Arun Jaitley was a successful student leader, the star of the anti-corruption movement, anti-Emergency and pro-democracy movement. In fact, my first acquaintance with Jaitley Ji was during an underground meeting of ABVP in Mumbai during Emergency. I could sense an aura of a leader around him even then; he had that magnetic personality.
He could have turned into a successful political leader with ease and made a living as a leader like many of his generation who were with JP. However, he was not a career politician, the kind we see today. He belonged to the last generation of politicians, probably, who saw politics as a means to serve the nation, not as a profession. He decided to make a success of his legal career, became a top taxpayer of Delhi, probably entire north, and then gave it up all to join politics. This self-assurance that he was not beholden to any lobby or leader to survive gave him the moral weight that saw him rise rapidly in national politics.
Any political party would have welcomed him with his brilliant background as a student leader, but he chose a party closest to his beliefs and joined it when it was in its infancy. A party that rose out of the ashes of its previous avatar, Bharatiya Jan Sangh, that had been thrown into the wilderness by a few crafty politicians. He saw its lowest point in 1984 but never wavered. In this age of fickle relations, he stood rock solid with his loyalty to national ideology, the party and his colleagues. This personal integrity and political morality meant that he was never accused of corruption. He gracefully pardoned an upstart politician who accused him of corruption after he apologized for his baseless charges.
It was a dream team of Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Anant Kumar and Manohar Parrikar that was the cream of generation next, nurtured under the mentorship veteran leader Shri Lal Krishna Advani. If there was a moment most poignant besides a mourning family that remained in the shadows like all BJP leaders’ families, it was the image of Advani Ji paying tribute to one of the last of this cream of national leaders that he had raised with affection and care. Separation of such dear friends saw deeply moved PM, party president and vice president. I dare say that Arun Jaitley was a thinking person’s leader. He was the suave face of BJP. His excellent articulation both in Hindi and English and excellent grasp over any subject he handled; his controlled aggression that never breached the bounds of grace resulted in a network of friendship across the political spectrum. One could disagree with him. In fact, I had criticized him many times in my articles. But, when he explained his logic with conviction, one was forced to have a rethinking about one’s position.
A great human being never tom-toms his social work or charity. He saw to it that his cook’s and driver’s children studied in the same school in which his children studied, with his support. Some became doctors, some became engineers. Daughters of another member went overseas to study. This human side was never open to the public stare. He even avoided using public money for personal requirements.
Jaitley Ji would be remembered in the modern Indian history as the person who brought in the most difficult reform of one nation-one tax i.e. GST, a matter that was hanging fire for years. Imagine, who would work even from inside an ICU! It was a challenge that opposition wished he would lose, but he disappointed them. This success was a tribute to his diplomatic skills. He will be remembered for much needed Indian Bankruptcy Code. His most underrated achievement was his ability to keep fiscal deficit and inflation within the pre-decided range even as India saw the most ambitious post-independence welfare schemes, and infrastructure projects being implemented successfully. I salute a fine human being who was an excellent understated leader in this age loud raucous politics.