New Delhi: Within a year, the country’s polity has lost two valuable leaders who hailed from different political parties but were similar in their spirit. First, we lost BJP leader Arun Jaitley and recently, Congress leader Ahmed Patel. Both leaders not only enjoyed important positions in their respective parties but were regarded as “heavyweights”. Both were great friends too, large-hearted and enjoyed good relationships with leaders from other parties. And the most important skill they both possessed was to find a solution to any trickiest problem faced by their parties. Anybody could approach them with their problems and be assured of a solution, or at least a genuine effort. Both of them enjoyed their confidence in their respective party leaderships and had strong relationships with the common people and as well as top industrialists and bureaucrats.
Patel worked hard for party affairs, staying up late into the night. He would frequently summon top party leaders to his residence at around 2 AM. If any matter was stuck in Parliament, he was summoned by the high command to steer the party. He never accepted any official position barring once when Rajiv Gandhi appointed him as his parliamentary secretary upon becoming Prime Minister. He always remained a simple parliamentarian and accepted party posts like political secretary to Congress president, general secretary or treasurer of the party. During the 10-year tenure of the Manmohan Singh government, he helped dozens of leaders become ministers yet never aspired for a ministerial role for himself. He played quite a critical role in choosing the prime minister, president or vice-president. Several chief ministers, ministers, governors, MPs and bureaucrats regularly flocked to his residence. He always met everyone with affection, lived a simple life and used to drive around in a modest car without any fanfare.
Anyone could approach him with the salutation “Ahmed bhai”. He had personal relationships with leaders of every political party. He would call them without any reservations and have sober chat. Whenever any problem was compounded, it was referred to Patel. Those who were unhappy within the party would go to him and share their grief. Even those who were happy would reach out to him to convey their gratitude. He was quite modest and would pass on the credit to Sonia Gandhi and never shy away from taking the blame. For this reason, he would often face the ire of those who were denied any benefits. He never felt bad about such rebukes.
On various occasions, leaders from many parties had said that Patel would be an ideal choice to be the president of a coalition. He would brush such words aside with a smile. He had a wonderful relationship with Pranab Mukherjee and Pranab da continued to seek his counsel even after becoming President.
Arun Jaitley too scaled came up from the bottom. He began as a student leader and became one of the top advocates in the country. In 1977, he was in the national executive of the Janata Party but due to internal bickering, he was kept on the sidelines for the next 20 years. This did not demoralise him and he continued to selflessly for the party. In 2000, he was sent to the Rajya Sabha, although before that he was inducted in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet as a junior minister. However, Vajpayee soon recognised his potential and promoted him to cabinet rank. In 2000, along with Jaitley, I too entered the Rajya Sabha and for the next 18 years witnessed his working and speeches in Parliament. For 10 years, he was also the Leader of Opposition and my responsibilities as Parliamentary Affairs Minister called for close coordination with him. He would solve so many problems within minutes. While handling even the trickiest of situations, he would try to understand the stand of the government and achieve an amicable solution. With his help, I managed to ensure the passage of several bills in the upper house and even sought his help to successfully end the Anna Hazare movement. He played an instrumental role in 2001 to get Narendra Modi inducted as chief minister. In 2014, he was the one to initiate Narendra Modi’s candidature for PM. After becoming prime minister, Modi inducted him into his cabinet with the portfolios of finance and defence and continued to stand by him till his last moments.
Jaitley remained important for Modi just like Patel was important for Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.
Jaitley was honoured as the best parliamentarian. Leaders from every political party frequented his office in Parliament. He was friendly with all of them and was always eager to resolve the problems of others. During every session, he would invite all the MPs who were his friends and host a lunch for them. Like Patel, he also helped dozens of people become ministers, chief ministers, MPs and governors and when in 2019 his health deteriorated, he refused to become a minister in the new government.
Both Arun Jaitley and Ahmad Patel had a similar nature, acumen and possessed the art of handling personal relations. Today, their absence from the political fabric is a great loss to the nation. People who knew them will always miss them.
(The article as published in Indian Express)