BACK in 1970, I met a shy, polite “fresher” (first-year student) at Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi University – a smart guy with a sweet smile: Arun Jaitley – now a powerful finance and defence minister in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
I was a second-year economics student – Jaitley was studying commerce. We were both 17 years old then.
He was a very friendly and well-behaved guy and he mixed easily with both students who came from private schools and spoke English fluently and those from government schools who spoke broken English. Incidentally, this was a huge divide in the top colleges in Delhi University – a stupid form of discrimination. Those who couldn’t speak English fluently with what was known as a “private school accent” were derisively called “bhaiyas.”
When Jaitley entered student politics as a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Bharatiiya Janata Party, he won college elections easily because of his charisma. He went on to become the president of the Delhi University Students Union in 1974.
In 1977, when I started working in the newspapers in Delhi (first with the National Herald in 1977 and then with The Times of India in 1979), I often met with past and current university political leaders as I also covered Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University on and off.
As one news report put it this week, Jaitley: “Took part in the movement against corruption led by Jayaprakash Narayan.
“During the Emergency (1975-77) rule of Indira Gandhi, Jaitley was jailed for its entire duration — 19 months.
“He practised law in the Supreme Court and several high courts from 1977 and was designated a Senior Advocate in 1989. He became the additional solicitor general during the V.P. Singh government.”
I left India just when V.P. Singh took over as prime minister.
Jaitley went on to become a minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government under the umbrella of the National Democratic Alliance in 1999.
At the time I wrote in this newspaper about the TWO ARUNS in Vajpayee’s cabinet whom I knew – Arun Jaitley and journalist Arun Shourie, who was the Executive Editor of The Times of India when I was a reporter there.
The IANS’ report on Jaitley said: “After the BJP-led government was voted out in 2004, Jaitley returned to serving the party organisation and became a general secretary.
“A Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat, he was among the party leaders who strongly backed the decision to name Modi head of the campaign committee last year.”
I hope Jaitley will be balanced and moderate and urge Modi to be so too.
All the best, Arun!