Published: 24th August 2019
The firebrand, the leader, the gourmet: From DU to Tihar, how Arun Jaitley's friends remember him
The former Finance Minister of India passed away on August 24, 2019. He was 66 at the time of his demise
Ask any young Indian about Arun Jaitley and they would probably talk to you about his time as the country's finance minister. But the previous generation who had known him as a young man would talk to you about the firebrand Delhi University Students' Union President, who never backed down, even in front of the police during the emergency.
Case in point, Professor Raj Kumar Bhatia. This retired professor served as the ABVP's national president when the former Finance Minister was the DUSU president. Theirs is a friendship that developed through thick and thin, a friendship that was stronger than a usual junior-senior bond. "I was done with my Master's in Delhi University, by the time Jaitley joined. I was senior to him, but we worked closely in the organisation for around 10 years," recalls Bhatia. He also tells us that Jaitley one of the strongest Presidents that DUSU has ever seen. "He was the second directly elected DUSU president, he won with a big margin. He held that position during the time the JP movement spread across the country," he says.
The duo's bond strengthened during the time of the emergency when they spent around a year together in Tihar jail. "I still remember how he stood firmly during the emergency. Many people showed weakness, but not Jaitley. He was arrested on the very first day, June 26," says Bhatia, who is currently the Senior Vice President of Antar Rashtriya Sahyog Parishad. Bhatia and Jaitley later went on to work together in the BJP. "In both organisations, his commitment was outstanding. He had to go through a lot of testing times, but his commitment was beyond doubt," he says.
Apart from these, Bhatia also paints a picture of a foodie Jaitley, which many of us do not know. "We loved trying out different cuisines. Sweets were something that we couldn't resist," he says. The duo's love for food was so deep that journalist Virendra Kapoor would call them Gourmet, which means connoisseur of good food.
Bhatia had met Jaitley two days before his death when he was undergoing treatment in AIIMS. "Our last meeting was in fact on July 18, when I'd gone to his house. We spoke for around 15 minutes. I remember the day so well. He wasn't keeping well for quite some time. So, neither he nor I said that he was out of danger," he says, poignantly.
Gujarat-based lawyer Arun Oza's friendship with Jaitley dates back to 1972 when they worked together in the Parishad. "We were both working toward the same cause — setting up the world's largest student organisation. Even though I was based out of Ahmedabad, we would meet regularly during ABVP's working committee meetings," he says, adding, "I'd still remember him as a good leader who was very studious. He was also very generous and intelligent."