As Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley goes for a kidney transplant on Saturday, thoughts rush back to his election campaign in Amritsar four years ago. He was contesting his first election, which he lost, and it was already clear he was going to be the finance minister in the Modi government. Like the thousands of ‘get-well-soon’ messages flashing on his Twitter handle, one sincerely wishes he wins this battle.
Back in Amritsar four years ago, journalists chased the would-be FM for interviews and many returned disappointed as Jaitley was too busy with back-to-back campaigning.
This Business Standard correspondent, too, turned up in the city of Golden Temple in April 2014 during the last leg of campaigning. At his then newly acquired residence-cum-party office — 343 Green Avenue — it was impossible to speak to Jaitley for even a minute that afternoon. Surrounded by hundreds of partymen and campaigners, there seemed little chance of getting a few bytes, leave alone an interview: The man who was being called “Modi’s Chanakya” was truly busy. He acknowledged the presence of journalists, some waiting for several hours, but nothing more. Just about managing to meet his eye, this journalist asked for an interview, and Jaitley replied: “I’m busy with campaign.” The people managing his campaign said, “come back late in the evening and try to speak again”.
A young girl (one of the many relatives and friends who had taken sabbatical to help Jaitley for election) was watching. “Why don’t you go over to the next campaign stop — Rishabh Auto — and you may just get lucky.” Getting a cab quickly was a challenge, so hitching a ride in a passing vehicle was the only way out. A couple of kilometres down the road was the Rishabh showroom, where Jaitley was already on the dais talking about the importance of rolling out a red carpet for investors and setting up smart cities. Here he had a different kind of audience to address. Not at all sure if he would stop for a couple of minutes to answer a few questions, one waited close to the exit gate. Just in case…. After the speech, the would-be minister was taken inside for refreshments. He came out soon enough and was ready to take the next leg of the journey, to the next campaign stop – Jayantipur, a village on the other end of the constituency.
Jaitley stopped for a brief while near the gate, noticed that this correspondent was waiting again. “Come along,” he said. Did he mean that? By the time one pushed through the crowd and got to the Innova he was travelling in, Jaitley’s staff was getting restless.
The front seat next to the driver was one’s own for the next 90 minutes or so. Jaitley, accompanied by friend Suhel Seth, was behind, speaking to Business Standard in one of the longest interviews. He spoke on politics, Narendra Modi, priorities if he were to become the FM, his love for food and Amritsari specialties, relaxing with Bollywood music at the end of a tiring day, his political colleagues and rivals – some of that off-record. Mid-way through the travel, the driver changed. Bikram Singh Majithia of the Shiromani Akali Dal took to the wheels, giving one a glimpse into the world of politics from close quarters.
At the Jayantipur rally, where thousands had gathered, Jaitley got a hero’s welcome. Today, the battlefield has changed. But when he recovers, the welcome is sure to be the same, from people cutting across party lines. As his friends say, Jaitley loves “mehfil” – whether it’s at the Lodhi Gardens on morning walks or at a party. The mehfil will be waiting.