Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, two of the most seasoned, trusted and articulate leaders of the BJP and its prominent faces in the middle class, have passed away one after the other in quick succession leaving a void in the party that may be difficult to fill for a long time to come.
Both of them were born in 1952 and passed away in a span of 18 days. Swaraj was about ten months older than Jaitley.
While the Modi government had jump-started its second innings taking one decision after the other, there is a deep sense of loss in the party over the demise of Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.
The two leaders had risen from the ranks, participated in BJP’s struggles and immensely contributed to its rise as the principal pole of national politics. Both leaders were seen to be simple, incorrupt, intelligent and talented besides being suave and affable.
They were both lawyers and contemporaries who respected and appreciated each other’s political capabilities and had over four decades of political experience.
They were guides and mentors to some of BJP’s present leaders and were role-models for the party’s workers. They had cross-party friendships and were respected by their rivals for their capabilities.
Sushma Swaraj, 67, had passed away on August 6 following cardiac arrest and her death caused a shock in the party.
Incidentally, Jaitley‘s last tweet was on Sushma Swaraj’s demise and he said he was pained, saddened and broken. The BJP leader also described her as one of the most outstanding politicians of the present era.
“Saddened, pained and broken on the demise of Sushmaji. She was one of the most outstanding politicians in the Present Era. She distinguished in all positions. She held senior positions with the party, NDA govt. and while in opposition. She leaves behind a void which is difficult to fill,” Jaitley said in a tweet on August 7.
The two leaders passed away in a month in which Narendra Modi government repealed Article 370, which gave special powers to Jammu and Kashmir. Both the leaders hailed the step which has been a key part of ideological battle of BJP and its predecessor Jan Sangh.
Both Swaraj and Jaitley were key members of Modi-I government. Swaraj brought the External Affairs Ministry closer to people and helped expand the government’s outreach in the neighbourhood and beyond.
Jaitley held the Finance portfolio when some key decisions including demonetisation and GST were taken. He also helped shape the political narrative with his blogs, press conferences and speeches while keeping the Congress firmly on the radar.
Swaraj was the leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha and Jaitley of Rajya Sabha during the UPA II government and the two leaders shaped script and strategy that contributed to the fall of Congress ahead of BJP coming to power in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
While they attacked the Congress-led UPA government inside and outside the Parliament over “scams”, they also held a joint press conference at the end of parliament sessions where the attack was sharper. The joint press interactions was a favourite event of political journalists in the national capital.
The two leaders, who hailed from north India, were extremely articulate and the vast middle class identified with them as they raised their issues and spoke of their concerns in their language. The middle class is seen to be a key supporter of the BJP. Both the leaders also possessed an earthy sense of humour.
While Jaitley began his political career as a student leader in the seventies and Sushma Swaraj was youngest MLA when she was elected to Haryana assembly in 1977 at age of 25.
Both were groomed by senior BJP leaders including Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L. K. Advani and played key roles in the Vajpayee government.
The upcoming BJP leaders looked up to the Jaitley and Swaraj for inspiration. The two BJP stalwarts were politically active till their last.
When Sushma Swaraj passed away on August 6, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said it was a personal loss for him.
On Saturday, he described Jaitley as “valued friend, whom I have had the honour of knowing for decades”.
The BJP will miss Jaitley and Swaraj and will now need more established faces to foster its connect with the middle class and other sections of society.