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Arun Jaitley was among the first to realise Modi’s potential | Opinion

Political equations in the NDA may have changed over the years but Arun Jaitley is still the go-to man for PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Arun Jaitley had stood by his two friends, and the two will stand by him till kingdom come.

india Updated: May 30, 2019 17:44 IST
Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with finance minister Arun Jaitley
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with finance minister Arun Jaitley(PTI file photo)

It was the run-up to the 2008 Delhi Assembly elections. Arun Jaitley’s two closest friends, then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, had dropped in at his Kailash colony residence for lunch. Some journalists were also in attendance.

After the famous “Jain Shikanji” of the Jaitley household was served as an aperitif, the two chief ministers pushed their friend to challenge Sheila Dikshit for the post of Delhi chief minister — a sort of a first stepping stone for bigger things to follow. Jaitley heard out his friends, then quietly said he was not interested in becoming “mayor of Delhi.”

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The finance minister in the outgoing cabinet, Jaitley on Wednesday voluntarily opted out of the Modi 2.0 government because of health issues, depriving it of the service of a man who always seemed made for bigger things, given his versatility, intelligence, and brilliant communication skills, including a flair for repartee as evident in that response.

While both PM Modi and CM Nitish Kumar will wait for Jaitley to join the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government when he is ready to do so, the other person who will miss him is BJP president Amit Shah. When Shah was exiled to Delhi in 2010-2012 through a court order, the then Gujarat state leader was a permanent lunch fixture at Jaitley’s house with the legal luminary expending all his energies to secure relief for his friend. The political equations may have changed now but Jaitley is still the go-to man for both Modi and Shah. Jaitley stood by his two friends, and the two will stand by him till kingdom come.

A man who can build bridges over the widest ideological gaps and count Nitish Kumar and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik as personal friends, Jaitley is going to be missed by his political, cricketing and media friends till he returns back on stage. When Kumar joined hands with Lalu Prasad in the 2015 Assembly elections and Jaitley came to Patna to campaign for the BJP which was taking them on, he carried Delhi’s famed Gopala Rasgullas for his temporary adversary. It is another matter that he couldn’t deliver them with senior BJP state leaders making a big issue of it.

Also read | PM Modi calls on Arun Jaitley after he opts out of new government

Jaitley was among the first to realise the potential of Narendra Modi in the BJP, and the two stayed together through thick and thin with the former protecting the latter from Lutyens’ media. It is not for any other reason that when Modi took over as PM in 2014, he appointed Jaitley as finance, defence and corporate affairs minister with oversight of all economic ministries. This, despite Jaitley losing the Amritsar Lok Sabha poll.

As finance minister, Jaitley did not get lost in the false bravado of the world’s investors and companies “flocking to India” attracted by its market size, and presented India as a destination of investment and a partner of choice. He has given the world and, in particular, the international finance community a big picture of India that goes beyond mere numbers. In the government or in person, he remained a large-hearted person who kept his doors open and where people could seek redressal.

Jaitley’s capacity to assimilate politically divergent views, yet come up with a win-win solution was evident in the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST). This single tax was an example of bringing together myriad interests and different political ideologies — first, to first get the job done; then, to fine-tune it through consistent improvement.

That Jaitley can understand complexity of finance, law and the courts is a given but he could also grasp the grey areas, where uncertainties needed to be reduced, and understand the broader impact of apparently narrow measures. He worked hard to build a fair narrative of the NDA, doing his bit to facilitate the mass acceptance of the government based on its work. His was a narrative that could be understood both by intellectuals and the common man.

Although Jaitley will be the informal advisor to Modi 2.0 till he recovers, he will not and cannot sit idle and can be expected to contribute to the government by writing constructive blog posts . Even though he could not actively participate in the 2019 political campaign due to fear of infection, Jaitley wrote literally a piece a day in support of PM Modi. And Modi constantly kept in touch with his finance minister for political and media advice.

His biggest contribution to Modi 1.0 was getting the bureaucracy in line with the aspirations of the average Indian. He did this in his characteristic style, which was evident in other areas as well. Jaitley is always polite, but never weak.

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First Published: May 30, 2019 07:47 IST

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