August 24, 2019 is a day I will remember my entire life. It was the day I lost my best friend. His demise brought emotions, which I had never experienced in my life. Something deep below within me became hollow and silent.
He taught me how to fight and overcome difficulties and challenges of life. How one should continue with one’s work and deliver proficiently and efficiently even at the worst of times and situations.
Life was indeed a mixed bag, he used to tell me. Difficulties, crisis, illness and unpleasant happenings are integral part and parcel of life, they will exist. Nevertheless, none of these struggles of life stop life. ‘The show must go on, as life must go on’.
‘Arun Ji’ was not a name for me, but a personification of all values and ideals I hold in my life. My mind and soul highlighted, this clenching strong feeling I had, that was because it wasn’t a relationship of 10-15 years, but long 45 years, the bond strengthening with every passing season. Customarily, the relationship between a journalist and a politician remains professional. But for us, we first met each other when he was neither a politician nor was I in journalism. I witnessed the gradual rise of Arun Ji in politics, and he helped me emerge, develop and grow as an upright journalist.
Today, as I go down memory lane of our 45 years of friendship, I can recollect every moment. The imagery of the unforgettable moments I lived and shared with him, is rich with poignance, continuously appearing as glimpses in my mind. These 45 years he was my dear friend, my brother, my protector, my philosopher and my guide at every level and stage of this life, I have lived.
Each day for a fortnight, I used to leave my office after anchoring 'Aaj Ki Baat' and reach AIIMS with prayers on my lips. Expecting each day, that today I may hear some good news about his recovery. The doctors were optimistic too when Arun Ji was in a stable condition.
On Saturday noon, when I got the dreadful news, I felt as if something had snapped inside me and I lost everything. I could not accept that a born fighter like Arun Ji would ever lose a battle, but has anybody ever won against the Almighty's will?
Arun Ji was loquacious; he was always chatty whenever I went to meet him. Occasionally, he used to tell me, “Pandit Ji, at least say something”, whenever I used to silently hear him speak. On Saturday, when I saw him lying still with his eyes closed, I wanted to scream out “Arun Ji, at least say something!” But he remained motionless, asleep for eternity. Has anybody ever woken up from eternal sleep?
Our first meeting
I was 17 years of age when I first met Arun Ji. It was 1973 admission season of Delhi University. We met at Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) where I was paying my admission fee. Our family of ten used to live in a single room in Old Delhi. I had gone to the college to deposit my admission fee, the clerk at the admission counter was infuriated as I was paying with denomination of coins. These coins were the saving my family had saved for years. The clerk lost his cool when he found that I was three rupees short. Arun Ji was the outgoing President of SRCC Students’ Union. He happened to be watching me. He placed his hand on my shoulder, asked my name and asked how much money I needed. When I mumbled the amount, he took out five rupees note and gave it to the clerk. The admission fee was paid, and hence began the tale of our friendship. The hand of friendship that he extended in 1973 continued over these decades till Saturday noon, when fate had its way.
Our days in Delhi University
Arun Ji rose from being a regular ABVP worker and toiled through the rough patches and tumble roads of politics to become the Union Minister of Finance, Defence, Law and other portfolios and Leader of Opposition. In his extensive political career, there was never a tinge of any wrongdoing. Moral integrity and honesty were the hallmarks of his political life. It is difficult to find such an honest man in public life. I am proud that I had been his co-traveller, his co-pilot, his companion in the early days of his political life, which proved to be unshakeable and unbreakable backbone of his political career.
By 1973, Arun Ji had successfully made his mark in student politics, he was then studying Law. Those were the days when Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan launched his nationwide anti-corruption movement. And he appointed Arun Ji as the national convenor of Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti. This was the Samiti, that spearheaded anti-corruption protests across the country. The next year, 1974 Arun Ji contested and won the post of president of Delhi University Students Union.
As an ABVP worker, I used to work for Arun Ji’s poll campaign. Since I didn’t know driving, I used to ride on the pillion of Vijay Goel's scooter to stick posters throughout the city. We used to end our day by having a late-night dinner. Recently, someone sent me an old photograph of 1974 in which Arun Ji was treating me and other ABVP workers with ice cream from a street vendor. He loved street food, and he considered himself a gourmet expert. He knew where to get the best daal, kebab, best rogan josh or the best chicken wings. A self-declared foodie, he loved to entertain friends and acquaintances with scrumptious cuisines. A few months ago, I was in a working lunch with Arun Ji. Suddenly, during our conversation, he asked, “Pandit Ji, do you know where one can get the best rogan josh in town?” I replied, “Well, I am a vegetarian, how would I know?” He said, “The best at Moti Mahal.” Next question was and where do you get the best and he answered himself, “In your home.” He loved food cooked in our house.
Arun Jaitley was excellent in oration, be it inter-college debates, literary activities or student rallies. He used to combine facts with logic to create a powerful effect in the minds of his audience. As DUSU president, he always had a smile on his face and never expressed his anger. He was the master of his emotions and expressions.
On June 26, 1975 at midnight the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared Emergency in India and immediately all top opposition leaders were arrested. The Delhi Police was at Arun Ji’s house at midnight to arrest him. His father, an eminent lawyer, kept the police distracted in arguments at the front gate and Arun Ji rushed out from the back door. The next morning, he led a procession of students inside Delhi University campus. Shouted anti-government slogans, stood on a table inside the Delhi University canteen and in his speech condemned dictatorship. This time, the Delhi Police acted swiftly, did not blunder, and Arun Ji was arrested.
He spent several months in Ambala jail; from there he was later shifted to Tihar jail. Nineteen months of the entire Emergency period, he was in jail. During Emergency, other ABVP workers, including myself, were arrested and imprisoned in Tihar jail. Our wards were different, Arun Ji was confined with prominent leaders, who later became his lifelong friends. It was, while in jail that I realised the extent of Arun Ji's courage and robust political will power. These nineteen months transformed him into one of the strongest and capable leader India would ever have.
Janata Party days
The Janata Party swept the Lok Sabha polls in 1977. Arun Ji could not contest the parliamentary election because he was yet to attain the minimum age of 25. I can never forget the day when the first Janata Party president Chandrashekhar formed the national executive that comprised of political titans like Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Nanaji Deshmukh. Arun Jaitley who was yet to attain 25 years, his name was present in this list. Arun Ji later resigned after RSS leaders instructed him to leave the national executive. He never asked for any plum posts in his entire political career. In 1977, Arun Ji had completed his graduation and had joined LLB course. He wanted me to become more active in student politics. I therefore contested for DUSU secretary post that year and won. He was a morale booster for everyone and had a very high benchmark. We decided to invite Prime Minister Morarji Desai to the new DUSU inauguration ceremony, Arun Ji presided over that function. Someone recently sent me pictures of that ceremony. Arun Ji made a great speech that day talking about ethics of student politics. From that day he has been of every important in my life.
As a Lawyer Politician
During the 70’s, after completing LLB, Arun Ji started his training under his father. He also carried out his political work as president of Delhi ABVP and as the national ABVP secretary.
BJP was formed in 1980, and Arun Ji was appointed secretary of Delhi BJP. In today’s age, when party workers aspire to become leaders overnight, one should realise how tough it was for him, who worked 22 years at a stretch for his party, before reaching any prominent and noticeable position.
His work involved drafting resolutions, formulating poll strategies, briefing and updating the media. He never demanded or desired for a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha elections. A master in multi-tasking his legal practice too flourished during this time. Arun Ji first became an advocate in Delhi High Court and continued with his legal practice in Supreme Court. He was appointed Additional Solicitor General at the age of 37 during Prime Minister V. P. Singh's tenure. This was a record, for being the youngest Additional Solicitor General of India.
Atal Behari Vajpayee formed his first government at the Centre for 13 days, thereafter for 13 months and later for five years. Vajpayee had great trust and belief on Arun Ji. Arun Ji became Union Minister at the age of 47 in 1999. He was entrusted with the portfolio of Information & Broadcasting, and later Law and Company Affairs. Vajpayee once told me that he was such an asset, that it was difficult to run the government without him, but he insisted on doing only party work. Arun Ji left the government in 2003 to serve the party but as destiny would have it, he had to re-join later.
A Great Multi-tasker
Arun Ji was a great multi-tasker. An able cricket administrator and a statesman, equally proficient in the courtroom as in politics. During his long tenure as the President of Delhi & District Cricket Association, he brought about an incredible change in the cricketing infrastructure. He loved global culture and world movies and loved watching films and listening to old music and songs by Sahir Ludhianvi and Shakeel Badayuni. No topic was small or big for him, he used to discuss food, cricket and other gossips with clients while he read the legal files, he used to fire questions to his clients on a minute by minute detail documented in the file. This was a rare attribute he had; speaking on mundane issues while memorising the fine print in the legal files.
For Arun Ji, it was not law, but politics which he liked best. He used to say that politics was his passion. He abandoned legal practice, when he was appointed Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha. He had returned his sr. advocate licence to devote his complete time to politics.
45 years is indeed a life span. Ours was a friendship of a lifetime. During the 45 years of our friendship, Arun Ji always stood by me and helped me whenever I needed his guidance and advice. He was a great believer in morality in public life. When he lost Lok Sabha election from Amritsar, he told Prime Minister Modi that he would like to keep out of government on moral grounds. Modi Ji responded by making him Finance Minister with additional charge of Defence.
A professional to the core, Arun Jaitley sat in the dock of my show 'Aap Ki Adalat' eleven times. Though we were close friends, he never expected any soft treatment from me, he was ready, and he knew he would be grilled and bombarded with extremely tough and candid questions. In 2016, soon after demonetisation, I asked Arun Ji very hard and rough questions, as he was the then Finance Minister. He replied to my hard-hit questions without any hint of malice and with his aura of composure and smile.
I was later told by our common friends that I was unduly harsh to him. I met Arun Ji and asked him if this was true? Arun Ji stated that I was only doing my job as a journalist and he was doing his. He asserted, “It was these tough questions that had added originality, value and weight to the programme.”
Similarly, after GST was implemented, Arun Ji came to my show and explained why it was necessary for India in order to become an economic superpower to switch to a digitized trade and taxation economy. He had great capability to simplify complicated issues. His last show in 'Aap Ki Adalat' was soon after the IAF air strike on Balakot. Opposition leaders were seeking proof of bodies of terrorists killed in the strike. When I posed this question, gifted with wit and repartee, Arun Ji at his acerbic best said, “Even a superpower like the United States was yet to reveal details about the Navy Seal commando action killing Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his mortal remains thrown at the sea at an undisclosed location.”
'I do not have any more wish'
My last meeting with him was three days before he left for AIIMS. We sat together and spoke for a long time. It was during those hours I could feel, as though he had sensed it out, that he had few days to live. He appeared to be in profound thought and said, “Who knows me better than you, you were there with me during my college years, you have lived my student life along with me. Pandit Ji, I have everything that I wished from life. “In student politics, I reached the top, in legal practice, I reached the top, I entered politics, I touched zenith. Both my children are settled, your work is doing fine, your kids are settled, I have no regrets, no desires if I go now, I won’t be unhappy. If I come through this phase of treatment, I would like to leave public life and politics, and only read books and write books, watch movies and talk to friends.”
The intuition which Arun Ji had proved to be true on this black Saturday, as I sat next to his body, I asked the Almighty, “Why were you in such a hurry to take away an honest man whose only wish was to peacefully write a book?”
Our country’s politics, economy and society can never have someone like Arun Jaitley ever again, and I for one will never find a friend like him this lifetime. This grief is here to stay forever, he will always be there with me every day of my life. We will always learn from him and walk on the path taught by him; he will always remain our captain.
Till we meet again, my dear friend. May you rest in peace.
(The writer is a senior journalist and Chairman & Editor-in-Chief of ‘India TV’)