(This article has been republished from The Quint’s archives to mark Arun Jaitley’s death anniversary.)
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Arun Jaitley had the gift of eloquence. He was often the focal point of the right wing’s attacks on its political and ideological opponents, be it in Parliament, debates, or his blogs.
Right from his time as Leader of Opposition to holding office as the Union finance minister and being one of PM Modi’s key generals in the NDA government, Jaitley was a vocal and potent political force.
During Modi’s first term, Jaitley was tasked with the incredibly massive challenge of steering Asia’s third-largest economy. While in charge, he oversaw enormous challenges, from implementing the radical step of demonetisation, introducing of a major taxation overhaul with the GST to counteracting the impact of the radical reforms on the growing economy.
Towards the fag-end of Modi’s first term, Jaitley was indisposed because of ill health. He had undergone a renal transplant surgery in May last year.
He passed away on 24 August at the age of 66.
Plunge Into Politics
Jaitley completed a bachelor’s degree in Commerce from Delhi University’s Shri Ram College of Commerce in 1973 and received a law degree in 1977 from the Faculty of Law (DU).
It was during this time that he was exposed to the pro-Hindutva organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and became a member of its student wing – the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). He was also an active member of the debate club.
Soon after, in 1974, he was elected the president of Delhi University’s student union DUSU. In an era where the Congress had a stronghold over university politics, his stature was highly significant for student politics in India.
Jaitley’s plunge into politics came at an early age, much like former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav. By virtue of his role as DUSU president and his active political presence in Delhi, Jaitley’s political career was galvanised at an early age, during the Emergency.
He features among the ranks of political leaders who emerged during the mid-1970s, standing against former PM Indira Gandhi in defiance at a time marked as the ‘darkest phase’ since India’s Independence.
He was also a prominent leader of a movement against corruption which was launched by Raj Narain and Jayaprakash Narayan in 1973.
During this period, many of the country's top leaders, cutting across party lines, began their political journeys – such as Ravi Shankar Prasad, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sitaram Yechury and Jaitley.
In Delhi, Jaitley participated in demonstrations against the Emergency. He was subsequently arrested and held in detention for 19 months.
He was sent to Delhi's Tihar Jail for a week and was later shifted to the Ambala Central Jail.
Jaitley wrote about how his detention was a turning point in his life and his career.
When he was released, Jaitley became the national convener of the Loktantrik Yuva Morcha in 1977. He actively campaigned for Janata Party candidates in the elections that year.
He ultimately joined the BJP after its formation in 1980 and remained an active member throughout his life, holding several key roles in the party.
He became the president of the Youth Wing of the BJP and the secretary of the Delhi Unit soon after joining.
Born 28 December 1952, Jaitley was raised in a New Delhi family of lawyers, social activists, and philanthropists. He followed in the footsteps of his father, Maharaj Kishen Jaitley, a successful lawyer, and pursued law.
His mother, Ratan Prabha, was a homemaker who was engaged in social work. He had two elder sisters. His parents had migrated to Delhi from Lahore during the Partition.
He is survived by his wife Sangeeta Jaitley, and a daughter and a son – both of whom are also lawyers.
He began his practice in the courts of Delhi, arguing before the trial court, the High Court and the Supreme Court of India.
In January 1990, he became a senior advocate and was elevated as the Additional Solicitor General of India at the age of 37.
While practicing, he was involved in several high-profile cases, including investigation in the Bofors scandal. He was also delegated by the government of India to the United Nations General Assembly Session, where the Declaration on Laws Relating to Drugs and Money Laundering was approved in 1998.
He ceased his practice following his appointment as the Leader of Opposition in 2009.
In 1991, he became a member of BJP’s national executive, the top decision-making body of the party. He was made the party’s spokesperson in the run-up to the 1999 parliamentary elections.
He held several ministerial posts in the BJP-led NDA government (1999-2004), including Minister of Law, Justice, and Company Affairs and Minister of Commerce and Industry.
He is known to have introduced several amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, the Civil Procedure Code and the Companies Act during his time as the law minister.
He was also given additional charge of the Ministry of Shipping in 2001.
After the NDA lost to the UPA in 2004, he was appointed as the BJP’s general secretary.
In his political journey, Jaitley was first elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2000 from Gujarat. He was subsequently re-elected in 2006 and 2012. During his tenure, he had famously spearheaded the anti-defection law as an amendment to the Constitution.
In 2014, he decided to contest directly from the Amritsar seat in the Lok Sabha elections but lost badly to Captain Amarinder Singh, finishing third behind an Aam Aadmi Party candidate despite the country-wide Modi wave.
He was re-elected to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh in March 2018.
An ardent follower of cricket, Jaitley had held the position of vice-president of BCCI but resigned after the Lalit Modi-IPL spot-fixing scandal.
He was also the president of the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association (DDCA) between December 1999 and 2012, a body that promotes cricket in Delhi and the surrounding districts.
Despite losing in 2014, Jaitley was handed the key portfolios of defence, finance, and corporate affairs.
Later during the same year, he vacated the charge as defence minister, only to assume it once more in 2017 – after Manohar Parrikar became the Goa CM.
But the highlights of his tenure as finance minister came in 2016, when the government demonetised high-level currency notes, with claims of eliminating black money and fake currency.
Another key highlight was rolling out the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in 2017, which saw a major overhaul of the taxation system of the country.
Both decisions, touted as radical economic reforms, also drew flack for their implementation, which many experts felt was flawed.
He had made headlines last year after liquor baron Vijay Mallya had alleged that he had met with Jaitley before fleeing the country. Jaitley had denied the claims.
In 2016, Jaitley had received flack over his “one small incident of rape” remark, purportedly referring to the 2012 Delhi Gangrape, costing India billions in tourism . He had later apologised for the comments, saying it was not his intention to be insensitive.
Jaitley had also famously warned the CBI in 2012, saying that those involved in the “conspiracy” against Gujarat’s politicians and top policemen would have to give answers in future, as per PTI.
His alleged involvement in financial irregularities in the DDCA, which he presided over for 13 years, was also brought up repeatedly. Both Jaitley and the DDCA leadership have maintained that there was no financial irregularity during Jaitley’s tenure.