Arun Jaitley’s void will be hard to fill in both the BJP and public sphere
At a time when politics has got so deeply polarised, when debates have got vicious and personalised, he was a figure who could separate the political and personal.Updated: Aug 26, 2019 07:58 IST
There were few individuals in Indian politics like Arun Jaitley. His political sharpness; his intellectual depth; his legal acumen; his commitment to his political beliefs and world view; his ability to turn a crisis into an opportunity; his communication and persuasive skills; his importance in, visibly and invisibly, shaping the contours of politics; and his personal charm and warmth made him not just important, but also integral, to both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and to the political system for decades.
Mr Jaitley passed away on Saturday, at 66. He was indispensable to his party — for there was no one who had his communication skills, no one who could craft the party’s messaging and narrative for elections as well, and no one who could dip into the most intricate of issues, and then present either an attack (when in Opposition) or defence (when in government). Mr Jaitley was an integral part of Parliament — for as both Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and then the Leader of the House between 2014 and 2019, he delivered the sharpest, yet most sober speeches, defending his viewpoint. He was also a key part of the Narendra Modi machine. Mr Modi was the brand with unprecedented appeal; Amit Shah served as the organisational manager, but Mr Jaitley, too, played a key role in enabling Mr Modi’s rise within the party, and increasing his acceptability as the prime ministerial candidate. And finally, as someone who was always willing to engage in public debate and discussion, he was a nodal point for the broader intellectual ecosystem — of the media, legal fraternity, thinktanks and policy institutes — which enabled his the BJP’s political and governance success.
The outpouring of grief at his passing away, across party lines, also reveals another facet of Mr Jaitley’s personality. At a time when politics has got so polarised, when debates have got vicious and personalised, he was a figure who could separate the political from the personal. He would not cede an inch politically to rivals, but would also then have the warmest personal relations with them. His ability to build cross-party lines, and keep channels open with all shades of political opinion is a reminder that democracies function best when differences do not turn into enmity. This skill enabled him to stitch political alliances for his party when necessary, and helped him shepherd the passage of the Goods and Services Tax Bill as finance minister. Driven by a strong ideological worldview, and spirit of public service, Mr Jaitley’s void will be hard to fill.