Arun Jaitley steered his party through choppy waters

After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled off a miracle in India’s 2014 elections, its tall leader Arun Jaitley, above, defended it against a disinformation war unleashed by the Congress-led Opposition and exposed them.

BJP scored another remarkable election victory in May this year thanks largely to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma and Jaitley’s stout defence of his team.

Jaitley, former finance minister and Modi’s closest aide, died on Saturday at the age of 66 after prolonged illness.

Jaitley was admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi on August 9 with breathing difficulties and he had been put on life support system since then. His condition worsened on Saturday and he died at 12.07 pm, the hospital said.

The cremation will take place with full state honours on Sunday afternoon at Nigambodh Ghat on the banks of Yamuna River.

Jaitley, a lawyer by profession and a politician by choice, brought in landmark reforms as finance minister between 2014 and 2019.

Jaitley was the most important minister in Modi’s cabinet during the BJP-led government’s first term. He also held the defence portfolio.

A master persuader who believed in the politics of consensus, Jaitley steered major legislations such as the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code and the Goods and Services Tax — the biggest fiscal reform since Independence — through Parliament.

As defence minister, he formulated policies to make India self-reliant in defence production.

When the Opposition parties were targeting Modi over the Rafale fighter jets deal, Jaitley lucidly explained it to lawmakers to clear all doubts.
Jaitley never tried to impose his views on others but he expressed them boldly, listened to his critics and learned from them.

Jaitley’s erudition, wit and openness drew people from different walks of life towards him. He loved to talk and they listened to his views on subjects ranging from politics to Bollywood, food and cricket.

Jaitley did not contest the 2019 national elections due to ill health. He had a kidney transplant last year and was diagnosed with soft tissue cancer early this year that forced him to skip presentation of the interim budget in February.

In his condolence message, Modi described Jaitley as a political giant, towering intellectual, legal luminary and articulate leader who made a lasting contribution to India. His passing away is saddening, said the prime minister from UAE where he had gone to receive the Emirates’ highest civilian award, Order of Zayed.

LK Advani, BJP veteran, said Jaitley was respected for his sharp, analytical mind to find solutions to complex issues. He described the departed leader as a soft-spoken, erudite and warm hearted person who loved food and friends and lived well.

Home Minister Amit Shah said Jaitley guided him for years and his death was a personal loss for him.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said Jaitley will be remembered for pulling the economy out of the gloom and putting it back on track.

Nirmala Sitharaman, who succeeded Jaitley as finance minister, said Jaitley’s intelligence, sagacity and astuteness have no match.

Jaitley knew he can never be a mass leader like Modi and supported him to the hilt when the question of future prime minister arose in the party. He was the trouble-shooter for the BJP and mentor to young party workers.

Even after he ceased to be a MP, Jaitley inspired BJP with his ideas.  He wrote blogs defending his party’s stand on issues of national interest.

His last blog hailed Modi and Shah for their efforts to resolve the decades-old Jammu & Kashmir issue by abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution.