Arun Jaitley was always open to new ideas, appreciated good efforts by officers, and his politeness and focused intellect made him effective as a minister.
By Aruna Sharma
What made Arun Jaitley different from his contemporaries? I would say his willingness to listen and openness to ideas different from his own. He always believed in building consensus and helping others with his sane advise and ideas. No wonder he could achieve momentous tasks such as GST and the Bankruptcy Code, but these big accomplishments do not eclipse his numerous feats that made India a better-governed country. His smile, his sharp mind and the quick grasp on issues are the first things come to my mind when I reminisce my several meetings with him.
My first one-on-one interaction with him was when I was when I was DG Doordarshan and he was the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha on an issue that was based on falsehoods. He saw through the issue and rose above party politics to take a correct stand. When I met him next, he was taking over as the finance minister in 2014. The new government was debating whether to continue with the MGNERA scheme with the fund flows tapering and payments were pending. I was visiting him as part of the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s delegation. I was tasked by the CM to explain the situation to him. I explained that MGNERA is all about the Right to Work and hence there was no way work can be denied when demanded. I went on to suggest that the scheme could be limited to a few districts than doing it in the entire state If fund flow is the issue so that it could help in focused infrastructure development. The sharp politician in him saw the merit of the argument and mentioned that reducing geographical area will not be smart politics and immediately rang up the then finance secretary, RP Wattal to ensure uninterrupted flow of more funds.
I had several interactions with him as Secretary, MietY when we were drafting the money bill for Aadhaar. My idea was to ensure fund flows through the government exchequer. The opinion of his drafting team was very different. I could convince him in 10 minutes and the section containing my idea stood the scrutiny of even the Supreme Court. The development of a common portal for scholarships and government procurement through GeM were made possible by his constant support.
As Secretary, Steel, I sought his support for the sustainable guide lining principles while doing international trade negotiations. He understood negotiations so well and believed that a bad deal is worse than no deal. He was in phase of recovering from surgery during our two meetings and he used to wear sanitized foot cover and so were the visitors. We discussed the potential for the expansion of the steel industry. He was happy with the success of IBC in the steel industry. I mentioned changing ownership of companies should be accompanied by investment in expansions. His openness to different perspectives than his own made him the great administrator he was. His quick unbiased thinking helped him come up with balanced decision making.
He was always open to new ideas, appreciated good efforts by officers, and his politeness and focused intellect made him effective as a minister. To convince all state governments was the toughest of jobs he undertook in GST. Yes, it is evolving, but a beginning could be made because of his relentless discussions with all stakeholders.
Before my retirement last year, I had a nice video chat with him as he was advised sanatised meetings. We talked on various things and he enquired about my future plans. The most remarkable thing about the meeting was that he remembered all our earlier interactions before Mrs. Jaytlie informed him that he was late for his next interaction. God may have cut short his physical presence, but his sharp mind, focused discussions are stuff that legends are made of. He was beyond politics and was open to ideas from all ends. He had the guts to do course corrections that helped him bring about improvements in MGNREGA and derive consensus on GST. May his soul rest in peace and witness India becoming an economic superpower.
(The author is Former Steel Secretary, India. The views expressed are the author’s own)