Politcal Leaders and Well-Wishers Across the Spectrum Pay Tribute to Arun Jaitley

Opposition leaders said he was a good administrator who acted as a bridge between the BJP and other parties.

New Delhi: Political leaders from across the spectrum paid tributes to Arun Jaitley, India’s high-profile BJP leader and former finance minister who passed away on Saturday noon.

While top BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah and defence minister Rajnath Singh were the first to express their condolences, opposition leaders like former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee also condoled his death.

The prime minister said that Jaitley and BJP had an “unbreakable bond”.

Veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani too paid his tribute.

Shah, on the other hand, while speaking of Jaitley’s death as a “personal loss” highlighted his achievements as the Union finance minister.

It was under Jaitley’s tenure that the Union government controversially demonetised the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes and introduced the much-awaited Goods and Services Tax.

‘Good administrator’

Although these two measures brought him a lot of criticism, the opposition leaders, across political hues, felt that Jaitley was a good administrator and acted as a bridge between the BJP and other parties.

Sonia Gandhi said that his “long innings as a public figure, parliamentarian, minister and his contributions to public life will forever be remembered.”

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh called Jaitley “an eminent lawyer, an excellent orator, a very good administrator, and an outstanding Parliamentarian. In his death, our country has lost a great leader who always worked for the betterment of society,” he said, conveying his condolences to Jaitley’s family.

Also Read: The Arun Jaitley I Knew

Rahul Gandhi too said that he was “sorry to hear” about his demise and offered his condolences to his family.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was among the first to offer her condolence. “Extremely saddened at the passing away of Arun Jaitley Ji, after a battle bravely borne. An outstanding Parliamentarian & a brilliant lawyer appreciated across parties. His contribution to Indian polity will be remembered. My condolences to his wife, children, friends & admirers,” she tweeted.

Kerala chief minister and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Pinarayi Vijayan also tweeted to say, “He was a legal luminary and an exemplary parliamentarian. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues.”

Among opposition leaders who paid their respect to Jaitley were Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, Shashi Tharoor, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Sharad Pawar and Jairam Ramesh. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury also remembered Jaitley’s days as a student activist in the Delhi University, where he was elected as the students’ union president in the 1970s.

Arun Jaitley with actor Dharmendra. Photo: PTI/Files

Cricketers, colleagues and well-wishers also pay tribute

India men’s cricket team captain Virat Kohli, who worked with Jaitley during his tenure as the president of Delhi and District Cricket Association, also paid his tribute. Sachin Tendulkar called Jaitley a successful “cricket administrator.”

Former additional solicitor general Raju Ramachandran remembered Jaitley for his generosity and non-partisan nature when it came to taking administrative decisions.

“I first saw Arun Jaitley sometime in 1971. He was a star debater of the Delhi University, representing Shri Ram College of Commerce, and I was in the hall at St Stephens (College). I was delighted to find him in my class at the Law Faculty, and soon got to know him. His political activities kept him so busy that he couldn’t attend classes very regularly; I guess he must have just managed to fulfil the minimum attendance requirement. And so, despite his brilliance, he preferred to stay quiet in classroom discussions,” he said.

He added that Jaitley’s legal knowledge and acumen were apparent from the time he started practice, and his meteoric rise was because of his ability. “I remember him for his warmth, his generous hospitality and his great sense of humour. As an important member of the Vajpayee government, he did not oppose attorney general Soli Sorabjee’s proposal to appoint me additional solicitor general, though he knew quite well that I was ideologically no fan of the BJP. And as my law minister, although we were such old friends, there was not a single occasion when he told me how to handle the politically sensitive cases which came my way.”

Author Sanjoy Hazarika, who knew Jaitley from the days of the Emergency, recalls how the former finance minister was able to tap into Lutyen’s Delhi without belonging to the ‘required’ class, family or party.

I met Arun when he had just come out jail in 1977 after the internal state of emergency was relaxed to enable elections to the Lok Sabha.  He was then president of the Delhi University Students union (DUSU) and we met at one of the coffee places in Connaught Circus.  I was new to Delhi, then a reporter for Himmat Weekly, edited by Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of the Mahatma, and which resisted the emergency especially censorship and a cub reporter with the Hindustan Times.

“You’re very brave to meet me,” said Arun with a smile. “No journalist still wants to be seen with me because they think the intelligence is watching me — and them — and bad things will happen to them.”
We kept in touch occasionally and on one occasion he provided excellent pro bono advice to a friend who had made a significant error of judgement on a sensitive political issue.
He was later Additional Solicitor General under Soli Sorabjee in the VP Singh Government in 1990 as he rose in Delhi’s power circles and boss of the Delhi District Cricket Association.  We rarely met but he was unfailingly courteous when we did.  And when Ashok Saikia, the IAS officer from Assam closest to AB Vajpayee was around, whether in the PMO or not, there would be the regular 5 pm sessions with others in the Ramjas group at the India International Centre (IIC) main lounge where a bunch of politicians, bureaucrats and journalists would gather for ghup-shup.
They often had the same table; it was a change from the environs of the tacky Embassy restaurant where the  cartoonist Rajinder Puri, with his vitriolic pen and sharp tongue, had held court.
This was Luytens Delhi which some BJP loyalists later disparaged without knowing that some leading members were part of its star cast. For Arun knew more than many of his colleagues, as someone who understood power, that Luytens Delhi did not belong to a class, party, clique or family.  It belonged to those who exercised power, held it and also understood how to use it.