Our regular meetings were for food, and food for thought

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M. Venkaiah Naidu

When I visited my long time dear friend Arun Jaitley in hospital on August 11, I expressed hope that he would recover soon. His hand in mine, he looked at me and gesticulated that all will be well. I had hardly expected it would be my last handshake with him. I did not expect Arun would say goodbye forever so soon. I am unable to reconcile to the fact that he will not be back at work and I can’t seek him whenever needed as usual.

I have relied on his wise counsel and sagacity for over 40 years since our college days. We first met at a convention of presidents of student unions in 1974 with Jaitley representing Delhi University while I was from Andhra University . Since then, we were fellow travellers through the thick and thin of our political journeys developing a strong bond of kinship and mutual respect. I am shattered by the untimely demise of such a dear friend.

Arun epitomised versatility and was a multi-faceted genius. He rose to be known as a widely acknowledged political voice of contemporary India. His clarity of thought, strength of conviction, effective communication skills and ability to present perspectives made him a formidable presence.. He emerged as the most effective spokesperson in the contemporary era for his party and government.

Study and practice of law and his native perspicacity gave Jaitley the sharp edge in winning an argument. Political peers across the spectrum ungrudgingly agreed that they may not agree with him but could not help admire the force of his viewpoint. He will be missed by one and all for his insights into the major issues of our time which enriched public and parliamentary discourse. His regular blogs were informative and compelling reading.

After being president of Delhi University Students Union in 1974, he was the youngest member of the Janata Party national executive founded in the aftermath of Emergency in 1977. Since then, it has been a steady course and he was on the BJP national executive since 1991 — which speaks for his contribution to the party. When I was party president, I made him a member of the parliamentary board along with Sushma Swaraj. With his grasp of issues and drafting skills, he wrote numerous resolutions for his party.

He left a mark on all the ministries he handled, including finance and corporate affairs, defence, commerce, industry, shipping, disinvestment and information & broadcasting. He piloted several legislations that made India a modern economy including the GST Act, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code and laws to prevent money laundering and corruption. He deftly handled the political economy during 2014-19 at a critical time. His sound judgement ensured the macro fundamentals of our economy were stable.

When the issue of leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha came up in 2009, we insisted on each other being chosen before he finally relented. In that capacity, he played a key role in the Upper House in passing the women’s reservation bill. As leader of the House in Rajya Sabha, he was a great support for me as chairman. He was a consummate strategist knowing when to take a hard position and to when to accommodate the other side.

He was a democrat to the core, inspired by the spirit of the Constitution, and a staunch defender of the rights granted to citizens. Not many would remember his being active in the civil rights movement and helping launch PUCL Bulletin. He was also convener of Loktantrik Yuva Morcha in 1977. For opposing Emergency, he was jailed for 19 months as I was. He was a nationalist yearning for the rise of India.
Since the early days of his public life, he was a staunch opponent of corruption that was eating into the vitals of our nation. He actively participated in the antigraft campaign launched by Jayaprakash Narayan in 1973. Later, he supported the Anna Hazare campaign for a Jan Lok Pal. He was uncompromising in backing legislation against financial irregularities and crimes.

He acquitted himself as an outstanding parliamentarian and an eloquent orator. During 2014-19, he was the most effective interlocutor of the government in and outside Parliament articulating it’s position and perspectives on all major socio-economic and political issues. He had the innate and unique ability of offering solutions without compromising on the basic position and view of the government and his party.

What made Jaitley different was his knowledge and grasp of national and international issues. He worked hard to keep abreast of contemporary issues with a 360 degree view of socio-economic and geo-political implications. Alas! That voice is no more with us. But his legacy will continue to guide all of us. He opted out of government citing health grounds. A rare show of character.

On a personal note, both of us were foodies. In the early days, we used to go to all the popular restaurants and try different kinds of cuisine. He was a regular at my residence. His house was the only place I used to visit on socio-cultural occasions. While dining we used to talk and exchange notes on various emerging issues. Our regular meetings were both for food and food for thought.

This period has been very stressful because of the loss of Arun Jaitley and before that Sushma Swaraj and Jaipal Reddy. I am shattered by destiny taking away Arun. It is both a personal and national loss. May his soul rest in peace.

               (The writer is Vice-President of India)