Arun Jaitley – Second innings as Defence Minister
The portfolio of defence is key and highly critical one. So is the finance portfolio. But for someone like Arun Jaitley who is so knowledgeable, so capable and so much in control, holding important positions in the Cabinet is not unmanageable. Prime Minis
Arun Jaitley on March 14, 2017, took additional charge as Defence Minister, in New Delhi, after Manohar Parrikar resigned from that post to take over as the Chief Minister of Goa. Jaitley currently holds the portfolio of the Ministry of Finance and Corporate Affairs.
On his arrival at the Ministry of Defence in South Block, Arun Jaitley was received by the Minister of State for Defence Dr Subhash Bhamre, Defence Secretary G. Mohan Kumar and other senior officials. Jaitley held a meeting with senior officials to take stock of the ministry.
This is the second time Jaitley is holding additional charge as the Defence Minister. When he took charge of the defence portfolio in the first instance, he had said: “Security of India is a matter of prime importance and predominantly the external security of India is the responsibility of this Ministry”. For this he stated that “preparedness and support to our armed forces and speeding up all equipment required for their support are going to be the priority areas as far as our government is concerned”. He also remarked that during the UPA government, some of the areas in the Ministry had slowed down and therefore, expediting them will be a matter of top priority.
Onerous Tasks Ahead
When he first took over, he had said enhancing the FDI limit beyond the existing 26 per cent was an issue which will be dealt with by his two ministries. Subsequently, the FDI norms were relaxed to allow 100 per cent FDI in defence, a transformational move to help indigenisation of the defence industry. With emphasis on modernisation of the armed forces and aggressive ‘Make in India’ initiative, Jaitley will be faced with an increasingly impatient industry which is expecting large-scale work once the Defence Ministry finalises its strategic partnerships (SP) model — a plan to select key industry players for large manufacturing projects. Jaitley will have to do a balancing act of keeping the armed forces spending in tune with needs and also the general economic climate. With defence accounting for over 16 per cent of government’s annual spending, Jaitley will have to take a call on the infusion of more capital for modernisation.
Held Many Senior Positions
Currently a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat, Jaitley has been a Cabinet Minister in the Narendra Modi government since May 26, 2014. He was given the Finance and Corporate Affairs portfolio along with Defence and also Information and Broadcasting for few months.
Jaitley has been a member of the national executive of Bharatiya Janata Party since 1991. On October 13, 1999, in the Atal Bhiari Vajpayee government, he was appointed Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting (Independent Charge). He was also appointed Minister of State for Disinvestment (Independent Charge), a new ministry created for the first time to give effect to the policy of disinvestments. Besides, he also took additional charge of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Company Affairs on July 23, 2000. Later, he became a Cabinet Minister in November 2000 and simultaneously took charge of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Company Affairs and Shipping. In June 2009, he was chosen as the leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha.
Arun Jaitley was born on December 28, 1952, to Maharaj Kishen and Ratan Prabha Jaitley. His father was a lawyer. Jaitley did schooling at St. Xavier’s School, New Delhi, from 1960-69. He graduated in commerce from Shri Ram College of Commerce, New Delhi, in 1973 and passed law degree from the University of Delhi in 1977. Jaitley got married to Sangeeta Dogra on May 24, 1982, and has two children — son Rohan and daughter Sonali.
Active in Student Politics
From his student days, he was very actively involved in public affairs. He was an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) student activist in the Delhi University in the 1970s and became President of the University Students’ Union in 1974.
After obtaining LL.B., he was practising law before the Supreme Court of India and several High Courts in the country since 1977. In January 1990, he was designated as a Senior Advocate by the Delhi High Court. He was appointed Additional Solicitor General in 1989. Jaitley who is very articulate was a delegate on behalf of the Government of India to the United Nations General Assembly Session in June 1998 where the Declaration on Laws Relating to Drugs and Money Laundering was approved.
During the period of proclamation of Internal Emergency (197577) when civil liberties were suspended, he was placed under preventive detention first in the Ambala jail and then in the Tihar jail, Delhi. In 1977, being the convener of the Loktantric Yuva Morcha at a time when the Congress suffered a humiliating defeat in the general elections, he was appointed the president of the Delhi ABVP and All India Secretary of the ABVP. Later, he headed the youth wing of the BJP as its president.
Role as Leader of Opposition
As leader of opposition, he has focused on the efforts to position BJP as a party which plays a proactive role in the democratic functioning of the country. Thus many steps have been taken to expose deficit of governance; be it various corruption scandals such as the 2G spectrum scam, the Commonwealth Games scam, the Antrix-Devas deal, or the failure on the economic front to rein in spiraling inflation and to push for a stable environment conducive for investments and growth. The party played a very constructive role while passing the historic Women’s Reservation Bill in Rajya Sabha. Similarly, the party kept the government under scrutiny while passing the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. The party supported the Anna Hazare movement for bringing in a strong and effective Lok Pal and successfully resisted the passing in the Rajya Sabha of a weak bill passed by Lok Sabha.
Jaitley is so versatile, eloquent, composed and focused that the bureaucracy cannot pull wool over his eyes. And it is for that reason, he is top ranking minister in the Modi cabinet.
(Left) Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Union Minister for Finance, Corporate Affairs and Defence, Arun Jaitley, at a book release function in May 2014 in New Delhi; (right) A file photograph of Arun Jaitley talking to the media.