A student activist, lawyer, an election campaign manager, leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha, Union minister, but above all, a friend, writes Hardeep Singh Puri, minister of state with independent charge of housing and urban affairs and civil aviation.

A student activist, lawyer, an election campaign manager, leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha, Union minister, but above all, a friend. The demise of Arun Jaitley leaves a vacuum not only in our polity, but also in our hearts.


I first met Arun sometime around 1970-71, when he was a first year student at Shri Ram College of Commerce, and I was in my third and final year at Hindu College. We were both part of the debating circuit at Delhi University and would come up against each other often. To say Arun stood out from the crowd even in those early days would be an understatement. A charming personality and an eloquent speaker, he quickly became the talk of North Campus.


Despite our careers taking us on different paths – me having joined the Foreign Service and him student politics and then the legal profession – our friendship continued. I was particularly concerned about him when he courted arrest while protesting against the Emergency. Unlike other Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stalwarts who had faced similar situations during the freedom movement, Arun was still a young man and had not necessarily experienced such hardship. However, when I learned through our common network that he had been made kitchen in-charge by the prison authorities, my troubles eased – Arun, the quintessential foodie would be fine, I told myself.


On a more serious note, the 19 months Arun spent in prison changed him. While he had already become one of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad’s leading figures, spending over a year in prison fighting for India’s democracy gave him the resolve required to spend an entire lifetime in politics and public service. Those 19 months would also go on to define his politics – a staunch democrat, he would always state with pride that the BJP was the only political party in India that rewarded meritocracy over dynasty. It came as no surprise to many of us who knew him and his dedication to the party that the great Atal Bihari Vajpayee publicly recognized Arun as one of its bright young stars in 1985.


Despite our somewhat divergent professions, our paths overlapped every once in a while. One such incident took place on a cold winter night during the 1980 general election. Vajpayee ji had contested from Delhi that year and I was serving as an undersecretary in the national capital. I had gone to the counting station at Modern School to check up on the results. The BJP’s fortunes were not looking good, and by night time, much of the cadre had left the station. Arun arrived just as the last few of the cadre were leaving. When the result was finally announced that Vajpayee ji had won, it was just a few of us who remained. Arun and I celebrated the victory with dinner at the famous Pindi restaurant in Pandara Road. I had forgotten about this incident till Arun reminded me when he launched my first book, Perilous Interventions.


The high point in Arun’s career in public service has to be his stewardship of the Indian economy as finance minister from 2014-19. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was sworn-in in May 2014, Arun, as finance minister, inherited a crumbling economy. The mood in the country was somber following reports of one scam after another. The economy was crying out for structural reform that would allow ease of business and wealth creation. Arun oversaw historic decisions – the introduction of the Goods and Service Tax, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, and the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016. The crackdown against those who had looted India’s resources with impunity began under Arun.


Many of these landmark legislations were accompanied by delivery of goods and services to those at the bottom of the pyramid. I can tell you from my own experience, as minister for housing and urban affairs, that before every budget, every time we urged Arun to make a consideration for a flagship mission under our ministry, he listened patiently and was receptive to our needs. It would not be an overstatement to suggest that the economic management that Arun spearheaded between 2014 and 2019 was a significant factor in the re-election of Prime Minister Modi’s government.


Few in public life have gone on to achieve as much as my friend Arun, and fewer still have impacted the number of lives he did. What will remain with me after he is gone is the fact that he achieved all this with a smile on his face. Arun was generous with laughter. He could regale an audience for hours on end and join in the revelry himself. It is only fitting that the pictures flashed on our TV screens on Saturday are displaying his beaming smile. It is how I, and many of us, will remember our dear friend.

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