Arun Jaitley: A great raconteur with a sweeping repertoire
Be it cricket, old movies or politics, Arun Jaitley was widely known for his grasp over the conversation. He would sometimes express wry humour about himself or his party.
In 2011, when BJP was in its second consecutive term as the main opposition and its leaders faced an uncertain future, Jaitley told this correspondent that his generation of leaders seem to be in the same predicament as Prince Charles of the UK. Like the Queen, the old generation is still calling the shots while the next generation is mature enough to take over, leaving his contemporaries with little hope of assuming power.
While this could be dismissed as self-deprecating humour, Jaitley was also perhaps hinting that it was time for veteran leader LK Advani to make way for leaders of his generation. Not surprisingly, Jaitley was the first to support Narendra Modi’s elevation as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2013, when some others wanted to give Advani another chance.
The generation of Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Manohar Parrikar and Ananth Kumar not only got their chance, they played their innings well too.
Jaitley would always have a repertoire of wit, relating anecdotes not only from the world of cricket and politics, but also Bollywood and about ‘page 3’ socialites.
When Nitin Gadkari took over as BJP chief in 2010, he was new to Delhi and would spend hours with Jaitley discussing important party and political issues.
Both were diabetic but Gadkari would indulge himself, while Jaitley had become comparatively restrained in his diet. Initially, Jaitley had a tough time, as Gadkari had a habit of holding meetings post-dinner, while the former was used to retiring early. On most occasions, such discussions would go on till 1-2 am.
On one such occasion at Jaitley’s south Delhi home, Gadkari asked for biscuits/ sweets as his sugar level was dipping. Now, Jaitley did not want to wake up his wife, and his servants had already left.
Though he was a foodie, Jaitley had not entered his kitchen for many years, and failed to find anything for Gadkari. He finally fetched some eatables from the refrigerator in his son’s room.
Another slightly embarrassing moment was when Jaitley went to attend the wedding of an international cricketer — who is a prominent player of the present Indian XI — at a Mehrauli farmhouse, but entered the wrong venue. Nonetheless, he was welcomed happily by the guests, who wanted to click selfies with him. Jaitley only realised his mistake when he enquired about the groom.
The former finance minister had some personal story about virtually every other Parliamentarian, especially those from the BJP and its alliance partners.
It is well-known that he provided for a house for each of his employees and took care of their children’s education. Once he was faced with a dilemma when one of his drivers asked for two houses, as he had two wives. While mulling over this, Jaitley felt his other employees would feel envious of a colleague who gets more than them.
A great raconteur, Jaitley would use his vast repertoire of knowledge on cricket, movies, old songs and actors to deflect attention from difficult questions posed by the media in his casual discussions. He would deftly switch topics and talk at length about his last holiday abroad, his watches, jaamdani shawls or favourite dishes.
Though he was a good conversationalist, he would open up only in select gatherings. However, his usual refrain was that he ends up revealing too much while others wished he would share some more.