Arun Jaitley: "Every non-BJP person's favourite BJP-ite"
New Delhi, Aug 24: It was January 5, 2018, the last day of a raucous winter session of Parliament which witnessed a slugfest between the BJP and the Congress-led opposition on the triple talaq bill, when a cake was ushered into Arun Jaitley's chamber that evening. It was Congress deputy leader in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma's birthday. It reflected how Jaitley pursued his politics with a personal touch.
He would vociferously oppose the stands of rival parties, but would never forsake individual niceties, which helped him build bridges and make friends across the political spectrum.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh puts it succinctly: "Arun Jaitley was every non-BJP person's favourite BJP-ite."
Jaitley, 66, died on Saturday at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), where he had been undergoing treatment for a few weeks. Jaitley, who many believed had more friends outside his party than within the BJP, was known to be an affable person.
His rapport with opposition leaders was such that during the debate on demonetisation in 2016 in Rajya Sabha, then Samajwadi Party MP Naresh Agarwal in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said he did not take even then Finance Minister Jaitley into confidence.
"If Arunji had known, he would have whispered about it in my ears. He knows me,” Agarwal had said in the House.
The son-in-law of a senior Congress leader from Jammu and Kashmir, Jaitley was among the sharpest legal and political brains with a great sense of humour and repartee.
"I once referred to him as Bedi+Pras(anna)+Chandra+Venkat for his extraordinary spinning abilities and he enjoyed it hugely. The GST Council may be amongst his most enduring contributions," Ramesh said.
Shashi Tharoor, while condoling the demise of Jaitley, said he was his friend and Delhi University senior. "We first met when he was at DUSU and I was President of St Stephen's College Union. Despite political differences we enjoyed a healthy mutual respect and debated his budget often in Lok Sabha," Tharoor said.
Another friend of Jaitley, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said Jaitley was an old friend and a dear colleague who will be remembered for his seminal contributions to the polity and as finance minister of India.
"As Leader of the Opposition he was without match. He always stood steadfastly for his friends and for his party," Sibal said of Jaitley.
Sibal also posted a photograph with Jaitley from a cricket match the two played in together. Another friend of Jaitley, Abhishek Singhvi recounted that on August 10 he had personally fixed a meeting with him, but unfortunately the former finance minister had to be hospitalised on August 9.
"Visited his family at AIIMS on August 17 and we recounted several anecdotes about him," Singhvi said. "Sad and absolutely gutted at the passing away of a dear friend, fierce compatriot and one of the most well meaning adversary in court & Parliament. Arun Jaitley will be sorely missed," he said.
Former Law Minister Veerappa Moily also remembered Jaitley as a friend and a warm-hearted person. He was a friend of everyone who came to him without any hostility, Moily said. However, when it comes to cornering the opposition, Jaitley never hesitated. During the Congress-led UPA-2 government when a section of BJP leaders in Lok Sabha was hesitant to raise the Robert Vadra land deal issue arguing it would get too personal to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Jaitley stuck to his guns and mentioned it in Rajya Sabha, where he was then the Leader of Opposition. Vadra is Gandhi's son-in-law.
The BJP later took up the matter. He was also the go-to man for allies whether it was JD(U) or SAD. It was Jaitley who finally sealed the seat-sharing arrangement for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Bihar between all the three allies -- the BJP, JD(U) and the LJP.