Arun Jaitley is no stranger to the scathing criticism of the online right-wing. He is an impressive orator and is also known to be an effective political operative, but doubts about his loyalty to BJP have always lingered. At times he seemed to be politicking for his own ends, which do not necessarily line up with what is good for the party at large.
Arun Jaitley continues to cause a storm online even now. Before the new government was formed, it was a common left-liberal refrain to say Narendra Modi is a polarizing character. But after BJP’s comfortable victory, some of us find that Arun Jaitley has become a polarizing character, someone who has divided the right wing. His very intention is being questioned, and I wonder if we should continue to give him the benefit of doubt. We have no patience left for his aristocratic ways.
Arun Jaitley has always been moderately popular. He has never been a politician of the masses, simply because he never took the effort. He is an intelligent and powerful politician who likes to operate in the dark alleys of Delhi’s power circuit. His skill of articulation backed by in-depth knowledge has given him the image of a master-strategist.
To me, he has always belonged to the Delhi clique, representing the ‘coterie culture’. All leaders enjoy surrounding themselves with yes-men who provide ego-massages and also act as messengers or gatekeepers, but not all of them stop communicating with others. Jaitley is not one of them. He might be nice to the people around him, but he is reserved and reveals little to those outside his coterie. This has become fertile ground for conspiracy theories.
A lot was expected from him in his role as the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha. Many of us who were overawed by his articulation on various subjects were naturally expecting fireworks from him in the parliament. But while Jaitley, along with Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, did take up issues against Congress from time to time, on the whole he was ineffective.
The problem rose from the fact that he locked himself up with his coterie in the Parliament. Apart from speaking inside the Parliament, they would not indulge in any other major forum. They were not seen in the courts or the streets. There was an obvious, widening gap between the leadership and karyakartas. Nitin Gadkari did bring about a few changes when he took over from Rajnath Singh. He hit the streets with road shows and Chalo Sansad campaigns to embarrass the UPA government. But he was ousted soon enough.
Right-wingers have always believed that all power in BJP, while it was in the opposition, lay in the hands of the four people close to Mr. Advani, his political disciples. Who belonged to the ‘D4’ depended on who you spoke to, but Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were constant. The D4 was often held responsible for targeting leaders like BS Yeddyurappa, causing immense harm to the party. The reality will never be known, but perceptions matter. The D4, especially Jaitley, was also perceived to be going easy over the Congress.
It is true, though, that they had no other option. They were lazy no doubt, but the numbers with BJP in the house meant there was little they could do in the Parliament to make a dent on the government. It was often believed that all BJP leaders were spied on by the NTRO in Sonia’s rule. BJP did not have adequate power to fight back so they could have adopted the strategy of playing nice only so they could live to fight another day. But for those with little at stake, this became an unacceptable behavior. Moreover, such coziness bred further conspiracy theories.
Such perceptions have eroded any good faith Jaitley enjoyed amongst many right-wingers. He was not seen doing enough. He was not seen letting himself be martyred for the right-wing cause. While he was an important part of the Modi campaign, and is also called Modi’s Chanakya, party workers never had a consensus over him.
There were further complications with the entry of Dr. Subramaniam Swamy into the BJP. Many karyakartas found hope in Swamy. He was vocal, vicious and took matters to the court. Overnight he became a hero for a sizable chunk in The BJP. He was embarrassing the Congress and seemed more powerful than the leaders of BJP.
Today, everything is assessed by these earlier comparisons between Swamy and other BJP leaders. Before the elections, Swamy’s diehard supporters expected him to get a seat from an urban constituency like Delhi or Mumbai. He was not given a seat, so it was believed that Modi had a special role cut out for him.
After the results were announced, there was only more disappointment for Swamy and his supporters. When even unknown faces of the BJP won on the back of a Modi wave, Jaitley lost. His loss was expected to reduce his chances of a ministerial berth. But he got two of the big four ministries and another smaller ministry too.
For Swamy’s supporters this is a breach of trust. Even though Swamy worked tirelessly for Modi, he has not been given what he deserves. The bitterness of the right-wing has roots here.
Jaitley has unfortunately been disappointing the right-wing, beginning with the Defence Ministry’s affidavit in the Dalbir Singh Suhag case. This was a clear U-turn by Jaitley as before the elections he opposed the government appointment of Suhag.
Not only did Jaitley clear the appointment of Dalbir Singh Suhag, but the affidavit that was submitted in the court was same one prepared by the UPA, which squarely put the blame for investigation of Suhag on “pre-meditated” intentions of Former CoAS Gen. V K Singh, who is now Jaitley’s fellow-Minister.
If Swamy had fought the corruption cases in courts and won hearts, Gen. V K Singh did so by raising national security concerns of multiple dimensions at grave personal risk, while in uniform and at an embarrassingly heavy price. He had won the hearts of millions and this showed in his high-margin electoral victory.
So, attacking and embarrassing a man like Gen. V K Singh, who is seen as an upright man by a majority, caused a sudden shock. Divisions were sharper than ever before. Jaitley is being suspected of carrying forward Congress’ agenda in BJP Govt. And it has looks convincing since he is close to the Gandhi family, Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram.
As if this was not enough, Jaitley did a U-turn on Henderson Brooks Report on 1962 War. He was a Minister in NDA’s 1st Tenure, that too in Law Ministry. One would assume he had a good chance to read it then. Even if not, he had a chance to read at least those hundred pages released by Neville Maxwell. He even blogged about it, asking for it to be released. But once in power, he changed his tune.
His response to the Swiss National Bank issue was also not appropriate. He seemed to have accepted the version given by the bank that there was no new data available on India account-holders. Does that mean all the aggression on black-money issue before elections was humbug?
Dr. Swamy has also made a very serious request the other day, about lawyer MPs of BJP disclosing the list of MNCs, from whom they receive retainer fees. It is well known that the price to not take up a fight against a client is always more than the price of taking up a fight for the client. In spite of giving up practice on paper, when law firms of the MPs are run by their family members, it is a common sense what they are up to. This is by far, the deadliest attack on Jaitley, but is bound to fade away.
On the whole, while it is clearly a Swamy vs. Jaitley fight. For us right-wingers, the impression that Jaitley is a head-worker trusted by the PM remains, but the goodwill to generate mass support is still missing. Maybe, Mr Jaitley will take this into account.