My association with Arun Jaitleyji began after I joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. I remember that just after four or five days of joining the party I got a message from a leader which said I should meet Jaitleyji and he also wanted to meet me.
In the very first meeting, he never let me feel that my association with him was a new one. He talked to me as if we had known each other for a long time. He conveyed the way I should work for the party and the kind of frame of mind I needed to have. It was a great learning experience.
I started working for the BJP in Assam when the 2016 state Assembly election was imminent. He came down to release the party's vision document. I had another enriching conversation with him on the state’s economy and was moved by the depth of his knowledge.
Soon after the historic BJP win in Assam, I was inducted to the Goods and Services Tax Council as state finance minister. Even though the BJP always had the majority in the GST Council, consensus was sometimes evasive on contentious issues. We would get restless and insist on a vote, but Jaitleyji would persuade us otherwise.
He felt GST should evolve as a proper federal institution. He would often say that there should be no voting in the GST Council unless it is of extreme importance. During the process of implementing GST, many contentious issues were sorted out by consensus building. The credit for this feat goes to Jaitleyji.
He would sit in council meetings for up to 10 hours and talk to everybody, even during lunchtime. He would not leave until a consensus was formed.
During the council meetings, Jaitleyji would make sure views from and issues of every state — big and small — were heard. For instance, he allocated an hour to discuss taxation on dry fish from Manipur. He never tried to run the house on the basis of a majority and ensured that the GST Council always had the stamp of democratic values.
One of his traits I admired was the ability to make friends across party lines.
He always left a lasting impact on those he met. His charm, adherence to democratic values and compassion made him dear to many. The clarity of his thought process and knowledge about the minutest details about Constitution, tax structure and the problems faced by Indian states never failed to amaze.
Be it Assam, Nagaland or Goa: His knowledge about India was vast.
He was extremely involved with the government's North East policies. Every BJP programme in the region has his stamp. We'd invite him to unveil the vision document each time a state in the North East went to the polls. But he wasn't content just to unveil the document: He'd sit with us, make the necessary corrections and tell us to reprint it. Only then would it be released.
I'd often speak to him about politics on the sidelines of the council meetings. The accuracy of his poll predictions were astonishing.
I still remember the Assembly elections in Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Punjab. Many poll watchers hedged their bets, but Jaitleyji was right on the money.
His legal knowledge and profound understanding of how a society would respond to a policy decision came to the fore during the execution of the National Register of Citizens and the tabling of the Citizenship Amendment Bill. We've lost a trusted mentor and great statesman.
As told to Kangkan Acharyya
Updated Date: Sep 04, 2019 10:09:39 IST