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IN 2012, two years before Arun Jaitley became the most important minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet, the news that the ruling United Progressive Alliance’s allocation of coal blocks may have cost the government thousands of crores and unfairly benefited private interests, incapacitated the parliament’s monsoon session. Bharatiya Janata Party parliamentarians threatened to resign en masse, and Jaitley, then the BJP’s opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha, aggressively spoke out against what he called “the biggest scam in independent India.”
As the stymied parliament session ground to a halt that August, Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, his counterpart in the Lok Sabha, released a fierce joint statement. “We used this session of Parliament to shake the conscience of the people of India,” they wrote. “This is not merely a political battle. It is a battle for safeguarding the economic resources for a larger public good.” In a press conference, Jaitley called the allocation process “arbitrary,” “discretionary,” and “corrupt,” “a textbook case of crony capitalism.” In an opinion piece in The Hindu, titled “Defending the Indefensible,” he wrote “the government was so overenthusiastic in continuing the discretionary process in allotment” that it did not institute the “competitive bidding mechanism” that would have ensured a more just process of allocation.
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