I first heard of Arun Jaitley during the Emergency. He was a few years senior to me and was seen as one of the sharpest and most articulate young leaders of the ABVP.
As the years went by and the turmoil of the Emergency years settled down, Arun ji went on to carve a niche for himself as a lawyer. His sound logic and structured, razor-sharp arguments led to him being recognised as one of the top lawyers of the country. At the young age of 37, Arun ji was appointed by the then prime minister, VP Singh, as the additional solicitor general. However, Arun ji’s heart was always in politics.
By the late 1990s, Arun ji was seen as among the finest spokespersons of our party. His political arguments carried a well-laid-out structure and would be laced with a fair dose of humour and wit. He maintained dignity at all times and never attacked below the belt.
As the Maharashtra BJP president, I would often interact with Arun ji on various issues, though frequent meetings were not possible. My interactions with Arun ji increased in 2010 when I became the national BJP president and shifted to Delhi.
I was new to national politics and needed guidance. In Delhi, he was my trusted friend and senior associate whom I could blindly trust and speak my heart out to, without any hesitation. There were occasions when I was confronted with a tricky issue. Arun ji was always there for me in such situations with his suggestions and guidance.
Arun ji was an intellectual reservoir for us. His areas of expertise were so vast that often the range of his knowledge would surprise me. Law, finance and, defence were subjects in which he had special expertise. On his day, I would rate him as better than the best that India has ever produced in these fields.
In fact, as party president, I was blessed to have two exceptional Leaders of Opposition in Arun ji and Sushma ji. I would follow their speeches in Parliament closely. Sadly, both of them have left us in the last few days.
Arun ji was one of the best parliamentarians I have known. All his speeches contained verifiable facts and his demeanour carried immense dignity. I would like to mention three of his finest speeches that I can recall. The first speech was in 2008 in the immediate aftermath of the 26/11 terror attacks, when he censured the UPA government for reducing India to a weak state; the second speech was in 2011 during the Lokpal debate where he famously said, “If we are creating history, let us not create a bad one.” The third speech was the most recent one in January 2019 where he decimated the Opposition attack on the Rafale issue by laying out all the facts threadbare. This speech was made in a condition of deteriorating health, as within days of making it, Arun ji left for the US for treatment.
As party president, I would trust Arun ji completely when it came to media strategy or setting the intellectual narrative. I have never seen someone come as well-prepared as him for the party’s internal meetings. He would have in-depth analyses of the issues on the agenda ready with him.
It is noteworthy that unlike many of us, Arun ji was not a career politician. His professional identity was that of one of India’s most successful lawyers. Politics was his passion and vocation. That explains why he quit his legal career at its peak to pursue a full-time career in politics. In a matter of years, he went on to become one of India’s top politicians. That shows his dedication and focus. Arun ji excelled in all his pursuits and responsibilities as he put his heart and soul into them.
On a personal level, Arun ji and I shared some common traits. Like me, he was a foodie; at times, he disregarded health precautions. He was fascinated by Amritsari street food in much the same way as I love Mumbai street food. Both of us did not carry our political battles beyond the battlefield. Arun ji had friends across the political spectrum. He helped people in need, even if they were his political adversaries. The kind of glowing tributes he has received from Opposition leaders speaks of Arun ji’s large-heartedness. His other love was cricket. He was a brilliant cricket administrator.
I was aware of Arun ji’s deteriorating health in the last few months. His health condition, however, did not deter him from contributing to our 2019 election campaign. He contributed, as best he could, by helping our spokespersons with regular briefings.
Arun ji opted out of the new government, citing health reasons but offered his help in an informal capacity. That spoke of his selfless nature. He could do anything for the party and the country.
His death has left behind an irreplaceable void in our political narrative.
(The writer is the Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and MSME)