New Delhi: Student politics in the 1970s had a very prominent face – that of Arun Jaitley. The former finance minister, however, was quite distinct in the way he conducted himself from everyone else. “Sabse shreshtha they (he was perfect).
Jaitley became the president of the Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) at a time when the Bihar movement, led by socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), was starting. The student union of the Delhi University played an important role in giving the JP movement a national character. I can recall he was instrumental in bringing the elected heads and secretaries of student unions from across the country to DU for a mass movement.
The Vice Regal building, where the DU Vice Chancellor’s office is located, used to also be the office of the students’ union and that’s where Arun ji conducted a meeting of all the invited union leaders. The building has a hall where the plan to contribute to the JP movement was laid down.
After JP visited Delhi, he was invited to DU where Jaitley met him. We can dub that meeting as the biggest one in the history of the university. Soon, the Emergency was imposed. Jaitley protested against the move on the day it happened -- June 26, 1975. Jaitley was not arrested, but he offered himself for arrest. During this period, Jaitley, who was the only child to his parents, was imprisoned.
I remember that in 1976, after I was released from the Benaras jail, I returned to Delhi and desired to meet his mother to share her grief. I can’t forget the time of consoling his mother about his expected release. But instead of being worried, she consoled me.
“You should not worry. I know the Emergency has happened and his arrest will end with it. I would not mind seeing him imprisoned for democracy. I don’t want any compromise here,” Jaitley’s mother told me. Such were his parents…
The Emergency came to an end and the Janata Party was formed. At the time, the party’s leaders proposed his name as the youth leader. However, he agreed to stay away from the post after being advised to not take it up.
Later in life, Jaitley established himself in the legal field and played an important role in the Bofors case in 1987As a result of this, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, after becoming the Prime Minister, appointed Jaitley as the Additional Solicitor General of India – he was an achiever.
Jaitley acquired all the characteristics of a good leader in DU. He didn’t do well in winning elections, but he started his journey with winning the student union election. I would like to point out that in 1998, it was decided that Jaitley would fight from South Delhi, but provincial leaders did not give him that chance. In 2014, he fought from the wrong constituency. He was successful in politics, whether he won an election or not.
On August 6 this year, after the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, Jaitley wrote a blog despite his bad health. He reminded his readers that Jammu and Kashmir didn’t have sound and fair elections – there were no democratic methods followed and he told the story about officials who only considered Sheikh Abdullah’s recommendations while rejecting those of others. He brought out unknown facts in his blogs – they were rich and informative.
Jaitley is credited with giving the Narendra Modi government an intellectual direction. It is important to recall the time of 2013, when the BJP was considering Modi’s name as the prime ministerial candidate. There were rumours about Jaitley being opposed to Modi’s name. But when I met him, I learnt he was in Modi’s support.
The BJP has a task at hand after Jaitley’s loss – to find someone like him who can be the mind of the party and lend intellectual heft to its politics. This is likely to take them some time.
(The author is a former journalist and president of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts)