Arun Jaitley: Politician who made multiple people feel special at the same time

Senior TV journalist Bhupendra Chaubey pays his tribute to Arun Jaitley

e4m by Bhupendra Chaubey
Updated: Aug 26, 2019 9:15 AM

How do you remember Arun Jaitley?

The quintessential “Delhi insider” who knew something about anyone who was someone? From a corporate tycoon to journalists to cricketers to artistes to, of course, jurists, Jaitley’s circle was so large that it was difficult to figure out exactly where did you fit in. But as I sat in the studios today, speaking to his party colleagues and a range of people whose lives he had touched upon, I couldn’t help but conclude that here was a politician who had that unique ability of making multiple people feel special, all at the same time.

You only have to look at the reams of Twitter or Facebook posts from editors to junior reporters to see how everyone has a story on Jaitley. I have mine too but that’s for later.

Should we look at Jaitley as the liberal face who changed tact as “hard nationalism” became the political flavour post 2014? From someone who would has the moral courage of stating “we sit in glorious splendid isolation” while in opposition, simply because BJP in opposition couldn’t get the parties to align with it as it wanted, to going completely the other way and lament “constitutionalist would believe first comes the Supreme Court and then god but faithful would believe otherwise” during the Sabarimala hearing in Supreme Court, Mr Jaitley forever managed to ride two boats simultaneously. It’s a unique political trait to have, to constantly evolve and repackage yourself as need arose. Perhaps it’s this trait which ensured that he had friends on the left and the right.

He would often tell me that those who go to Supreme Court fighting for human rights on every small little thing are ultimately weakening the country. But that was when he was in power. While in opposition, he didn’t think twice before going to Jantar Mantar in 2012-13 while Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption crusade was at its peak. Arvind Kejriwal would later go onto become a rival, but Mr Jaitley didn’t see anything wrong at that point to engage with a whole range of anti-establishment voices, who are all now vehement critics of the government.

But any tribute to Jaitley would be incomplete without a reference to his love for food. As Abhishek Manu Singhvi put it on CNN News 18 while talking to me , “There are food-dotes and not just anecdotes about Arun Jaitley.” His preferred restaurant, the embassy restaurant, from where he would often get mutton rara or daal, his love for chole bhature, or to figure out the best keema place in town, you could get all the info from him.

An afternoon with Jaitley could turn out to be an extraordinary affair with conversations ranging from cricket to suits-ties in London to the minutest gossip in news rooms in Delhi. I would often joke with him that he would have made an excellent editor if he wasn’t a politician. An adage which his critics often used to hit out at his equation with media by calling him “media bureau chief”, was an adage that he was always very proud of.

Arun Jaitley’s ability to engage with diverse fields all at the same time gave him a cult status which is difficult to manage for any contemporary politician. He may not have won a Lok Sabha election in his life but he was certainly instrumental in ensuring his party colleagues won several.

In his loss, the BJP has lost its finest strategiser, the ultimate Chanakya of Indian politics.

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