102,770 votes. That's the total number of ballot papers that separated former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh from losing lawyer-turned-politician Arun Jaitley in the recent for the Amritsar seat in the Lok Sabha. Yet, events over the past two months hardly make it look as if Jaitley lost. Instead, with two portfolios to his name, Arun Jaitley has risen from a mid-level stalwart of the Bharatiya Janata Party to one of its most valuable assets, as well as a potential successor of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's position as the BJP leader.
As loyal as Jaitley has been to his party, his sudden ascension does beg the question as to how he did it in a party that
traditionally relies on seniority when promoting politicians. With an education in Law and Commerce, Jaitley couldn't possibly be happier with his newfound roles in Modi's cabinet. He has managed to ascend from an unelected MP candidate to the Minister of Defense and Minister of Finance, in addition to Minister of Corporate Affairs.
Jaitley's loss in Amritsar was a significant blow to his future as an elected official, yet somehow Modi managed to overlook Jaitley's ability to woo the public in favor of what seems to be the brilliant political strategist that Jaitley has become behind the scenes. His mild-mannered persona and his ability to coax international investors and politicians have him emulating the same figure that former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao was under President Hu Jintao.
Jaitley's appointment to three very expansive roles doesn't appear sustainable for the next five years, and may even be a move on Modi's part to buy time and assess other candidates. For now however, Arun Jaitley can safely claim he is one of the most powerful people in India.
At first glance, Jaitley's track record in the public sector doesn't seem to be particularly more distinguished than his BJP colleagues, with less experience in parliament and much of his experience stems from being involved with internal affairs and strategy for the BJP, a skill he utilized to help Modi as chief minister attain a major victory in the Gujarat elections. That favor paid off dividends for Jaitley, who quickly rose to media spotlight following the nomination of Modi as party leader last year.
In the private sector, Jaitley's network is expansive, with former connections to international and domestic corporations like PepsiCo and Birla Corporation. This experience grants him justification for his position as the Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister positions, but fails to make up for his lack of experience in the defense sector. As the successor of AK Antony, Jaitley's lack of a military background isn't so unusual. The Minister of Defense position has rarely been filled by former military service personnel.
Nevertheless, Jaitley's connections with foreign multinational companies complements Modi's pro-business stance. With both men now in position to influence national legislature, the long and drawn out issue surrounding Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in some of India's key sectors may finally come to a close, with international investors and well-known names like Donald Trump announcing their intention to invest in India, which in theory, is a sign that the business magnates of the world trust in the Modi government.
A man of simple taste, Jaitley's personality doesn't involve fervent campaigning and fiery speeches, but rather contrasts the cult of personality that Modi has so diligently made for himself as a proud nationalist and practitioner of economic liberalism. Instead, Jaitley's role as a key adviser holds a significant amount of influence in what may be the most important period of Modi's administration. Modi's cabinet, which has sparked much criticism from the Indian National Congress as well as BJP-aligned parties, will be monitored for performance as the first criterion for the sweeping changes that Modi promised in regards to infrastructure, private sector performance, and efficiency in government-run programs.
Arun Jaitley's task is to juggle his performance with two key portfolios well enough to make, not break, those promises.
Arman Sidhu is a freelance journalist based in the United States.