George Fernandes was a political colossus who never compromised on his anti-Congress moorings, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in his tribute on Facebook to the former defence minister, who died yesterday at 88 of a long illness.
George Fernandes was India's defence minister between 1998 and 2004, when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP government was in power.
"George was a politician with a difference. He had the ability to stand alone, take a position, however extreme, and sustain that position. He was a political worker, an extraordinary leader, a powerful trade unionist, a parliamentarian that many would dread to face and above all a dissenter," Arun Jaitley, who is in the US for treatment, wrote in the post titled ''George Saheb as I knew him''.
Mr Jaitley called George Fernandes the last of the veteran Lohiaites - or followers of socialist Ram Manohar Lohia, who represented the anti-Nehru, anti-Congress face of Indian politics and coined the famous slogan ''Congress hatao desh bachao" (remove Congress, save the country).
With the emergence of the BJP, many "Lohiaites" started doing political business with the Congress, Mr Jaitley said, but George Fernandes stayed an exception. "He was a born Lohiaite and he died as one. His anti-Congress moorings were never compromised," the senior minister writes.
Mr Jaitley remembered his days in the prison with George Fernandes during the 1975-77 Emergency imposed by the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government, during which fundamental rights were severely restricted and several opposition leaders were jailed. When Indira Gandhi announced elections in 1977, Mr Jaitley said, there was a meeting in the prison in "Ward No. 2".
George Fernandes, he said, refused to contest the election but was persuaded by Morarji Desai, who came to a court with a set of nomination papers. Morarji Desai went on to become prime minister and headed a Janata Party government, in which George Fernandes became a minister.