Arun Jaitley, former Indian finance minister, dies at 66

Prime Minister Narendra Modi morns loss of 'valued friend'

FILE PHOTO: Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley speaks at a news conference in New Delhi, India, January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Saumya Khandelwal/File Photo
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Arun Jaitley, India's former finance minister and a key member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first-term Cabinet, died on Saturday. He was 66.

The All India Institute of Medical Sciences announced Jaitley's death on Saturday. He was admitted to hospital two weeks ago after he complained of breathlessness and restlessness.

Jaitley held the finance portfolio in Mr Modi's government from 2014 until the general election in April-May this year.

Mr Modi, who was on a visit to the UAE, mourned Jaitley's pasing in a series of tweets, saying he had lost a "valued friend" whose "insight on issues and nuanced understanding of matters had very few parallels".

As finance minister during Mr Modi's first term, Jaitley oversaw the implementation of a number of key reforms: replacing India’s complex tax system with a nationwide goods and services tax, and passing an insolvency and bankruptcy code to lessen the troubles of debt-laden banks.

A lawyer by training, he has also represented multinational companies such as PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, as well as famous Indians including the billionaire Birla family in an inheritance dispute.

Jaitley suffered from numerous health problems. He was diabetic and received a kidney transplant last year. He also had triple heart bypass surgery when he was 52 and underwent weight-loss surgery in 2014.

He was unable to present the budget this year as he was receiving treatment in the United States.

He is the second senior member of Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party to die this month.

Sushma Swaraj, the former foreign minister who also chose not to run in the general election because of poor health, passed away on August 6 at the age of 67 after suffering a heart attack.

Jaitley also served as a minister in the BJP government led by the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee from 1999 to 2003. During Mr Modi's first term he also held the portfolio of corporate affairs and, for shorter periods, information and broadcasting and defence.

From 2009 to 2014, he served as leader of the opposition in the upper house of Parliament.

Jaitley got involved in politics as a student leader in the 1970s. He was a member of the BJP from its founding in 1980 but was able to win friends across party lines.

Kapil Sibal, a senior leader of the main opposition Congress party, described him as "an old friend and dear colleague" who "always stood steadfastly for his friends and for his party".