Remembering Arun Jaitley - the Finance Minister who led key economic reforms
As Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presents Union Budget 2020-21, let us look back at the contributions of Narendra Modi government's first Finance Minister, late Arun Jaitley, who was at the forefront of a series of significant economic reforms ushered in between 2014-19
The budgets presented by Jaitley in the first term of NDA government were marked by a stark trend -- they were against burdening the salaried, middle class, as was reflective in decisions such as raising the income tax exemption limit by Rs 50,000 to Rs. 2.5 lakh -- and for senior citizens to Rs 3 lakh -- in Jaitley's very first budget (July 2014) itself.
Jaitley will be remembered as the finance minister who brought India under one unified indirect tax regime by introducing Goods and Services Tax (GST) -- arguably India's most important tax reform that removed barriers across the state and enabled the smooth flow of goods from one state to the other.
The tax reform went past the initial jitters and criticisms regarding its implementation to now stand as one of the most prominent decisions taken by the NDA-I.
As a Finance Minister, Jaitley broke several conventions, from merging the railway budget with the General budget -- with an aim of presenting a holistic picture of the financial picture of government -- to advancing the budget presentation to 1 February.
It is owing to these break of conventions that the 2017 budget presented by Jaitley is remembered as the Budget of many firsts. Other such examples included the announcement of the Economic Survey 2016-17 on January 31, and going paperless for the Budget in keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Digital India pitch.
The decision of demonetisation was also taken when Jaitley was the in-charge of the Finance Ministry. Over the months after its implementation, Jaitley wrote articles and blogs explaining the rationale of the Modi government's decision and was pivotal to the party's reach out to the intelligentsia
Jaitley defended the Modi government schemes and policies in the Parliament and was one of BJP's most successful spokespersons with his dexterity in English and Hindi and a key face to reach out to the middle class. He articulated his points with sharpness and crispness and often with catchy phrases that were easy to turn into headlines.
Jaitley passed away on August 24, 2019 at Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). He was 66.
His death triggered an outpouring of condolences across party lines with even political adversaries dubbing him as a stalwart and excellent orator.
Jaitley did not contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and had cited ill-health to opt out of the new government after his party emerged victorious.