Arun Jaitley first shot into national political prominence in the mid and late 1990s as an astonishing speaker with cogent, sharp arguments, flawless ideological clarity, and impeccable logic. So compelling a speaker was he that even in those days as a college-goer I’d want to hear him on TV. I first met Arun ji in Jan 2009, on the eve of the Lok Sabha polls of 2009, at his East Kailash residence where I presented him my first two books. Even in that brief meeting, I could figure out his love for reading. He asked me about the books and tried to understand how I wanted to contribute to the party.
Arun ji had a pivotal role in PM Modi’s journey from Ahmedabad to Delhi. He always had a firm, unflinching conviction in Modi ji’s ability to lead the nation, much before other party leaders showed that conviction. In fact, Modi ji’s implicit trust in Jaitley can be gauged from the fact that for a significant part of the last government’s tenure Jaitley led two key ministries- first Finance and Defence and then Finance and I & B. The implementation of the landmark GST was also entrusted upon Arun ji and he showed great alertness and flexibility in addressing the initial glitches and making the implementation a big success.
Arun ji’s organisational abilities were his biggest strength. As general secretary of the party in the pre-2014 era, he helped BJP form a government in several states. In fact, there was a time when states posing a challenge would be assigned to him. He would ensure that BJP would emerge victorious in those states. He had a knack for identifying new talent and nurturing them. Not many leaders have the ability to set the narrative. As a political communicator, he would thrive in doing so.
Unfortunately, Arun ji battled several health setbacks in the past one-and-a-half year. But despite health challenges, he kept working diligently. Last year, in March, I met him at his Finance Ministry office to present my latest book. He enquired about the Kashmir playout in the book and about some of my TV appearances. A few weeks later, he went through a kidney transplant which kept him away for the initial few months of the year. In those days, he took to active blogging. He would blog on several key issues- be it tax reforms, Rafale deal, Kashmir or any other relevant issue. In fact, let me make a confession: whenever I’d be required to appear on a news debate on a complicated issue- especially one that carried legal or economic ramifications, I’d instantly visit his blogs. They are logically sharp, cogent and fact-driven.
In October last year, when Arun ji was still recovering from his kidney transplant, he conducted a key session at the National Media workshop of BJP. As a precaution, we were told to keep a distance of five feet from him- as he was vulnerable to catching infections. However, the effortless manner in which he held the fort for more than an hour and a half, showed he was still fit in his mind. In March 2019, I was yet again a part of a closed-door briefing Jaitley held with all spokespersons just before the start of the Lok Sabha elections. He had lost a lot of weight and looked a bit fragile but his intellect and reasoning were sharp as ever.
In Arun ji’s death, the party has lost an inspiring leader whom every working professional in politics could look up to. A fierce and competitive leader aside, Arun ji was a perfect gentleman. He had friends across the political spectrum. His affable and genial disposition always won him newer friends. His death is a huge loss to the party, the legal fraternity and the country. He leaves behind an intellectual void which may never be filled.