As LoP, Arun Jaitley re-energised the party
When Arun Jaitley, then 56, took over as the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament, in 2009, the morale of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was at an all-time low.
The BJP had just been defeated by the Congress for the second time in a row, and many leaders in his party were yet to come to terms with the fact that they could not trounce a government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whom they perceived as being weak. The prime ministerial ambition of BJP’s LK Advani had crashed.
The BJP decided to bring about a generational change in the party that saw it choosing Jaitley over Jaswant Singh as the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Sushma Swaraj as the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha in place of LK Advani, and Nitin Gadkari as the party chief.
Also watch| Arun Jaitley dies at 66, leaders pour in to pay last respects at Delhi residence
They had an onerous task in front of them — to revive the morale of the party, become a more fierce Opposition in parliament and mount an offensive on the Congress that had just returned to power .
The battle started from day one.
Jaitley managed to steal the show in the Rajya Sabha, enhancing the quality of debate, and putting the government on the defensive. Assisted by able deputies, Jaitley managed to stop the juggernaut of the Congress in the Upper House. The inability of treasury benches’ members to push reformist bills in the RS saw them running to Jaitley often.
His chamber on the ground floor of the Parliament complex was thronged by leaders who would seek his help to get their bills passed. Most of these meetings would happen over a lavish spread brought from Jaitley’s home, and the BJP leader would oblige some. At times, these leaders had the occasion to relish special chhole-kulche that Jaitley would specially order from Amritsar for his friends across party lines. Rasgulla from his favourite south Delhi sweet shop was a must.
Jaitley’s discussion with his friends from Opposition was not limited to just the legislative agenda, but he would often talk to them about watches, fountain pens and, of course, shawls, a personal passion.
He still led the charge against the Congress-led government. He was at the vanguard of the opposition attack on the Indian Premier League scandal involving the Congress’s Shashi Tharoor, who had to eventually resign as the junior minister for external affairs in less than a year of Jaitley becoming the Leader of the Opposition. His personal relationship with Tharoor touched a low during the IPL heat but Jaitley never let emotions overwhelm his responsibility as the leader of the Opposition.
Jaitley also mounted immense pressure on the government at the peak of the debate on the Lokpal, or anti-corruption ombudsman. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, who was then with Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, was a regular in Jaitley’s office.
The relentless efforts that Jaitley put in as Leader of Opposition to build a case that the UPA was mired in corruption and policy paralysis eventually helped the BJP construct a “weak” PM campaign against Manmohan Singh.
This time, the face of the BJP campaign was Jaitley’s old friend, Narendra Modi, who portrayed himself as a man who would provide order and governance and be a strong PM . What did not work in 2009 succeeded in 2014. The rest is history.