Tuesday, Jul 05, 2022

Arun Jaitley: Everyone’s Favourite BJP Man

A fine public servant, a minister of rare distinction, a Delhi insider

Arun Jaitley: Everyone’s Favourite BJP Man Photograph by Jitender Gupta

I first met Arun Jaitley in 1974, when we were both students at Delhi University—he the president of the Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU), and I the president of the St Stephen’s College Students’ Union Society. DUSU was a stronghold of the ABVP, of which Arun was a leading light, and my union was resolutely non-political; St Stephen’s did not permit any of the political parties’ student movements to affiliate any student on our campus. Still, we got along well. I was 18, and he was just shy of 22, but the age difference quickly dissolved in mutual respect. To my surprise, he endorsed my candidacy for the academic council of the university, which elected one student representative; he told me that even if we did not see eye-to-eye politically, he felt a student of my accomplishments was what the council needed. (It is another matter that his support cost me that of many liberal and minority students who had showed up intending to vote for me, but changed their mind when they thought I might be the ABVP’s candidate; as a result, this became the first of the only two elections I have ever lost!)

We parted company on the JP “Total Revolution” movement, of which he was an ent­husiastic supporter. Though I greatly adm­ired JP, and privately attended a hugely imp­ressive discussion in his favour at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, I stuck to the Stephanian line that my union would remain non-political, and refused to overtly support the movement. Later, when the Emergency came and Arun, like many other student leaders, was detained, I wondered whether I had done the right thing.