Our political affiliations may have differed, but Arun Jaitleyji and I shared an affinity for reading. I would carry a book or two whenever I went to meet him and he would reciprocate with recommendations about the latest titles that he had read, and which he felt I should devote time to reading. So, it was quite befitting, that my last meeting with him, a few months ago, took place in his study—adorned by a bookscape of eclectically chosen titles, redolent with the smell of paper of varying types —some fresh and crisp, some yellow and crinkly.

He had not been keeping well for a while, and in an almost prophetic sense, told me that he had lived a full life and had no regrets. He fondly talked about his student days, his legal career, his political and public life and said that he was thankful to the opportunities that the Almighty had given him. One desire that he had, if God allowed, he said, was to be able to attend his son’s wedding, planned for this coming November. Sadly, that was not to be.

Jaitley has left us at a time when his skills are so desperately required by our country—cutting across party lines, carrying everybody along and being able to decipher with sound logic.

But in the time he has remained with us, he has left such a strong legacy, that emulating it would be a tall order for anybody. For a long time, it was felt that the Indian political right had very few strong intellectual well-spoken leaders. This started to change with Jaitley’s arrival on the national polity. Not only was he articulate and erudite, his unequivocal espousing of liberal values and his reform-oriented mindset came in like a whiff of fresh air. The deftness with which he ensured safe passage of the GST (goods and services tax) in Parliament was a tribute to his skill of overcoming political opposition and taking everyone along.

Never overbearing, Jaitley knew that initially, there would be issues in the implementation of GST. As a lifelong student and practitioner of law and economy, he was always open to new ideas and when presented with dependable evidence, he would bring about a change as required by the situation. Often, meetings of the GST Council would get heated and to defuse the situation, he would suddenly start narrating jokes in chaste Punjabi. This switch-over from the language of a suave lawyer, to that of a son of the soil, would make most of us smile and cause sufficient confusion in the assembled group that very soon, the tension that had earlier threatened to derail the entire gathering would get dissipated.

At a time, when buoyed by the infamous Vodafone episode, the tax departments were going over the top, issuing retrospective taxation notices to domestic and foreign investors, it took the firm approach of Jaitley to rein in such misadventures. He clearly gave an instruction that no such retrospective notice should be sent without the approval of the finance ministry. This went a long way in assuaging the increasing apprehensions of investors. Similarly, his contribution in the bankruptcy reforms, particularly the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, would prove to be extremely relevant. In his entire political career, there has never been even the slightest tarnish to his reputation. During my last meeting with him, as I took his leave, he gave me the soundest advice— “Remember Manpreet, when all is done and dusted, the only thing that one will be remembered for is one’s credibility and one should never compromise on that." Today, he may no longer be with us, but the credibility and the respect that he commanded will continue to inspire coming generations of politicians and lawyers. The newspapers, on the day of his passing, carried detailed coverage of how Nirmala Sitharaman, his successor at the finance ministry, made a series of announcements in trying to undo some of the damage. Jaitley, I am sure, would have smiled —knowing well that there is no place for false egos in public policy, and there is never a wrong time to correct an earlier error.

Punjab has surely lost a friend and he will be missed.

Manpreet Singh Badal is the finance minister of Punjab.

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