A Year Without Jaitley

A year has passed since the country lost its veteran leader Arun Jaitley. In last one year, I have not met a single person in the political, administrative or social circles who would have not missed Jaitley even once. Several leaders from the opposition too have stated that had Jaitley been there he would have had devised an altogether different strategy to counter the pandemic. Many of them believe that if he was there, they would have easily conveyed their concerns to the government while it devised its strategy.

Such was Arun Jaitley. Entire Opposition had a spontaneous relation with him, and he was always connected with leaders of every political party. He was among those few politicians who preferred a harmonious relation in politics over bitterness. He regularly communicated with the opposition leaders as well as his alliance partners. He may have had enemies within his own party, but no leader from the opposition ever considered Jaitley as an enemy.

Jaitley was always enthusiastic about finding solutions to any problem at hand or amicably solving a discord between two or many parties. His problem-solving capability was God gifted and he always managed to find a neutral ground to resolve any complex situation.He would listen to a person and amend his perception.

I had to frequently interact with him during my tenure as Parliamentary Affairs minister. He was then the leader of the Opposition and without his concurrence it was impossible to transact any business of the House and ensure passage of any crucial legislation. While in Opposition, the BJP not just created routine ruckus in the House, but also caused regular adjournments for weeks to block the passage of important bills. Considering him an eminent lawyer, I put forth my argument on how it is possible for a government to function if the House is not allowed to work and important bills remain blocked.

As expected of him, he offered a spontaneous solution. Something he always excelled at. He offered to let the opposition create ruckus till lunch time and later in the post-lunch session asked to table our important bills for passage. Thanks to this understanding, we were able to get several important bills cleared in the House.

While on several such bills, where his party had reservations at policy level, I would take along with me the concerned minister to Jaitley’s chamber and request him to suggest changes to ensure the passage of the bill. He never disappointed us and offered critical suggestions to ensure the safe passage of the bill.

It was at the peak of the Anna Hazare-led movement when the government was faced with the challenge to resume smooth functioning of the Parliament. Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, who also hailed from Maharashtra, was asked to convince Anna to end the stir. Vilasrao convinced Anna to end the movement, however, with a condition. Anna demanded a debate on three crucial issues and asked for an agreement before calling off his movement.

Former prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee ratified the agreement with some minor changes. Anna was convinced. Now, the challenge was to convince the BJP to return to the benches. Parliamentary affairs were handled by Pranab Mukherjee and he suggested to me that if somehow Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj are convinced then we may resume the functioning of the house.

I went to meet Jaitley with the agreement in hand. He asked for some amendments in the agreement and I suggested him to draft the final agreement. He dictated the draft to his stenographer. I was surprised to see that barring two words, the agreement was the same. Then I took the revised draft to Sushma Swaraj to which she also agreed. I updated the prime minister and finance minister and they too had no issues with the two words amended by Jaitley. As a result, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj were invited over tea at the prime minister’s room. A consensus was achieved, and the finance minister went to the House and read the agreement. Both houses were back in business. Anna Hazare also withdrew the movement.Such a spirited politician, Jaitley wasalways willing to take a step forward.

Issue of introducing Goods and Services Tax (GST) was a vexed issue. Several chief ministers had reservations on many issues. Jaitley engaged with all the chief ministers for six months and finally offered a solution to which all the chief ministersagreed, and the historic tax reform was introduced.

Earlier, when Manmohan Singh government was trying to introduce GST, the frontline states opposing the move were Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Finally, when the BJP introduced it, it was Jaitley who convinced the chief ministers from the Opposition parties. Even though he was not too close to BJP chief ministers, he had better relations with Congress leaders like V. Narayanasamy, Captain Amarinder Singh, Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janta Dal and Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress. While among his own fold he reasoned it out with Nitish Kumar and Parkash Singh Badal and ensured that they concurred on every important issue.

While he was the finance minister, he would send invites to members during each session of the Parliament to relish Marwadi and Punjabi cuisines at his lunch party. All the opposition leaders would turn up at his office for the feast. He was also quite often spotted having conversations with leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Motilal Vora at some corner of the gallery in the Parliament. He was a vivid listener and was always seen helping others in solving problems. While he was completely devoted to his party, the fact never restrained him from helping others. For this quality, every leader in the opposition held him in high regards. Whenever he sat in the Central Hall, he was surrounded by dozens of journalists. He was quite deft in pushing the stories he wanted to see in newspapers the next morning.

Jaitley firmly believed that politics is not about personal fights. It was an ideological battle for him. Whenever the BCCI was engulfed in disputes, he always managed to resolve them in his capacity as part of the Board. He was so well-versed in cricket jargons and facts that many referred to him as an encyclopaedia of cricket. He was even aware of the junior players performing at the state level. If he ever held a wrong perception about someone, he would fight with him with in full vigour.

He had a remarkable relationship with the judiciary. He inspired Ranjan Gogoi, A K Sikri, Sanjay Kaul, Bader Durez Ahmed, the son of former president Fakhruddin Ahmed and dozens of other good lawyers to aspire for becoming judge and played a crucial role in their elevation. Once in Rajya Sabha, I reiterated in my speech that there is no space for animosity in politics. We may differ in ideology, but there should never be a space left for personal bitterness. Several politicians who followed this principle Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Rajiv Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, I. K. Gujral, Karpoori Thakur, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Krishna Kant, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sheila Dikshit, Ramakrishna Hegde and Arun Jaitley are no more in this world. They always valued this principle.

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