Famous as the “chief of bureau” among journalists, the half liberal in right-wing camp, former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley breathed his last in AIIMS – an institute that was founded by the first Prime Minister of India, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, whom Jaitley criticised all through his life.
As former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh famously said, “Life is never free of contradictions,” Jaitley’s life too was never free of contradictions.
A fun-loving gossiper, loyal to his friends and domicile of Lutyens’ Delhi – a defamed term in today’s time, Jaitley led such a life that does not qualify the definition of a right-wing politician.
He was elite, elegant, knowledgeable and composed. He had friends even in enemy’s camp.
Former President of the Students Union of Delhi University, though 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.
His personal life was not what he practiced or preached politically.
He did not garland those who kill people in the name of cow vigilantism. He, very cleverly distanced himslef from the politics of Gau-Gobar which dominate the narrative today. He spoke against so-called Muslim appeasement but not Muslims. He wanted Ram Mandir in Ayodhya but he did not take part in the demolition drive.
Being a lawyer, perhaps, he knew very well, where the line should be drawn. Observers, believe, he lived his life to the fullest like a true Punjabi, crafting an image of a liberal Hindu politician who knew how to chalk out a balance between his personal choices and public persona.
A BJP watcher summarised him as a politician who practiced Hindutva politics but never demonstrated anarchic, regressive side of it. “He had mastery over contradiction- management,” quipped the observer.
Known as a legal hawk with political punches, Jaitley arrived in the national politics in late 90s, when he was appointed as the BJP’s spokesperson and cabinet minister by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
His remarkable rise in 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 scores of journalists who would take tips from him in the night and would plant/run the news on their respective publications/news channels next day.
After coming to the center stage, Jaitley did not look back. Whereas rise of many heavyweights such as KN Govindacharya, Sanjay Joshi, Kalyan Singh lived for a very short period of time, Jaitley’s fortune remained with him till last.
He was appointed Minister of 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 in the opposition.
Analysts believe Jaitley made himself inevitable for the BJP by working as a bride between the establishment and the aspiring RSS-BJP leaders, since 70s. His knowledge of law, networking and oratory won friends for him outside and gave him advantage over his rivals in his party.
“His political interior was of Vajpayee kind. He, despite having saffron outlook, respected the Constitution and was not in favor demonizing and destroying the minorities,” said an observer.
“He was a half liberal among saffron supremacists,” he added.
Married to the daughter of former Jammu and Kashmir finance minister Girdhari Lal Dogra – who was a Congress leader, Jaitley never harbored bitterness or animosity against his political opponents.“However, he liked bitching,” said a TV journalist who was a regular at this Durbar.
He was a trusted lieutenant of Vajpayee, a faithful follower of Advani and a good friend of Modi.“And none of these clashed with each other. Imagine what kind of a person he was. 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,” said an analyst.
While formative years of Jaitley were shaped under the watch of Vajpayee and Advani, the later part of his life was shadowed by no one else than Modi.
Many believe that it was Jaitley who saved Modi from the legal trap that followed the 2002 Gujarat riots. His appointment as the Finance Minister by Modi was seen as a quid pro quo gesture.
Political pundits called Jaitley a politician who did not have base among masses, but knew how to manage the masses better than anyone else. In his 40 years long political life, Jaitley never contested an election except in 2014 which he lost eventually. Nonetheless, he neither lost the post nor the limelight.
Very few know that the late legendary journalist Kuldeep Nair, who was known for his blistering attacks on Modi government, had campaigned for Jaitley during the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
After Jaitley lost the election, editor of a prestigious English publication contested Nair asking why he campaigned for Jaitley. Nair replied, “You know how Jaitley is. He called me every day, despite knowing that I am very critical to Modi and his party. ”
Jaitley earned more admirers (most of them were flatterers) than distractors, but both will miss him equally for the same reason – he was a politician who rose above politics when it came to personal and humanitarian issues.
He was essentially a Delhi boy – a mix of many contradictory traits, which he inherited from the city’s peculiar history…He was a liberal among hardcore right wingers and an ardent believer of Hindutva politics among liberals and left wingers. He balanced his contradictions with charm and eloquence.