A legal mind with astute skills in drafting legislation, Arun Jaitley, as Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, did not hesitate to extend his drafting skills to the then UPA government when it was struggling to clear the nuclear liability Bill, crucial for carrying out the India-US nuclear deal.
Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who was handling the Bill as Minister of State in the PMO, recalled that Jaitley had “kept aside the hard stand advocated by some in his party” to help the government in a “national cause”. Arun Jaitley funeral LIVE UPDATES
Chavan told The Sunday Express: “When the government was struggling with the clause on nuclear accident liability (it did not have the numbers, as the Left was against it), I approached the BJP. I went to Arun Jaitley and told him (that) it’s important for the country, and we had worked hard to reach this point. He looked at the draft and made some changes to make it acceptable to more (parties). We modified the Bill, and the BJP supported it.”
The Bill was passed after the government deleted the words “done with the intent to cause nuclear damage and such act” from clause 17(b). Had Jaitley taken a “hard stand”, the Bill could not have been passed, he said.
Chavan also pointed out that Jaitley had moved the 91st Constitutional Amendment Bill, which paved the way for changing the anti-defection law in 2003. The 91st amendment makes it mandatory for leaders switching political parties — whether singly or in groups — to resign as legislative members and seek reelection if they defect.
“It was a small amendment but had a large impact. This was applicable in recent political developments in Goa and in Karnataka (where defected MLAs could not join the government immediately),” Chavan said.
During the sharply contested battle on the Lokpal Bill in 2011, Jaitley led the Opposition side. “You (government) want to kill the Lokpal while it is still in the womb,” he had said about the Bill. As Rajya Sabha saw a riveting debate between Jaitley and Abhishek Singhvi over Constitutional validity and implication of the provisions of the proposed law, the Opposition managed to refer the Bill to a select committee. Despite being the Leader of Opposition, Jaitley, who was adjudged the Best Parliamentarian in 2010, became a member of the committee and helped the government draft the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Jaitley set the line for the party’s spokespersons for nearly two decades. From his days as a party spokesperson, he gave the final draft of the party’s stand to its talking heads. Known as a mentor to many of today’s leaders, there are not many in the Modi ministry today who, at least once, did not seek the blessings or support of Jaitley during their struggling days in political life. Union ministers Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan, Nirmala Sitharaman, Prakash Javadekar and Anurag Thakur and BJP general secretaries Bhupender Yadav were mentored by Jaitley. He also mentored Srikant Sharma and Siddharth Nath Singh, ministers in the Uttar Pradesh government. He often extended his support to Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis.
Jaitley also did not hesitate to publicly laud Opposition MPs when they fared well. During his interactions with mediapersons, he often praised RSP Lok Sabha MP N K Premachandran of RSP and CPI(M)’s former Rajya Sabha member P Rajeev — both come from Kerala and are strongly opposed to the BJP — for their eagerness to study Bills and debate in the House.