In Arun Jaitley, India has lost a legal luminary
Arun Jaitley, 66, donned many hats during his life. Starting off as a student leader and going on to handle key ministries like Finance and Defense in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, Jaitley's journey has been spectacular. With his demise, the nation has lost a sharp legal mind, who knew intricacies of law like none other. Let's tell you about the "lawyer" Jaitley.
Surprisingly, Jaitley, whose prominence as a lawyer is well-known, didn't want to pursue this profession. He wanted to become a Chartered Accountant, but when he couldn't, he decided to follow his father Maharaj Kishen Jaitley's footsteps. After completing his B.Com (H) from prestigious Shri Ram College of Commerce, New Delhi, Jaitley got LLB degree from the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi, in 1977.
From 1987 onwards, Jaitley began practising law at Supreme Court and several high courts of the nation. He was merely 37 when Jaitley was appointed as Additional Solicitor General in the VP Singh government. For his legal as well as political career, Jaitley's involvement in building the case in Bofors scandal, which brought down late PM Rajiv Gandhi's government, proved to be crucial.
Jaitley, a key strategist, did the paperwork for the investigations into Bofors scam, pertaining to alleged kickbacks which senior government officials received for the arms deal. In his remarkable career, he represented a flurry of politicians in courts. From Congress' Madhavrao Scindia to Janata Dal's Sharad Yadav, and BJP's LK Advani, Jaitley was the first choice of many.
In 2002, Jaitley represented PepsiCo., which was dragged to the Supreme Court for defacing eco-fragile rocks on the Manali-Rohtang road. In yet another case in 2004, the Rajasthan High Court wanted PepsiCo. and Coca-Cola to reveal the amount of pesticide in their drinks. Representing Coca-Cola this time, Jaitley argued that this order would compromise the secret recipe of the company.
Jaitley was the Minister of Law and Justice when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the PM, but he still took out time for law. In 2002, during a hearing of a case in SC, Congress leader Kapil Sibal praised Jaitley's presence in both politics and courts. "He has become a Minister and subsequently an MP. And we are proud of that example," Sibal had remarked.
Notably, senior advocate Siddharth Luthra told IE, Jaitley had a unique ability to simplify complexities, which made him the favorite of almost every judge. Once Luthra briefed Jaitley about a technical case, and the latter explained aspects to a judge who had little expertise in the matter. He used examples like newspapers advertisements and shopping to make the judge understand. Jaitley won the case.
As Vajpayee's Law Minister, Jaitley steered the overhaul of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. Jaitley also took care of legalities for PM Modi's governments. He played an important role in framing National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014 (which was struck down by SC in 2015), and GST Act, 2017. He also advised BJP on legal fine prints of Triple Talaq and J&K Reorganization Bills.
Jaitley bid adieu to his law practice in 2009, as the responsibility of the leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha kept him busy. In 2017, he appeared in HC in connection to a defamation suit filed against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. He was cross-examined by Ram Jethmalani and Jaitley's replies serve as a case study for young lawyers on how to approach witnesses.
Accusing Jaitley of "crime and crookery", Jethmalani used inappropriate words. The BJP leader lost his cool, asking Jethmalani to rein in his words and wondered if he was insulting him on Kejriwal's behest. Subsequently, Joint Registrar Deepali Sharma also objected to Jethmalani's arguments.
Jaitley was a splendid lawyer and an equally great mentor. Chief Justice of Tripura High Court Sanjay Karol, Delhi High Court judges Navin Chawla and Prathiba Singh, former ASG Maninder Singh and senior advocates Vibha Makhijia and Upmanyu Hazarika, all were Jaitley's juniors at some point or the other. His courtroom exchanges, his arguments, and his understanding of the law will always be remembered.