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India Arun Jaitley, Modi govt's Lutyens interface, dies at 66

Arun Jaitley, Modi govt’s Lutyens interface, dies at 66

Arun Jaitley, while standing for probity in public life, had a vast social network, with the help of which he guarded Narendra Modi against a hostile Lutyens' media

New Delhi: Former Union minister Arun Jaitley died at AIIMS on Saturday. Jaitley, 66, was undergoing treatment at the hospital for several weeks.

“It is with profound grief that we inform about the sad demise of Arun Jaitley,” the AIIMS said in a brief statement.

Jaitley had been rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences on 9 August after he complained of breathlessness and restlessness.

Jaitley rose to prominence after a stint as a student activist of the ABVP and a lawyer with expertise in corporate affairs as a spokesman and minister of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in the period 1998-2004. Along with Sushma Swaraj, who presented the point of view of the dispensation of that time in Hindi, Jaitley guarded the fort, equally conversant in Hindi and English. If Swaraj impressed the audience with oratory, Jaitley spellbound them with polemics.

A facet of Jaitley’s life not known at that time was his friendship with the current prime minister, Narendra Modi. Modi was then a lesser leader of Gujarat who had been squeezed out of the politics of the state, thanks to the infighting between the factions of Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela. Modi, who had once quipped in that period that he was neither a Khajuria (MLAs who were taken to Khajuraho to avoid defection) nor a Hajuria (sycophant) but a Majuria (labourer), was given shelter in the backyard of 9 Ashoka Road, officially the residence of Jaitley those days.

At the time when Modi was vilified by the entire pseudo-secular cabal, including the media, for the 2002 riots, Jaitley was sent to Gujarat on a fact-finding mission after which he came back to New Delhi with a clean chit to Modi. Further, the lawyers in several of the cases that Modi faced during that period were believed to have been arranged by Jaitley, much as the trials were going against the then Gujarat chief minister until those lawyers were changed.

Nevertheless, since Jaitley was known to enjoy a vast social network in Delhi, Modi entrusted him with the most important portfolio of finance when the BJP-led NDA government came back to power in 2014. Jaitley’s core strength, Modi believed, was managing a super-hostile atmosphere for the outsider that the prime minister was in the scheme of things of Lutyens’ Delhi.

While Jaitley always advocated a free-er market while functioning as a spokesman of the BJP, when given a chance to steer the economy, many believe the instinct of caution and scepticism, which lawyers are stereotypically associated with, got the better of him. Thus began an era of incremental reforms. But there are those who disagree with this view and say that Modi himself has always been the de facto finance minister and Jaitley, Piyush Goyal (ad hoc) and Nirmala Sitharaman who held that office were/are mere rubber stamps.

Jaitley: A life

Arun Jaitley was born on 28 December 1952 in New Delhi to father Maharaj Kishen Jaitley, a lawyer, and mother Ratan Prabha Jaitley, a housewife. He studied at St Xavier’s School in the capital in the period 1957–69. He graduated with B Com (Honours) from Shri Ram College of Commerce in 1973. He secured his LLB degree from the Faculty of Law, the University of Delhi in 1977.

Jaitley was an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) student leader at the Delhi University campus in the 1970s. He rose to be the president of the Students Union of Delhi University in 1974.

During Emergency (1975–77), when fundamental rights were suspended, he was under preventive detention for a period of 19 months. He was a prominent leader of the movement against corruption launched in the year 1973 by Raj Narain and Jayaprakash Narayan. He was the convenor of the National Committee for Students and Youth organisation appointed by Jai Prakash Narayan. Jaitley was active also in a civil rights movement where he helped found the PUCL Bulletin along with Satish Jha and Smitu Kothari. After being released from jail he joined the Jan Sangh.

In 1977, Jaitley was appointed the president of the Delhi ABVP and All India Secretary of the ABVP, he was the convener of the Loktantric Yuva Morcha at a time when the Congress suffered defeat. He was then made the president of the youth wing of the BJP and the secretary of the Delhi Unit in 1980, a short time after joining the party.

Jaitley, the lawyer

Jaitley had been practising law at the Supreme Court and several high courts in the country since 1987. In January 1990, the Delhi High Court designated him as a senior advocate. He was appointed the additional solicitor general by the VP Singh government in 1989. He did the paperwork for the investigations into the Bofors scandal.

The clients of Jaitley cover the political spectrum: from Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal to Madhavrao Scindia of the Indian National Congress to LK Advani of the BJP. Jaitley authored several publications on legal and current affairs. He presented a paper on law relating to corruption and crime in India before the Indo-British Legal Forum. He was a member of the delegation of the Union government to the United Nations General Assembly Session in June 1998 where the Declaration on Laws Relating to Drugs and Money Laundering was approved.

obituaryJaitley had appeared on behalf of giant multinational corporations such as PepsiCo against Coca-Cola and in various other cases in India. While he was still the Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs, Jaitley represented Pepsi in 2002 in a case where the Supreme Court of India admonished and imposed stiff fines on eight companies for painting advertisements on ecologically fragile rocks along the Manali-Rohtang road in the Himalayas. In 2004, Jaitley appeared on behalf of Coca-Cola in a case before the Rajasthan High Court.

Given his political duties as the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Jaitley stopped practising law in June 2009.

Jaitley: Political career

Jaitley had been a member of the BJP national executive since 1991. He became a spokesman of the BJP during the period preceding the 1999 general election.

In 1999, after the Vajpayee government of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance came to power, he was appointed the minister of state for information and broadcasting (independent charge) on 13 October 1999. He was appointed the minister of state for disinvestment (independent charge) additionally. This was a new ministry created for the first time to give effect to the policy of disinvestments under the World Trade Organization regime.

Jaitley took over the additional charge of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Company Affairs on 23 July 2000 following the resignation of Ram Jethmalani as the Union Cabinet Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs.

Jaitley was promoted to the rank of a Cabinet minister in November 2000 and was made simultaneously the minister of law, justice and company affairs and shipping. He was the first minister of shipping following the bifurcation of the Ministry of Surface Transport. He demitted the office of the Minister for Shipping on 1 September 2001 and as a Union minister of law, justice and company affairs on 1 July 2002 to join as a general secretary of the BJP and its national spokesman. He worked in this capacity till January 2003. He rejoined the Union Cabinet as the Minister of Commerce & Industry and Law & Justice on 29 January 2003.

With the defeat of the National Democratic Alliance in the election of May 2004, Jaitley returned to serving the BJP as a general secretary. He returned also to his legal career.

In the opposition

Jaitley was chosen as the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha on 3 June 2009 by LK Advani. On 16 June 2009, he resigned from the post of general secretary of the BJP as per his party’s ‘one man one post’ principle. He was a member also of the central election committee of the party.

In his capacity as the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Jaitley played a vital role in the talks over the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. He successfully introduced the 84th Amendment to the Constitution in 2002, which froze parliamentary seats until 2026, and the 91st amendment to the Constitution in 2004, penalising defections.

However, despite being in the party since 1980, Jaitley never contested any direct election until 2014. He was the BJP candidate for the Amritsar seat in the Lok Sabha (replacing Navjot Singh Sidhu) for the 2014 general election. He lost to the Indian National Congress candidate Amarinder Singh.

Jaitley was a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat. He was re-elected to Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh in March 2018.

On August 26, 2012, Jaitley said outside Parliament, “There are occasions when an obstruction in Parliament brings greater benefits to the country.” This statement is considered to have given legitimacy to obstruction of Parliament in the contemporary politics in India. After forming government in 2014, the BJP government has faced disruptions and obstructions in Parliament on multiple occasions, too. The opposition kept referring to his statement whenever asked to maintain the decorum of the House.

Back in government

On 26 May 2014, Jaitley was selected by newly elected Prime Minister Modi as the minister of finance, the minister for corporate affairs and the minister of defence, in his Cabinet.

During the 2015 Bihar Legislative Assembly election, Arun Jaitley agreed with Prime Minister Modi’s assertions that the idea of reservations on the basis of religion was fraught with danger and was against giving reservations to Muslims and Christians who claimed to be Dalits as it might impact demography.

Jaitley served as a member of the Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank.

In November 2015, Jaitley said that personal laws governing marriages and divorces should be subject to fundamental rights, as constitutionally-guaranteed rights were supreme. He announced an income declaration scheme in September 2016, which, in retrospect, observers saw as a warning that a decision as drastic as demonetisation was about to be taken. The government demonetised the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 banknotes of the Mahatma Gandhi series with the stated intention of curbing corruption, black money, fake currency, and terrorism from 9 November 2016.

On 20 June 2017, Jaitley reaffirmed that the GST rollout was well and truly on track.

In this period, Out Leadership recommended Arun Jaitley as one of the experts and leaders who openly LGBT+ issues.

On 29 May this year, in a letter to Prime Minister Modi, Arun Jaitley cited his health as a reason for not taking an active role in the formation of the new government, effectively declining a role as a minister in the second term of Prime Minister Modi.

Personal life

Arun Jaitley married Sangeeta, daughter of former Jammu and Kashmir finance minister Girdhari Lal Dogra, in 1982. He has left behind two children, Rohan and Sonali; the latter is married to Jaiyesh Bakhshi. Both the children of Jaitley are lawyers.

Jaitley’s niece Ridhi Dogra and nephew Akshay Dogra are Indian television actors.

Health

On Tuesday, 14 May 2018, Jaitley, who had been suffering from kidney complications, was operated upon for kidney transplant at the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Jaitley had diabetes, too.

In January 2019, Jaitley was diagnosed with a rare form of soft-tissue sarcoma. He sought treatment in New York.

Death

On 9 August 2019, he was hospitalised at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi under critical condition after complaining of “breathlessness”. On 17 August, it was reported that Jaitley was on life-support. By 23 August, his health had deteriorated.

Jaitley died at 12:07 PM (IST) on today. He was 66.

A few controversies but a clean public life

In 2014, a WikiLeaks cable surfaced where Jaitley was seen telling Robert Blake, the Charge at the US Embassy, that Hindutva “will always be a talking point” for the BJP. The party was embarrassed by the fact that the No. 2 in the government was saying that one of its core ideologies was mere posturing. But Jaitely clarified that “the use of the word opportunistic in reference to nationalism or Hindu nationalism is neither my view nor my language. It could be the diplomat’s own usage.”

In January 2019, Jaitley created controversy when he accused the Central Bureau of Investigation of investigative adventurism in the ICICI Bank-Videocon fraud case. The CBI had named Chanda Kochhar and her husband Deepak Kochhar as beneficiaries in the financial fraud, in which Venugopal Dhoot, the promoter of Videocon had fraudulently transferred part of the loan received from ICICI Bank to the Kochhar’s business enterprise. Jaitely stated that naming the corrupt bank officials would not help in the investigation.

Previously, in September 2012, Jaitely had warned CBI on corruption cases involving political leaders from Gujarat.

Jaitley was extremely particular about probity in public life. He had zero tolerance for wild allegations. He dragged anybody who dared accuse him of any corrupt or unethical act to the court, slapping the person with whopping sums worth of damages for defamation. Among politicians who got a taste of this medicine are Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and some of his colleagues who had questioned Jaitley’s work at the Delhi District Cricket Association. Strangely, while Kirti Azad, say our sources, had propped the AAP activists to go against Jaitley, the former cricketer from Darbhanga, Bihar, never addressed the Press himself in support of the charges but kept making anti-party statements until he was expelled. A little-known wheeler-dealer had once accused Jaitley of being a fixer, only to withdraw the charge and flee the country when threatened with a defamation suit.

Jaitley made the core supporters of the BJP and Sangh Parivar uncomfortable with his friendly terms with the media house NDTV, where he would often be seen appearing for interviews with Barkha Dutt when she was a part of the said channel. Subramanian Swamy accused Jaitley of all sorts of things, beginning with the charge that the latter had ensured he could not be fielded from the New Delhi constituency in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, but was not taken seriously, as the former Janata Party leader had by then discredited himself by coming up with some or the other conspiracy theory every other day including the insinuation that the UPA-era ministers including P Chidambaram could not be punished by law because Jaitley was protecting them. Those who knew Jaitley said, however, that he at best maintained working relationships with members of the opposition without ever helping any wrongdoer.

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