Arun Jaitley – taking the high road to North Block

New Delhi: Legal eagle, master orator, strategist, the erudite face of the saffron fold of Indian politics, and now the Finance Minister of India, Arun Jaitley has, over the years, emerged as a key player in Bharatiya Janata Party’s scheme of things.

Jaitley’s importance in the BJP is evident from the fact that in spite of losing his maiden Lok Sabha poll this year by a margin of over 100,000 votes from Amritsar, he is one of the top four Cabinet ministers of Modi sarkar with the key portfolios of finance, defence and corporate affairs.

In that sense, this is not a first for Jaitley. Atal Bihari Vajpayee inducted Jaitley into his Council of Ministers in 1999, when he wasn’t even a Rajya Sabha member. Under Vajpayee, Jaitley held portfolios such as law,
justice, company affairs, shipping and commerce and industry. He was named  the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in 2009.

Jaitley faced, and lost, his first Lok Sabha election at 63. But that’s hardly a reflection on the formidable career of this seasoned politician.

In the post-Vajpayee era of the BJP, Jaitley rose steadily. Having set himself apart as a formidable voice and face of the party for the outside world, within the party, he assumed the role of a key strategist.

That Jaitley would hold some key portfolios in case of a BJP government was an open secret, even in run-up to the polls. In fact, Shiromani Akali Dal supremo Parkash Singh Badal’s statement during the poll campaign that Jaitley would be the next deputy prime minister of India gave one a sense of his ascent in politics.

For sometime now, Jaitley has inched closer to Narendra Modi, positioning himself in a core group of sorts of the 15th Prime Minister of India.

Throughout the poll campaign, Jaitley remained in news with his daily statements and blogs hogging headlines all over the frenzied media.

Jaitley’s tryst with politics goes back to the early 1970s when he was elected as the president of the Shri Ram College of Commerce students’ union.

He went on to become the Delhi University Students’ Union president in 1974 as a candidate of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

Jaitley himself believes that his election marked a watershed moment in student politics in the country, as, until then, the Congress held sway over university campuses.

He joined the anti-corruption movement led by Jaiprakash Narayan and was appointed the convener of the coordination committee of the youth and student organisations in the movement.

With the imposition of Emergency in 1975, Jaitley spent 19 months in Delhi’s Tihar Jail in preventive detention. In 1977, the lawyer in Jaitley took over in good measure, while he continued a sort of parallel association with politics.

He formally joined the BJP in 1980 and almost instantly took over the presidentship of the party’s youth wing.

In 1990, soon after being designated a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, Jaitley was appointed as the Additional Solicitor General of India and was entrusted with what was, and still remains, perhaps the most explosive case in Independent India’s history, the Bofors scandal.

The beginning of the last decade of the 20th century cemented Jaitley’s position as a prominent face of the BJP. That decade brought three proud moments for Jaitley — his entry into the BJP’s national executive in 1991, his appointment as the  national spokesperson of the party and, finally, his induction into Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s council of ministers.

He first entered the Rajya Sabha in April 2000 and has been its member ever since. He is credited with making some of the most memorable speeches in the Rajya Sabha over the years.

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