I have just no words to express my boundless dismay and dejection on first learning that a great legal luminary and a political stalwart whom we all know by the name of Arun Jaitley has finally left us and left for his heavenly abode on August 24! Earlier we saw how another legal luminary and political stalwart – Sushma Swaraj too similarly left us in this month of August itself! Their space can never be filled up!
Let me be candid enough to confess that I have never met Arun Jaitley in person but I always enjoyed reading his enlightening and enriching articles in magazines like Uday India apart from newspapers also! It will take some time to come to terms with the stark truth that Arun Jaitley just like Sushma Swaraj too has left us and just like her, he too had expressed his utmost happiness on scrapping Article 370 and Article 35A and ensuring the full and final merger of Jammu and Kashmir with India! The Supreme Court Bar Association too has expressed its deepest condolences on the sad demise of Arun Jaitley just like Sushma Swaraj!
As we all know, Jaitley had not been keeping good health since quite some time. He had been admitted in All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on August 9 after complaining of uneasiness and breathlessness and was under the care of a multi-disciplinary team of senior doctors. He had been unwell for the past two years. In 2014, he underwent a bariatric surgery to correct the weight that he had gained because of a long-standing diabetic condition. In 2018, he underwent a kidney transplant surgery at AIIMS. Earlier this year, in January, he was diagnosed with a rare form of soft tissue sarcoma which is a form of ancer.
No doubt, his exemplary conduct won him admirers not only from within his party but also across the party lines! He received his LLB degree from Delhi University in 1977. He began practicing law in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court in 1987. He was designated a senior lawyer by the Delhi High Court in 1990 when he was just 38 years of age.
It is rightly said that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The same holds true for Arun Jaitley also! One can gauge his huge potential from this very irrefutable fact that he was appointed the Additional Solicitor General at the age of 37 by the then PM VP Singh even before he was designated a senior lawyer! It cannot be lightly dismissed that it was during his tenure as Additional Solicitor General that he played the key role in putting together the papers leading to the Bofors investigation in 1989. As Additional Solicitor General, Jaitley headed a high-powered team that visited Switzerland and Sweden to unravel the components of payments made to middlemen in the purchase of 158mm howitzer guns. His clients included big political stalwarts like PM Narednra Modi, present Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Sharad Yadav, late Madhavrao Scindia and LK Advani among others. He also represented large corporations like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola.
It also cannot be lightly dismissed that he was appointed Minister of State for I&B and minister of state for disinvestment which was a new ministry then in 1999 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. There was no looking back for him since then! He was elevated to the Cabinet as Union Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs after another legal luminary – Ram Jethmalani resigned in 2000. He performed all his task with distinction and vindicated the huge faith posed by the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in him! In 2003, he was appointed as Minister of Commerce and Industry also!
It goes without saying that he played the most instrumental role along with former Goa Chief Minister and ex-Defence Minister – late Manohar Parrikar in forwarding the name of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister at the BJP national executive meet at Goa in 2013 as he felt he was the most popular choice of party workers and asked his followers and leaders also including LK Advani to refrain from projecting him as PM. This alone explains that why PM Narendra Modi too was most upset on hearing the tragic news of his death while on foreign trip to UAE on an official tour and very rightly described him as a “valuable friend” whose insights and nuanced understanding of matters had “very few parallels”. PM Narednra Modi minced no words in candidly admitting that, “With the demise of Arun Jaitley Ji, I have lost a valued friend, whom I have had the honour of knowing for decades.” PM Modi rightly said that, “The former Finance Minister was full of life, blessed with wit, a great sense of humour and charisma.” In a series of tweets, PM Modi also said that, “Mr Jaitley was admired by people across all sections of society, adding that he was multi-faceted, had impeccable knowledge of India’s Constitution, history, public policy, governance and administration.”
In PM Narendra Modi’s first term as PM, it was mostly Arun Jaitley who mainly handled the key portfolios like Defence and Finance! In 2009, he was chosen as Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, after which he stopped practicing law. But he continued advising leaders in his private capacity on all legal issues! Even senior and eminent lawyers from other parties like Kapil Sibal who too is a renowned legal luminary and he too has handled key portfolios of Law, Science and Technology and others just like Arun Jaitley admired the sharp legal acumen of Jaitley and made sure that he accompanied Jaitley in his funeral procession also! This speaks for itself as to how much respect and admiration he commanded cutting across party lines!
Let me say this most bluntly: Those who criticize him for not winning elections and lambast him for not being a mass leader don’t know the ground reality! It is not necessary that only those who win elections are mass leaders! We all know that former PM Manmohan Singh could not win elections due to which some leaders even took jibes at him just like others took jibes at Jaitley but can anyone deny the immense popularity they enjoyed both in the eyes of the common man? Certainly not!
Who does not know that he opposed the Emergency imposed by late Mrs Indira Gandhi tooth and nail and opted to stay in jail for 19 months instead of kowtowing in front of her as she was then the most powerful PM while he was still a student in a college and was about 25 years of age? It was Arun Jaitley who when he was just aged 33 years attracted national limelight when in a 1980 case involving the Indian Express building land on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in Delhi he fought the case with brilliance! In the Express case, Arun Jaitley strongly drove home the valid point before the Supreme Court that right to freedom of expression, intrinsic to publication of newspapers needed to be protected from the machination of powerful; and tyrannical forces who were wanting to harass newspapers into submission so that they don’t publish any adverse news which affected their political interests in the longer run!
It must be also pointed out here that Jaitley won the case for The Indian Express and a portion of the building was saved from being demolished as the Supreme Court on October 7, 1985, struck down as order from the then Lt Governor Jagmohan for alleged violation of floor area ratio (FAR)! In 1998, the President had sent a reference under Article 143 raising questions about the procedure laid down by the Supreme Court for appointment of Judges to the High Courts and the Supreme Court. As we all know, it was this reference which is popularly known as the Third Judges case, which firmly entrenched the collegiums system for the appointment of constitutional court Judges and the Supreme Court opinion very rightly records gracefully the immense contributions of Jaitley which he rendered in this regard!
One more interesting point also must be mentioned here regarding Jaitley. In the aftermath of 2002 post-Godhra ritos, the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had recommended the dissolution of the State Assembly and the Governor had accepted it. Since the last sitting of the Assembly was on April 3, 2002, and the Constitution did not permit a gap of more than six months between two sittings, polls were required to be held and results were declared before October 3, 2002. But the Election Commission put a spoke in the wheel and expressed its sheer inability to hold free and fair elections prior to October 3, 2002 citing law and order issues which they argued were not conducive for holding elections. The President sent a reference to the Supreme Court. Arun Jaitley argued exceptionally well for his party BJP and the Supreme Court very rightly accepted his logical contention that the Election Commission had to hold polls and ensure that not more than six months lapse between two sittings. The rest is history. The Election Commission had to hold elections and Narendra Modi romped home comfortably to once again become the Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Who does not know that it was sheer legal acumen of Arun Jaitley which saved both Pm Narendra Modi as also Union Home Minister Amit Shah when both faced the wrong end of the stick from CBI pertaining to post-Godhra riots cases and later encounter killing cases as in the case of Sohrabuddin? Who can question that as a senior advocate, Jaitley has left a long list of junior lawyers many of whom have now become senior who have learnt the art of advocacy from him and very rightly owe a lot to him? Who can deny that it was Jaitley who most bravely answered all troubling questions most cheerfully in Parliament for BJP and it is here that his legal skills as lawyer came in extremely handy for him as well as his party? Who can deny that he contributed even in sports while he was President of Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) and eminent former batsmen Virender Sehwag who is also a member of DDCA said rightly while paying his rich tributes that, “He focused on ensuring the best facilities for sportspersons. It was he who initiated the upgrading of Feroz Shah Kotla stadium”?
On a concluding note, let me say that it was Arun Jaitley who handled everyone with dexterity, calmness and skill that is unparallel! He may have left us physically but the unremitting and unrelenting work which he did just like Sushma Swaraj in various capacities both as a lawyer and as a Union Minister and as a Member of Parliament can never be forgotten by anyone! It was Jaitley who ensured that GST was rolled out and it was his unremitting focus that reshaped the Indian economy! It was in jail that he continued his studies while he as imprisoned during Emergency and still got first division in Law which speaks for itself the immense talent that he had right from the start in his life!
His immense popularity can be gauged from this that Sonia Gandhi who is UPA Chairperson too expressed her huge grief by saying that, “I am deeply saddened. Jaitley had a long innings as a public figure, Parliamentarian and Minister and his contributions to public life will forever be remembered.” Ram Nath Kovind who is our President too rightly said that, “Shri Arun Jaitley possessed a unique ability of discharging the most onerous responsibility with poise, passion and studied understanding. His passing leaves a huge void in our public life.” May his soul rest in peace!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.