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Arun Jaitley possessed the rare skill to communicate simply, analytically and calmly: Abhishek Manu Singhvi

It was a cruel hand of destiny, which prevented him from joining what might have been his most glorious innings in Modi 2.0.

ET CONTRIBUTORS|
Aug 24, 2019, 10.33 PM IST
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BCCL
Arun Jaitley
Arun Jaitley passed away at AIIMS after a prolonged illness.
By Abhishek Manu Singhvi

I was scheduled to call on Arun Jaitley at 6 pm on Saturday, August 10, at his home. The appointment had been changed a couple of times, because of, as I learnt later, his unscheduled visits to AIIMS, but they seemed like routine pinpricks.

TV flashes and PM’s visit to the hospital made it clear to me that his illness was serious. I felt saddened that a man I had known for decades — as a lawyer, politician, spokesperson, minister and conversationalist — and one who had largely overcome major crises like diabetes, bariatric surgery and kidney transplant, was being felled by the “emperor of maladies”, cancer, even though the world’s best hospital on the subject in the US had certified him trouble-free after keeping him under close watch for two weeks.

It was a cruel hand of destiny, which prevented him from joining what might have been his most glorious innings in Modi 2.0. We just saw the sad demise of a decent man in politics, known for his great lawyering, his skilful management of the Upper House of Parliament as leader of the House, his magnanimity, his earlier stellar role for his party as the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, his amiable and genial nature and his foodie vices.

Instead, let me talk of his great communication skills. This is what, anecdotally, a lot of his friends and associates were talking about when I visited AIIMS on Saturday, August 17. Having opposed Arun in major speeches in Parliament and in major cases in the Delhi High Court and the apex court, what stands out is his ability to communicate effectively, simply, non-contentiously, analytically, wittily and calmly. A rare combination indeed. The ability to think on one’s feet and the capacity to encapsulate the essence of an adversarial issue in a penetrating one-liner, which also sheds new light and a different perspective, was a rare gift possessed by Arun in abundance.

His old friends recount the story of an up-and-coming BJP leader (now an MP and ex-minister) who was very keen to have a book by him released by the then PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Fearing a rejection of his request, he roped in Arun to get the PM to agree. Then a junior minister, Arun accompanied the author and a few others to ABV. As the PM was expressing disinclination, Arun told him that he must release the book since it was unique.

On ABV’s query as to why this was so, Arun said this was the first book ABV would be releasing which the author had not read (the book was widely believed to have been ghostwritten). ABV, who had a great sense of humour, burst out laughing and immediately agreed to release the book.

Once, as both Arun and I were coming out of the Rajya Sabha after hearing our good friend Sitaram Yechury make an impassioned plea as to why practitioners like doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, engineers and also industrialists should not be allowed to be MPs for alleged conflicts of interest, we ran into Sita in the lobby. Before I could speak, Arun said, “Sita wants a Parliament not only of the unemployed but also the unemployable!” This “gagar mein sagar” talent, as the Hindi proverb goes, was Arjun’s special gift.

His criticisms were also laced with humour. Once, when he had a run-in with a very senior BJP leader, he told a small gathering in the Central Hall, without mentioning that person’s name but yet making his identity clear, that there are some people who find promotion and success with each failure — the lower the party falls, the higher they go!

Having left law practice since 2009, when he became leader of the opposition, he would frequently rib me whenever he saw me in the Central Hall, saying that while there was no value for the time of public servants like himself, my time was very expensive and should not be wasted in the Central Hall! I used to retort by telling him that since he was collecting in taxes over one-third (now 42%) of my expensive time, it was better to make him suffer some deprivation while I gossiped in the Central Hall.

His one-liners came spontaneously and most appositely. He once preemptively told a retired judge, about to seek some post-retirement sinecure, that as law minister he was finding it difficult to also run the largest employment agency in India. The impending request was automatically aborted.

Phrases like “perennial pessimists” and “eternal naysayers” were his gift to the political lexicon, used like a scathing but effective scalpel. His wit and sense of humour did not leave him till the end.

On the subjects of his interest, his knowledge and recall were legendary. I recall a strong speech by an opposition member barely a year ago in the Rajya Sabha on the opportunism and failures of the BJP-PDP coalition in J&K. Though he was not slated to speak, Arun, I could see, was straining at the leash to intervene, since J&K was close to his heart, apart from being his “sasural”.

Exercising his right to do so as leader of the House, he made an impromptu, extempore and masterful intervention for over 20 minutes, reeling off historical sequences, dates and events since the 1950s, coupled with penetrating analysis, displaying his legendary memory and also his ability to collate complex historical data into a simple, lucid and prima facie convincing narrative, even for the opposition.

(The writer is a MP, national spokesperson of Congress and former additional solicitor general of India)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)

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