India's former finance minister Arun Jaitley dies at 66

Tributes pour in as the veteran BJP leader and key member of PM Modi's first-term cabinet dies in a New Delhi hospital.

    India's former finance minister Arun Jaitley dies at 66
    Jaitley's urbane and articulate manner helped him win friends across party lines [File: Saumya Khandelwal/Reuters]

    India's former finance and defence minister Arun Jaitley has died in the capital, New Delhi, at the age of 66, the hospital where he was seeking treatment has announced. 

    Jaitely, a key member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) hospital in New Delhi nearly two weeks ago after he complained of breathing difficulties.

    He died at 12:07pm local time (06:37 GMT) on Saturday. 

    "It is with profound grief that we inform about the sad demise of Shri Arun Jaitley, honourable member of parliament and former finance minister," AIIMS said in a statement. 

    "Jaitley was admitted to AIIMS, New Delhi on August 9 and was treated by a multidisciplinary team of senior doctors," the statement added.

    Jaitley held the finance portfolio in Modi's Hindu nationalist-led government from 2014 through to this year but chose not to run in May's general elections because of poor health.

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    Jaitley was a diabetic and had bariatric weight-loss surgery in 2014, received a kidney transplant in 2018 and travelled to the United States last January for unspecified medical care.

    The lawyer-turned-politician also had triple heart-bypass surgery when he was 52.

    The BJP lost another veteran party leader and former minister of external affairs when Sushma Swaraj died after a cardiac arrest earlier this month.

    Mixed record

    During his tenure as finance minister, Jaitley led the enactment of a bankruptcy code and a national goods-and-services tax (GST) law that had languished for almost 20 years.

    The implementation of the GST resulted in job losses for thousands of workers in small businesses, adding to his mixed record on economic management.

    The Indian economy has been under a cloud for months, with latest government estimates showing it had slowed to a five-year low of 5.8 percent in January-March as a result of sluggish domestic and global demand and little growth in private investment.

    Jaitley also briefly served as the defence minister under Modi in 2017, as well as the law minister during former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure in 2003.

    Jaitley's urbane and articulate manner helped him win friends across party lines and industry.

    He got involved in politics as a student leader in the 1970s.

    'Political giant'

    As news of his death broke on Saturday, tributes from politicians, writers, celebrities and athletes poured in on Twitter. 

    "Arun Jaitley Ji was a political giant, towering intellectual and legal luminary. He was an articulate leader who made a lasting contribution to India. His passing away is very saddening," said Modi in a series of tweets. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies