leaders in Delhi since 70s. His knowledge of law, networking and oratory won friends for him outside the party fold.

Interestingly, he was married to the daughter of Congress leader and a former Jammu and Kashmir finance minister Girdhari Lal Dogra.

A trusted lieutenant of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Jaitley was a faithful follower of Advani and a good friend of Prime Minister Modi.

“He could make happy both sun and the moon at the same time. He had the ability to make them sit together and have a drink in his Durbar,” an analyst remarked.