By Rashmi Saksena : IT was 1974. Campaigning for the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) was starting to warm up. On a wooden chair pulled out of a college canteen stood a young man who kept pushing back his mop of hair, with every sentence he spoke. It seemed more like a reflex action than one driven by actual need. A group of about 50 students listened to his rhetoric almost spell bound. As a young cub reporter for the ‘Hindustan Times’ on the ‘university beat’ I returned to office to file a copy declaring student leader Arun Jaitley of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) as the hot favourite in the 1974 DUSU polls.
It is the picture of a 22-year-old Arun, making an election pitch atop a chair in the Delhi University campus that flashed across my mind when his death was announced today afternoon. Arun’s command over words and his ability to convince a crowd was on display decades before May 2014 when he was chosen by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be India’s Finance and Defence Minister. As I watched him that day in 1974 I was sure that Arun had far to go. About a month later he was elected he DUSU President. It is only then that he mentioned my report and modestly said a ‘thank you ma’m for encouraging me’. At then asked was he not confident of his win and really needed encouragement from newspaper reports? He smiled, looked away and said “Yes, I was confident because I could read what the students want, but your report reinforced it”.
His political journey from a student leader to a political giant of his times was marked by confidence and a strong conviction in what he stood for. After he lost his debut Lok Sabha election from Amritsar in 2014 I told him I was disappointed because I had seen him work the crowd in the University. “Aree Rashmi, (he dropped the ma’m before my name by now) one never knows aage kya hone wala hai” and in his characteristic style turned the conversation to Bollywood to relate a story about yesteryear hero Dilip Kumar and silver screen beauty Madhubala. Amongst Arun’s favourite things besides politics were films, cricket, old Delhi street food (Bedwi aloo, dahi Bhalla, choley) watches and shawls from Kashmir (not necessarily in that order).
He missed the goodies he had been denied by doctors. Arun, a four-time Rajya Sabha member loved holding court in the Central Hall of Parliament. Journalists would flock to him as soon as he entered CH. Even as a minister he was a regular and used the interaction to explain his and his Government’s point of view on the issue of the day. This we journalists jokingly called “planting of stories” by him. Yet there was no taking away from the fact that the interaction was informative and gave clarity on the issue. While Arun had a deep commitment to his party ideology topped by Hindutava, unlike his colleagues he never wore it on his sleeve. He never threw it in the face of others. Instead he always liked to use logic to convince others of his point of view.
He had also had an endearing style when it came to fending off questions he did not want to answer. He would just pretend that he had not heard the question, look into the distance and with a smile and arched eyebrows would start off on another topic. We had learnt to read the signal and waited for the time when Arun was ready to speak on the subject. When he was Finance Minister I asked him for clarification on a new tax on property which was being criticised for being too cumbersome. “If you own such property and have a problem, I will explain right now but if it is for writing a report it will have to be some other time” he shot back. Like many who knew him personally and even those who did not, feared the worst but prayed for the best since he was taken to hospital some weeks ago.
All were apprehensive that his going away may come years too soon. Sixty-six is no age to go for a person who was contributing in such a big way to his Party, the country’s political firmament and informal as well as formal dissemination of news to journalists. He will be greatly missed by all who had the privilege to come across him as scribes, friends, political opponents, political comrades-in-arms, political juniors for whom he was a role model and mentor and of course BJP leaders for whom he was an asset.