In the early nineties, when the BJP was nowhere near becoming the world’s largest political party, Arun Jaitley was made one of the party’s spokespersons to put forward its world view. In those days, the BJP’s ideological position on the Ram temple, uniform civil code, Article 370 and Hindu nationalism was despised by the intellectual class and viewed with suspicion even by the masses.
It was against this backdrop that Jaitley held forth before the national media, arguing that the Congress’s secularism was nothing but an appeasement of the minorities. He would deftly articulate the BJP’s views, portraying it as a party with a difference whose time would eventually come. This job pitchforked him into the limelight and there was no looking back since. Suave, cerebral and urbane, he was not the stereotypical BJP karyakarta, who was more rustic and came with a heavy ideological baggage.
Yet these qualities did not come in the way of Jaitley slowly making his way to the top of the BJP’s pecking order. Rather, his education and legal expertise seemed to fuel his growth in the party, so much so that he seemed to become every faction’s go-to man. His sharp intellect and keen political understanding made him stand out from other BJP leaders.
So it was not by accident that he was handpicked by party patriarch L K Advani as a leader of the future. His keen political sense made him back Narendra Modi in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots. It was also his political brain that made Jaitley see Modi’s potential as a vote-catcher before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Convinced about his abilities, Jaitley supported Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014. As a politician, he was never a grassroots leader.
The only time he entered the electoral field was in 2014, when he contested from the Amritsar parliamentary constituency. Despite the Modi wave, he lost. Yet he had a support base among the people and the political class. This is why when he was battling for life at AIIMS, where he breathed his last, whoever went to see him returned moist-eyed.