Former finance minister and BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley passes away at 66

New Delhi: Former union finance minister and senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley passed away at AIIMS here Saturday afternoon. He was 66.

Arun Jaitley was born on 28 December 1952 at New Delhi. His father Maharaj Kishen Jaitley was a lawyer and mother Ratan Prabha Jaitley a housewife. He studied at St Xavier’s School, Delhi  from 1957–69. He graduated with a honours.

Jaitley was an ABVP student leader at the Delhi University Campus in the seventies and rose to be the President of the Students Union of Delhi University in 1974. He was a prominent leader of a movement against corruption launched in the year 1973 by Raj Narain and Jai Prakash Narayan. He was the Convenor of the National Committee for Students and Youth organization appointed by Jai Prakash Narayan. He was also active in civil rights movement and helped found PUCL Bulletin along with Satish Jha and Smitu Kothari. After being released from jail he joined the Jan Sangh.

In 1977, being the convener of the Loktantric Yuva Morcha at a time when the Congress suffered defeat, Jaitley was appointed the president of the Delhi ABVP and All India Secretary of the ABVP. He was then made the president of the youth wing of the BJP and the secretary of the Delhi Unit in 1980, a short time after joining the party.

Jaitley has been practising law before the Supreme Court and several High Courts in the country since 1987. In January 1990, Delhi High Court designated him as a Senior Advocate. He was appointed Additional Solicitor General by the VP Singh government in 1989 and did the paperwork for the investigations into the Bofors scandal. His clients cover the political spectrum from Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal to Madhavrao Scindie of Congress to LK Advani of the BJP.  He has authored several publications on legal and current affairs. He has presented a paper on law relating to corruption and crime in India before the Indo-British Legal Forum. He was a delegate on behalf of the Government of India to the United Nations General Assembly Session in June 1998 where the Declaration on Laws Relating to Drugs and Money Laundering was approved.

Jaitley has also appeared on behalf of giant multinational corporations such as PepsiCo against Coca-Cola and in various other cases in India. After having been the Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs, Jaitley represented Pepsi in 2002 in a case where the Supreme Court of India admonished and imposed stiff fines on 8 companies for painting advertisements on ecologically fragile rocks along the Manali-Rohtang road in the Himalayas,

Given his political duties as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Jaitley stopped practising law in June 2009.

Jaitley has been a member of the national executive of BJP since 1991. He became the spokesperson of the BJP during the period preceding the 1999 general election.

In 1999, after the Vajpayee Government of the BJP led National Democratic Alliance came to power, he was appointed Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting (Independent Charge) on 13 October 1999. He was also appointed Minister of State for Disinvestment (Independent Charge), a new ministry created for the first time to give effect to the policy of disinvestments under the World Trade Organization regime. He took over the additional charge of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Company Affairs on 23 July 2000 following the resignation of Ram Jethmalani as the Union Cabinet Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs.

He was elevated to a Cabinet Minister in November 2000 and was made simultaneously the Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs and Shipping. He was the first Minister of Shipping following the bifurcation of the Ministry of Surface Transport. He demitted the office of the Minister for Shipping with effect from 1 September 2001 and as Union Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs on 1 July 2002 to join as a General Secretary of the BJP and its national spokesman. He worked in this capacity till January 2003. He rejoined the Union Cabinet as the Minister of Commerce & Industry and Law & Justice on 29 January 2003. With the defeat of the National Democratic Alliance in May 2004, Jaitley returned to serving the BJP as a general secretary, and back to his legal career.

He was chosen as the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha on 3 June 2009 by L.K. Advani. On 16 June 2009, he resigned from the post of General Secretary of BJP as per his party’s One Man One Post principle. He is also a member of the Central Election Committee of the party. In his capacity as the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, he played a vital role during the talks of the Women Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha and also supported Anna Hazare for the Jan Lokpal Bill. He successfully introduced the eighty-fourth amendment to the Constitution of India in 2002 freezing parliamentary seats until 2026 and the ninety-first amendment to the Constitution of India in 2004 penalising defections. However, being in the party since 1980 he never contested any direct election until 2014. He was the BJP candidate for the Amritsar seat in the Lok Sabha (replacing Navjot Singh Sidhu) for the 2014 parliamentary elections but lost to Amarinder Singh of Congress. He was a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat. He was re-elected to Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh in March 2018.

on August 26, 2012, he said (outside Parliament) “There are occasions when an obstruction in Parliament brings greater benefits to the country.” This statement is considered to have given legitimacy to obstruction of parliament in the contemporary politics in India. After forming government in 2014 BJP government has also faced disruptions and obstructions in parliament multiple numbers of times and opposition keeps on referring to his aforesaid statement. While his contribution to parliamentary discussion is exemplary but his support of obstruction as a legitimate floor strategy undoes his positive contribution to the Indian Parliamentary Democracy.

On 26 May 2014, Jaitley was selected by newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be the Minister of Finance, the Minister for Corporate Affairs and the Minister of Defence, in his cabinet. Analysts cited Jaitley’s “part-time” focus on defence as a simple continuation of the policies of the previous government. According to a WikiLeaks cable by Robert Blake, the Charge at the US Embassy, to his government, when pressed on the question of Hindutva, Jaitley had argued that Hindu nationalism “will always be a talking point” for the BJP and characterised this as an opportunistic issue. Jaitely later clarified that “the use of the word opportunistic in reference to nationalism or Hindu nationalism is neither my view nor my language. It could be the diplomat’s own usage.”

During the 2015 Bihar Legislative Assembly election Arun Jaitley agreed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertions that the idea of reservations on the basis of religion is fraught with danger and was against giving reservations to Muslim Dalits and Christian Dalits as it might impact demography. He also serves as a member to the Board of Governors of Asian Development Bank.

In November 2015, Jaitley said that personal laws governing marriages and divorces should be subject to fundamental rights, as constitutionally-guaranteed rights are supreme. He announced the Income declaration scheme, 2016 in September 2016.

On May 29, 2019, in a letter to Prime Minister Modi, Arun Jaitley cited his health as a reason for not taking an active role in the formation of the new government, effectively declining a role as a minister in the second term of Prime Minister Modi.

Arun Jaitley married Sangeeta, daughter of former Jammu and Kashmir finance minister Girdhari Lal Dogra, in 1982. They have two children, Rohan and Sonali; the latter married Jaiyesh Bakhshi. Both his children are lawyers. He has two siblings.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is currently on a foreign visit, has spoken to Jaitley’s family members soon after receiving the news of Jaitley’s demise. Jaitley’s family has requested the Prime Minister not to curtail his foreign visit on account of Jaitley’s demise.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who was on his way to Hyderabad, has cancelled his scheduled visit to Hyderabad and is returning to New Delhi.

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has also condoled Jaitley’s death. He has cancelled all his scheduled functions at Lucknow and is returning to New Delhi.

Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has also condoled the death of Arun Jaitley.

Congress has also condoled Jatley’s demise.