Monday, May 27, 2024

Arun Jaitley: A giant in public space like few others

Arun Jaitley was a luminary and not just in the legal, political and the debating space. Even when he raised his voice, he appeared more persuasive than angry. Look at his speeches in the Parliament and you would see fewer interruptions from the Opposition benches than otherwise. (“He used to hit but not hurt anyone,” Rakesh Sinha, RSS ideologue)Theorists opine those who touch many diverse fields of life are more impactful than those who are specialists in a particular discipline. A close analogy would be a comparison between Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar. While the last two are known primarily as an actor, Raj Kapoor, because of his contributions in the field of music, screenplay, direction and acting was more pervasive.

Jaitley loved cricket, music and food and not necessarily in that order. TV personality Rajat Sharma, probably closest to him in public space than anybody else, reminiscences that Jaitley almost always knew where to get the best rogan josh, chicken, chola-baturas etc.  Zafar Sureshwala, former vice-chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, says that Jaitley used to tell him, “Don’t come to Delhi without bringing samosas from a particular shop in Ahmedabad.”  He was also very fond of Kashmiri shawls. He sure had a zest for life.

Jaitley could be busy but you could still find him at the Wanderers in Johannesburg lapping up the cricket action against South Africa. Delhi cricketers, as a rule, were grateful to him. Black sheeps like Kirti Azad in cricket and Arvind Kejriwal in politics flashed their daggers on his side but neither of the two was believed in the public space.

Ratan Sharda, who is an authority on Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS), has tweeted that one of the amazing unknown humanitarian face of the deceased was he sent children of his low-ranking staff to study in the same school as his children. He paid for them. They are doctors and engineers. Two girls are studying abroad.

It’s an apt time to remember that Jaitley lost no time in shifting to his Kailash Colony residence, vacating his official residence of 2 Krishna Menon Marg,  after quitting the cabinet where he had held both finance and defence ministry. Contrast this with Congress MPs who stuck to their official perks like leeches.

Jaitley battled for a considerable time with cancer in his final years. Yet his energy and ideological firmness didn’t dilute as BJP tuned up for the 2019 General Polls. Left-Liberal cabal and the media went full throttle in trying to nail the government on Rafale deal and if there was one person who repulsed such a fierce attack, it was a terminally-fated Jaitley with his public speeches and Facebook posts.

Jaitley had Jammu and Kashmir under his attention for a number of years. Destiny ensured that he saw the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A during his lifetime. Indeed, the very last piece he wrote was on the tectonic shift in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir.

Leaders cutting across party lines, legal luminaries, intellectual corners, sports-lovers all remember Arun Jaitley with gratitude, fondness and respect. It’s remarkable for as a politician he never won an election. As a legal hawk, he sometimes went against his own party.  He was devoid of arrogance—can’t help bringing up P. Chidambaram and his icy-cold arrogance in comparison—and human to a fault.

His is a void which would be difficult to fill in the acrimonious public space that is India of our times.

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