India | Newsmakers

Jaitley has amassed considerable political power under Modi.

Arun Jaitley, a corporate lawyer by training, has emerged as the rising star of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and chief troubleshooter in the new government, headed by prime minister Narendra Modi.

Even before Modi assumed power six months back, many in political circles were convinced that Jaitley was best suited to handle the tricky Finance portfolio. Modi saw an effective Finance minister in Jaitley, one equipped to be the chief architect for redesigning India’s growth plan and reviving negative investor sentiment.

Jaitley is also a key member of Modi’s Cabinet Committee on Security, which oversees the sensitive security establishment and clears multibillion-dollar defense deals. In addition to being the Finance minister, Jaitley is also minister of Corporate Affairs and Information and Broadcasting. He was Defense minister for a short time when the Modi government first came to power, but that role has since been assumed by Manohar Parrikar.

From spearheading financial sector, land and labor reforms to clinching a deal with the United States on food stocks, Jaitley has his job cut out for him as Finance minister. He acts as a sounding board for Modi in the government’s decision-making process and has etched a key role for himself in dealing with political alliance partners like Shiv Sena in the western state of Maharashtra and Akali Dal in Punjab.

Jaitley is Modi’s “eyes and ears” for sounding out the markets, banks, financial institutions and corporates on the government’s economic agenda. Hence, he has earned the nickname “Mr Indispensable” from several Indian media publications. 

His metamorphosis into the dependable and best-known face of the Modi government was neither sudden nor easy. Jaitley’s public life began at Delhi University, where he served as a student union president in 1974. He was jailed by the then Congress-led government for 19 months as part of a nationwide crackdown by then prime minister Indira Gandhi on all opposition and student leaders.

His 40-year political career includes two previous stints as cabinet minister for Law, Justice, Company Affairs and Commerce, after the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance came to power in 1999. He is a well-respected corporate lawyer whose counsel has served multinational corporations like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola.