Former finance minister Arun Jaitley, who was only 66 when he died on Saturday after a long illness, played a formative rise in his party’s transformation from provincial politics to storming the national stage.
The deceased top-order ruling party politician made cultural revanchism, appealing to large cross sections of the people — his Parliamentary interventions in Hindi appealed to the common man, his polished English made him a star in the eyes of educated, globalised Indians, even those who did not agree with his views. His star only grew over the last few years of his life, especially with his witty, savvy persona on Twitter.
Jaitley was a sophisticated propagandist and politician who could sound persuasive even when holding a weak hand, for instance, when litterateurs and prominent cultural figures returned national awards to protest the Modi regime. He helped restore faith in a sliding economy, shoring up his side when it was under attack for a spate of mob-lynchings.
Mr Jaitley was no mass leader. The Lok Sabha eluded him. But he had an astute political mind. In his college days, he was the all-India chief of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students’ front of the RSS. This contributed to his ideological finetuning. His prominent rise as a Supreme Court lawyer helped his own cause and that of the party, too.
Mr Jaitley’s westernism, alongside his Hindu-Hindi self, struck a chord when his party was trying to strike it big, finding itself on the national stage. This, besides personal loyalty, made Prime Minister Narendra Modi repose deep trust in him. Arun Jaitley was a BJP-style moderniser and once became an acolyte of L.K. Advani, who, at the time, appeared keen to turn the BJP into a moderate Right-wing party with religious orientations, like the Christian Democrats in Europe. In Mr Jaitley’s passing, the BJP has lost a far-sighted, seasoned leader.