With Arun Jaitley, the art of persuasion is forever lost to Indian politics

Poornima Joshi August 25 | Updated on August 25, 2019

Former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley   -  THE HINDU



Arun Jaitley’s untimely death has signalled the end of the terms of political engagement that he so charmingly personified — dialogue, consensus and an easy ability to make friends across the spectrum. What India has lost so soon after the unfortunate passing away of the very-talented Sushma Swaraj is yet another leader of her kind in the BJP who believed and excelled in the democratic art of persuasion rather than imposition of his politics over his opponents. The political practices that the “party with a difference” came to signify in almost four decades since its rebirth in 1980, under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee, have finally been laid to rest with the death of the most affable politician of his generation.

With colleagues such as Sushma Swaraj, Pramod Mahajan and KN Govindacharya, Arun Jaitley was, for almost two decades, following the dominance of caste-based parties in the anti-Mandal era, and symbolised the GenX of the BJP in the halo of Vajpayee-LK Advani-Murli Manohar Joshi triumvirate. A product of the anti-Emergency student movement, Jaitley was the quintessential self-made professional in the post-Liberalisation India, who challenged the dominance of the Congress with new constructs and fresh ideas. Like his mentor LK Advani who brought Hindutva to the drawing rooms with terms such as ‘pseudo-secularism’ and ‘dynasty politics’, Jaitley coined constructs and phrases such as ‘politics of hope’, ‘new India’, ‘new normal’ to establish and consolidate the brand of politics that Prime Minister Narendra Modi signifies.

Rise of BJP’s urbane face

The political life of the former Finance Minister mirrored the stupendous growth of his party from the periphery to the very core of Indian politics. The rise of the BJP’s urbane face in Lutyens’ Delhi from the cradle of anti-Emergency movement was also synonymous with the post-liberalisation consolidation of identity politics in India. During the 1990s when politics of caste overshadowed Hindutva, Atal Behari Vajpayee was assisted by leaders like Jaitley to negotiate the BJP’s steady advance especially in the Hindi heartland States by striking strong alliances with regional opponents.

The BJP’s larger-than-life presence in Bihar today is a result of many years of coalition that Jaitley steered with his friends Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal (United). For almost two decades since the early 1990s when Advani rode the chariot as the first major assertion of Hindutva politics, it needed to wrestle and negotiate with caste identity and its iconic champions — Mayawati, Nitish Kumar, Sharad Yadav. And it was to the quintessential strategist and charmer that Jaitley was that his party turned to for such critical negotiations. He was the consensus-builder in Delhi who provided the strong support Prime Minister Narendra Modi needed, especially in the aftermath of post-Godhra riots in Gujarat when Vajpayee was none too pleased with the developments. The BJP and Modi’s steady rise as the strongest pole in Indian politics owes a great deal to Jaitley’s easy ability in the intervening period of its consolidation to win hearts and make alliances across the political spectrum.

Conceded top slot to Modi

So, though Jaitley’s practices and demeanour were reminiscent of Vajapayee-esque politics, he was firmly ingrained in the same version of Hindutva as Narendra Modi. He was the first among his peers to align with and support the then Gujarat Chief Minister. The reasons for Jaitley not contesting any Lok Sabha election till 2014 are also rooted in the fact that Jaitley had conceded the top slot to Modi much before others’ acquiescence. So while his manner matched the easy affability and “soft” Hindutva of Vajpayee, in his belief system, the former Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activist was much closer to Advani and later Modi ideologically. He was admittedly as opposed to the induction of secularism in the Preamble of the Constitution as he was to the variety of socialism practised by the Congress. He identified strongly with structural reforms and liberalisation as he detested State-sponsored welfarism and omnipresence of public sector. He was among the most vocal supporters of the controversial Land Acquisition Bill, which the ruling party hastily withdrew owing to popular protests and would have favoured a more steady and rapid divestment process.

But the charming lawyer believed in convincing and persuading others of his arguments. With Jaitley, the art of persuasion is forever lost to Indian politics.



Published on August 24, 2019

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