Arun Jaitley, who served as India’s finance minister for five years until May 2019, passed away on Saturday in New Delhi. He was 66.
Jaitley took charge as India’s top economic official in 2014, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s victory in an election where he promised to boost growth and create millions of jobs.
“Whether or not history will remember that Mr. Jaitley was trying to pick up the pieces rather than having caused the event itself, is difficult to say,” Pronab Sen, country manager for India at the International Growth Centre and India’s former chief statistician, told CNN Business.
“The old India was economically fragmented. The new India will create one tax, one market and for one nation,” Jaitley said when the reform was passed by parliament.
The tax was widely hailed as a game-changer for India’s economy. The International Monetary Fund said it could eventually add nearly two percentage points to India’s growth. But many businesses struggled to adapt and said the new system was too complicated. The government has made several changes in the last two years in an effort to further simplify it.
“The crowning glory of course was getting the [goods and services tax] done, I think that will be his real legacy,” Sen said.
Jaitley was a longtime member of Modi’s right wing Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. He was elected president of the University of Delhi in 1974, representing the party’s youth wing. He was jailed the following year for protesting the state of emergency imposed by then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and spent 19 months behind bars.
He served as India’s law minister and minister of shipping in a previous BJP government in the early 2000s, and also briefly oversaw defense and corporate affairs during Modi’s first term.