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Arun Jaitley: A man who played many roles

The former Minister wore many hats in public life — politician, lawyer, cricket administrator, raconteur and the quintessential Delhi insider.

August 24, 2019 12:56 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:52 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Arun Jaitley. Illustration: R. Rajesh

Arun Jaitley. Illustration: R. Rajesh

Former Union Minister Arun Jaitley died on August 24, 2019 after a period of illness. He was 66.

The former Minister wore many hats in public life — politician, lawyer, cricket administrator, raconteur and the quintessential Delhi insider — who loved to hold court in banter and good humour with his legion of friends and acquaintances. For his party, the BJP, he was the man who articulated the party line best, in both Hindi and English, the rather affable public face of the party.

His stints at various Ministries, in both late Prime Minister Vajpayee’s government and Narendra Modi’s government saw him as a dependable colleague. For many who knew him personally, his warmth in inter personal interactions across party lines and his many, now legendary stories and on dits about the who’s who of Lutyen’s Delhi marked him out as a social force quite apart from his political heft.


Mr. Jaitley, shot to fame during the struggle against the Emergency in 1975, having been elected president of the Delhi University Student’s Union in 1974 (as a member of the RSS affiliated student body Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), and was one of the first to have been arrested (he stayed in jail for 19 months) as part of the crackdown against political activists. He joined the BJP in 1980.

His early career in the BJP was a steady rise, including an amalgamation of his legal career with his political one, where, in 1989, he was appointed Additional Solicitor General by the V.P. Singh government and did much of the paper work for the legal case on Bofors. He held many important portfolios in the Vajpayee government from 1999, including that of law and justice, shipping, information and broadcasting and commerce and industry.

Under the Modi government too, he held as many portfolios including finance, defence, corporate affairs and information and broadcasting, although he lost the only Lok Sabha poll he ever contested, from Amristar, in 2014. As Finance Minister, his achievements include the implementation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime. He was also at the helm when the controversial decision to demonetise high value currency notes was taken in November 2016.

Arun Jaitley. File

Arun Jaitley. File


His popularity however, was never as high as when he was spokesperson for the BJP from 2002 (along with being general secretary) and his briefings to the media and setting down of the party line for every major issue continued till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Among the most repeated stories by him was the advice he was tendered by Delhi's then Chief Executive Councillor Jag Pravesh Chandra in the 1980s. He told a young Jaitley, whom he had taken a liking to, to never set down any difference of opinion with his own party in writing, no angry letters, or written sulks. He said that it only proved that one’s opinion was not taken seriously in one’s own party, something Mr. Jaitley said he followed to a tee.

The years Mr. Jaitley spent as Leader of the Opposition (between 2009-2014) were not only important in his emergence as a good orator and an important mover behind the women’s reservation and Lokpal Bills, but also championed the cause of now Mr. Modi in Delhi. Mr. Jaitley was the man with the inside view, having done his schooling (St. Xaviers)and higher education (Sriram College of Commerce and Law Faculty, Delhi University) in Delhi. His ability to make friends across the aisle was legendary as were his bon mots and witticisms. He is survived by his wife Sangita, son Rohan and daughter Sonali.

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