I consider myself fortunate that I covered the BJP as a journalist when the party was struggling to come to power. The leaders were media-friendly and easily accessible, and one could get an opportunity to judge their abilities.
Arun Jaitley was one of the brightest stars in the BJP’s arsenal. An erudite scholar, legal luminary and articulate, he could be presented to brief the media on any topic. He would answer queries logically and cogently and with a smile.
His impeccable command over English language came as a boon to the party that was fighting to make an impression on the middle-class. The BJP's forays into the middle-class was due to leaders like him. There was a time when he had become an icon of the middle-class.
There were five general secretaries who were LK Advani's main fighters — Arun Jaitley, KN Govindacharya, Pramod Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj and M Venkaiah Naidu. Jaitley was clearly the suave gentleman who could be trusted on legal issues, constitutional fights and media strategy.
He kept very high moral standards in public life. He did not depend on the party money and used to make his own arrangements, whether it be tours on behalf of the party or election campaigns. He used to say, ‘let the party cater to those office bearers who cannot afford (such expenses)’. His service to the party was ideological and for building a strong country. His official residence at 9, Ashoka Road was home to pracharaks. When Narendra Modi, then Gujarat chief minister, was staying in Delhi, Jaitley gave him a portion of his official house to stay independently.
Jaitley brought a lot of respectability to Lutyen's Delhi. He was the soul who questioned the arrogance and disdain of Lutyen Delhi's governing elites for the rest of India. He always laughed at the arrogance of these people and said they can't imagine that there exists another India. This is what made him different. To empathise with the poor and understand their problems and issues.
Since he grew up in Delhi, practised law in Delhi courts and also got his political internship in Delhi, he knew the city quite well. There would be hardly any person of substance in Delhi who would not have an anecdote or two to say about Jaitley. He knew people, he knew places and famous eating joints.
His friends trusted him and he never gave an opportunity to complain. His humane approach and abilities to care for all made him very popular. I have hardly seen an occasion where a media friend would turn to him for help and he would look for an excuse. Whether it was admission in prestigious Delhi schools or admission in AIIMs for treatment, he would always help.
He enjoyed interacting with the media and everyone would listen to his off-record meetings with rapt attention. He would not unnecessarily hide issues or arguments and at times give exclusive insights. All of us as reporters would await his informal interactions that gave us stories that also forwarded the BJP's cause.
My last few interactions with him took place when he briefed us and prepared us to face the media as party spokespersons during the recent Lok Sabha elections. At 11 am every day at the party office on Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg or at his residence, Jaitley would guide us on whether or not to react to a particular development. We privately called it Jaitley's paathshala. At times he would chide us for not reading newspapers or the blog he had already written on the issue. ‘You people don't prepare and that is the problem’, he would say and then calmly explain the arguments.
Alas! We will miss all of these. We always believed he would recover and we would get a chance to interact with him again. But fate had willed otherwise. We will miss you, Mr Jaitley.
(The author is a former journalist and current national spokesperson of the BJP. Views expressed are personal.)