The 66-year-old leader leaves his signature on India’s economic architecture through the measures he took when he was finance minister during the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) previous term. Jaitley, a consensus-builder who treated political opponents with respect, was chosen by the BJP to carry out landmark reforms such as replacing India’s archaic indirect tax laws with a modern goods and services tax (GST), a move that needed support from state leaderships irrespective of their political affiliations. He was also the go-to person for the BJP for defending the party in times of need. The new bankruptcy code is a stellar piece of reform that Jaitley introduced, replacing the earlier ineffective systems meant for handling industrial sickness in India.
Jaitley was born on 28 December 1952 and has been actively involved in politics for nearly 50 years.
After completing his schooling from St. Xavier’s School, New Delhi, in 1969, where he had studied since 1960, Jaitley joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Delhi University.
He graduated in commerce from the prestigious Shri Ram College of Commerce, New Delhi, in 1973 and obtained a degree in law from Delhi University in 1977. While studying law, Jaitley became the president of the University Students’ Union in 1974, marking his entry into politics.
When former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency in the country between 1975-77, Jaitley was also placed under preventive detention first in Tihar jail in Delhi and then in Ambala Central Jail. In 2018, Jaitley recounted those days in a Facebook post, describing it as a milestone in his life. “...I thus got the privilege for organizing the only protest on the morning of 26 June 1975 and became the first Satyagrahi against the Emergency. Little did I realize that at a young age of 22 years, I was participating in events which were going to be a part of history. For me, this event changed the future course of my life. By late afternoon, I was lodged in Tihar Jail as a Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) detenu."
Jaitley was also the convener of the Loktantrik Yuva Morcha when the Congress under the leadership of Gandhi lost national elections for the first time in India’s electoral history. He was later appointed the president of the Delhi unit of ABVP and made the all-India secretary of the organization. Jaitley also went on to become the president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of the BJP.
After completing law studies, he started practising before the Supreme Court of India and at different high courts in the country since 1977. He became additional solicitor general in 1989 and in January 1990, was appointed a senior advocate by the Delhi high court. He was also a member of an Indian delegation in 1998 to the United Nations General Assembly session in June 1998 where the Declaration on Laws Relating to Drugs and Money Laundering was approved.
Jaitley’s formal entry into national politics happened in 1991 when he was made a member of the national executive of the BJP in 1991. Within eight years of joining the BJP, he became the minister of state for information and broadcasting with independent charge in the NDA government at the Centre, led by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He was also the minister of state for disinvestment with independent charge, a ministry created to give effect to the policy of disinvestments. In July 2000, Jaitley was also given charge of the ministry of law, justice and corporate affairs and in the same year was made a cabinet minister.
The NDA lost the general elections to Congress in 2004 and Jaitley became the leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in June 2009.
The former finance minister had played a crucial role in Narendra Modi becoming the prime ministerial candidate of BJP in 2013 before the 2014 general elections, an idea that some of the senior leaders of the party were opposed to. Jaitley had personally spoken to most of the members of the party’s parliamentary board and chief ministers of BJP-ruled states to get their support in favour of Modi as the prime ministerial candidate of BJP. After the BJP, under Modi, won the elections, he was made the finance and corporate affairs minister. He also handled the portfolio of defence between 2014 and 2017 and of information and broadcasting between 2014 and 2016.
Although Jaitley played a crucial role in the election campaign strategy of BJP in 2014, he could not win the Lok Sabha seat of Amritsar from where he contested that year. When the NDA returned to power in May 2019, he chose not to be in the cabinet because of health reasons. The NDA will sorely miss one of its most articulate stalwarts.
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